NORWEGIAN CONCERT PLANNING ORGANIZATION GIVES KIDS POWER

Rockslo, a concert association in Norway’s capital city of Oslo, introduces youth to music by immersing them in the process of planning and executing concerts.

Since 2013, Rockslo has been a place for young people to work behind the scenes in the music industry. From booking to marketing to technical work to production, youth under the age of 20 learn the ins and outs of what goes into planning shows, by fully planning concerts with the guidance of adult volunteers.

Erik Fosland said the process begins with the youth coming together to select and book popular artists. Right now, the organization books Norwegian acts, but it is Fosland’s dream to be able to afford international acts.

Fosland’s role with Rockslo translates to CEO, though he said that title is too formal and prefers to be referred to as a leader of the organization.

The youth also book the venues for the concerts, ensure the bands have all equipment they need, promote the shows and decorate the venues.

“Primarily, Rockslo wants them [youth] to do everything because they want them to learn everything from the beginning to the end,” Sahil Singh said.

Singh, 18, has been with the organization for two years. He usually takes photos and videos at Rockslo-produced events, though he has helped with booking when needed.

“We’re allowed to do anything if we really want to. If I say I want to be responsible for this band when they come to the concert, I’m allowed to do that,” he said. Because of the work experience he gained through Rockslo, Singh recently got a paid job with another festival.

Rockslo typically hosts four to six shows a year. Two years ago, the organization hosted its own music festival, a weekend event that Fosland would like to be hosted every other year.

Fosland said that the shows include a well-known act, an up-and-coming act and an unknown smaller act to give those artists the chance to play and learn from other musicians while talking to members they may have grown up listening to.

He believes it’s important that the youth involved in the organization, as well as the bands brought in, are able to learn.

While “rock” is in the name, the organization hosts events with whatever music young people are listening to at the time. Many of the events last year featured hip-hop artists, while this year has been focused more on rock and pop.

“It’s just music, what the kids want to hear,” Fosland said.

The volunteer-based organization receives funding support from the government to help pay for the events hosted. Since venues won’t usually make money from events that don’t serve alcohol, Fosland said venues will often donate space for shows or charge a small fee.

In addition to planning concerts, Rockslo hosts social events and collaborates with other festivals and events, including Miniøya, a music festival focused on children that Rockslo members did the booking for this summer.

LOVE AND DOGS

(Originally published in the High Plains Reader on July 12, 2017.)

 

Justin Chirico and his wife, Sarah Chirico-Wyss, live in Glåmos, a village just north of Rørøs, Norway. They have 10 Alaskan huskies and a black labrador named Belmont who is training to be a rescue dog and a bed bug sniffing dog.

Sarah races the dogs competitively, while Justin prefers to take the dogs out for fun and doesn’t have any interest in mushing. Together they train the animals that they consider part of their family.

He said that interacting daily with the dogs has helped to build a connection with them, and each of the dogs has their own personality that makes them diverse and individual.

“There’s a love there,” Justin said. “There’s a friendship.”

Finding His Place

However, Justin is new to life in rural Norway. Justin is a New York painter who found his artistic voice and the loves of his life in the Norwegian countryside.

He grew up around creative people and always liked painting, but the thought of making a living as an artist didn’t really hit him until early in his college career at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania.

Justin felt being a student wasn’t helping him develop into who he wanted to be. He was increasingly losing interest in general studies courses and spent most of his time alone in the art studio.

After a good amount of thinking, he recognized that a large city would be the way to go if he wanted to become an artist, and in 2002 he made the important decision to relocate to New York City.

Justin thought the move would end up being what he called a six-month experiment, but he stayed in NYC until 2014.

In 2008, he was ready to leave the city. He was invited by an artist to help work on a project in Greenland. While he noted that he was there to make another artist’s vision happen, the trip impacted him by allowing him to meet and interact with the Greenlandic community, something that he valued immensely.

He didn’t want to return to NYC, but he did until he traveled abroad again in 2014. Justin went to Norway to show his art with a Norwegian as part of a traveling art show from the capital of Oslo to Røros.

While in Røros, he met Sarah Wyss, a Swiss woman living in Norway. He fell in love with the wilderness and with Sarah, and he would return to Røros numerous times during the next year.

With Justin living in the U.S. and Sarah remaining in Norway, the two discussed relocating to live together. Each time Justin returned home from Norway, he said there was a sadness when he was away from the nature of the country.

Despite that sadness, Justin had never considered leaving the U.S., and was hesitant to leave NYC because of the comfort he experienced there.

Eventually Sarah moved into a home outside of Røros with space for her dogs. Justin visited and in 2015, returned to the U.S., packed and moved to rural Norway, a strong contrast to the busy streets he had walked for years.

His family wasn’t thrilled with his choice to leave the U.S. His parents were concerned both with distance and how he would make money in Norway. But they supported him and wanted him to do whatever made him happy.

His choice to leave rattled some artist friends though, and he lost some friends who couldn’t believe an artist was leaving a energetic place like NYC for somewhere so isolated. When he left, he essentially chose to throw away some of the theory and intellect close friends and mentors had shared with him, he said.

Some people he worked with even saw him as a traitor, but he said he needed to leave. In New York, he was assisting other artists, and he compared the choice to leave to a member of a band walking away to pursue a solo career.

“It’s very hard to take chances and walk off the path, [to] follow something off into a dark, uncharted way,” Justin said.

He said that it was tough for him to make the transition, but that he trusted his love of Sarah and his love of the wilderness enough to take the leap.

“It’s fuel for a creative mind to dare to reinvent yourself and know that wherever you go, you take your brush with you,” he said.

Compared to New York, the pace of life in Norway is something Justin prefers. Back in the city, he said he could be woken up in the early morning hours by friends banging on his window to see if he wanted to go for a coffee, or people climbing on his fire escape. Now, he wakes up to the sound of his dogs.

Life and Art in Norway

Justin said that his move to Norway didn’t necessarily impact his subject matter. His artwork is a combination of dreams, memories and his imagination fusing together to create the stories that are his paintings.

The largest impact the move had on his art is the approach he takes to creating. He often uses items like sticks and other objects that wash up on the shore of the lake near his home, to paint. He started painting on driftwood he finds, as well as dried animal skins.

He has also drawn inspiration from interacting with the Sami people, an indigenous group who herd reindeer.

He had started breaking away into his own realm back in New York in 2010 when he established Chirico Studios, but didn’t fully focus on the endeavor until he got to Norway.

Justin sees more of an appreciation for art in Norway than he did back home. He said that he has noticed Norwegians care more about art that they like rather than the name of the artist who produced it. This applies to everything from music to books, he said, and provides a more supportive environment for independent artists.

On the contrary, he believes that art in the U.S. has, in many cases, become too competitive and commercialized. It’s being viewed as “art as moneymaker, not art as intellectual, spiritual enrichment,” he said.

A focus on other artists got in the way while he was in New York, and he said he didn’t have the confidence he now has because he was paying attention to what they were doing instead of spending time reinventing his own art and exploring.

While he went to the city with the intention of becoming an artist, his time was often spent helping other artists, including Per Fronth, William Quigley and Shalom Tomas Neuman.

Justin worked in the studios of artists and was painting his own works on the side. To survive, he often had to juggle several jobs, making it hard for him to make time for his art. Sometimes, he assisted for free.

He said that the days of assisting artists were long, and could be spent cleaning paintbrushes, mixing paint, posing models, taking reference photos or sweeping the studio.

Justin valued being around more experienced artists and gained inspiration from them, so he continued to embrace opportunities to help when he could.

He said he felt he “needed to try and hold onto the bizarre opportunity to be, and stay for as long as possible, in the company of these innovative minds.”

He added that when the work was done, he typically would paint alongside the artists he was helping, though he wasn’t getting a chance to follow his calling.

“In New York, you’re always under a machine,” Justin said.

In Norway, he’s free to explore as an artist, create and make a living.

When Justin came to Norway, he had established art world connections back in the U.S. that allowed him to move away from the big city and yet still be able to sell his art, both in the states, Norway and internationally.

He maintains a minimal presence on the internet. Aside from a website, he doesn’t use social media and sells much of his art through those connections formed before moving. Numerous public and private collectors support his work, including the alumni association and fine arts building at Lock Haven University, the school he left behind for New York.

The culture, the people and the landscape of the north have all been powerful to his thought process and have impacted his inner experience.

He said he may be able to get the same wilderness experience from somewhere rural in the U.S., but he prefers to connect with the natives.

Rather than cleaning up after other artists, his days now involve tending to the dogs and the property, fishing and finally, painting.

He used to fish with poles as a kid but was introduced to net fishing by the farmers who live around him within his first few weeks of living in Norway. Typically, he and Sarah are able to catch enough fish for them to feed the dogs and have a fish dinner of their own two to three days a week. He waits to start fishing until the winter ice on the lake across the street from their home has broken up and melted.

He tries to paint for a few hours each morning, but he said that his best inspiration comes at night, and he can sometimes be working until the early morning hours with Belmont lying at his feet.

Justin attempts to fit in his morning painting daily, even if it’s not when his best work is getting done, because he feels that as an artist, it’s necessary to always continue to create.

The biggest distractions to his art tend to come in the winter. All of his neighbors are farmers so if a large snow causes them problems, he goes to help them rather than painting.

Moving On

He and Sarah have discussed potentially moving to the U.S., but he said the politics of the country put a stop on those plans. While moving back isn’t completely out of the question, it’s not currently on their radar.

Right now, Justin is happy and content where he is. While he lost the awe he once had for New York, he’s yet to lose the admiration he has for the wilderness and beauty of Norway that continue to fuel his creative spirit.

A Final Reflection

By Amber Ainsworth

A month ago at this time, I was on my way to Norway.

I had a long day that included two layovers that would bring me to Boston and Iceland. It was my first time traveling internationally, so I was filled with excitement about the journey but a lot of anxiety as well.

Right now, I’m wrapping up my last few days in the country before I fly home Sunday morning. I came into the trip with no idea what to expect, but I had one of the best experiences of my life, and I am so thankful to have spent four weeks in such a beautiful, energetic and diverse place.

Before this trip, I was pretty set on the idea of traveling for work eventually. The journey to Norway to work has only reaffirmed that desire.

Some days were go, go, go with barely any time to rest. Some days I was gone from the apartment longer than I was there sleeping. Those days were the best days.

From the people I met, the festivals and shows I attended, the people I interviewed, and the days I spent roaming the streets, I don’t think there was ever a day on this trip that I didn’t really feel like I was accomplishing something or part of something that was bettering me, both as a person and a journalist.

I’m not ready to go home. I feel like there’s still so much to see, and I don’t want to return to the routine of life, but at the same time, I am so excited to take the energy I gained while on the trip and some ideas I have back home and expand my skills even more.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to put the impact this experience has had on me into words for quite a while, but I just haven’t been able to. I don’t think there’s a way to really sum up just how much breaking free from the day-to-day for a bit can be beneficial, especially when it involves exploring and doing what you love.

I’ll be back in the United States soon, but I’m sure I won’t be there for long without another adventure.

A Little Lesson in Tolerance

By Amber Ainsworth

While covering a festival in Norway, the security guards came up and talked to the photographers in Norwegian. I realized I was the only one who didn’t understand them and was kind of hesitant to speak up and show I didn’t know a word, but I did. The other photographers were so nice and immediately translated anything said to the group in Norwegian, and they reminded me they were “here to help.”

The next day, a photographer said hi to me when I passed and told me not to worry about not knowing the language because he relocated from another country so he understands.

I also met some women while doing interviews who I got to talking with for most of the night. Occasionally they would speak to each other in Norwegian then apologize to me because they knew I didn’t understand and they didn’t want me to feel bad that I wasn’t part of the conversation.

Part of why I was hesitant to show I didn’t know Norwegian at all was because I see the hate and ignorance toward foreigners back home and I didn’t want to be treated that way by showing that I not only wasn’t from Norway, but didn’t know even a bit of their language yet was there working.

So often, I see people in the area I am from looked down upon because their English isn’t great or they are speaking a different language in public. A little patience and understanding can go a long way. Plus, it’s better than complaining or being rude to someone who is struggling.

I’m fortunate that English is so widely spoken in Norway so that I never had a major problem communicating, but being somewhere that you don’t know the native language or may not be able to communicate 100% all the time is scary and I cannot imagine how people feel when they move somewhere like the U.S. and may still be learning English or may be struggling with the language.

 

Norway’s Rural Way of Life

By Amber Ainsworth

Earlier this week, I took a train nearly 240 miles north of where I’ve been staying, Oslo, to visit Justin, an artist from the United States I met while covering a festival.

Justin and his wife Sarah live in a rural part of central Norway near Røros with 10 racing huskies and a Labrador named Belmont. Justin relocated to Norway from New York about two years ago.

The experience of going to see where he lives and spending time with him and his family was one of my favorite parts of this trip. Him, Sarah and her parents, who were visiting from Switzerland when we were there, were so welcoming, and I was allowed to really see how Justin lives in what I would call the middle of nowhere.

He showed me his art in a gallery, introduced me to all of his dogs and welcomed me into his studio at his home. Oh and I ended up living part of his life when I bundled up and helped him canoe out into the lake across from his house to put out fishing nets.IMG_0737

He also took me out looking for moose. While we didn’t see any, we saw reindeer, sheep and some woodcock birds. The area was so desolate and was a nice break from the city life I’ve been experiencing since I got here and am used to back home. It was cold and rainy, and I’ve been sick for three days, but it was definitely worth it.

It was interesting to see how Justin is able to survive off his art and live such a unique life compared to life back in New York. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the journey up to Røros, but I am so glad that I went because I feel that I was able to get a perspective a lot of people don’t get to see, and I’m so excited to share the story that will come from my trip.

 

A Different Kind of New Experience

By Amber Ainsworth

In Norway, I rode a train, tram and subway all for the first time.

During the first week or so here, getting used to relying on public transportation was nerve wracking and has probably been the most “foreign” thing about this trip for me. I come from an area where mass public transportation isn’t the greatest, so to be somewhere that I need to take a bus, a ferry and probably another bus to get where I’m going is something I’m not used to at all.

I’m the one in the group who is always freaking out about getting where we are going or is always scared we will miss a bus, even though another will be coming in five minutes. While the transportation is nice because that means no paying for gas or car insurance and it’s more environmentally friendly than everyone owning a vehicle and driving, I’m not sure if I could ever live somewhere where I relied fully on buses and subways to get around.

It is extremely convenient to be able to just hop on a bus and get where I need to go without having to worry about parking, but I do miss being able to leave and go wherever I need without having to plan my schedule around transportation. It’s easier in Oslo where the buses are coming pretty often, but when coming from the apartment, I need to factor in the bus and ferry times, and that has caused me to need to leave far earlier than necessary just to get where I’m going on time.

As a journalist, I am looking more into big cities for jobs, so the experience of relying fully on public transit has been important because if I do relocate for work, I know I’ll be better prepared to handle transportation if I need to utilize it.

A Fresh Perspective

By Amber Ainsworth

This past school year, I was so busy that I fell away from my passions a lot. I was writing because I was the editor of my school’s paper and have an internship at a news station, but I felt like I wasn’t doing what I loved to do. Before this trip, I hadn’t shot a show since fall and almost all of the writing I was doing was news writing or rushed entertainment pieces to fill the section when it lacked content.

At the beginning of the fall, I bought a new camera that I had only really used when I shot a couple Michigan football games. Aside from that, I hardly touched my camera. I wrote pieces that I could write in a few hours or less, nothing else, and I wasn’t even coming up with story ideas I wanted to follow when I might get some free time.

Right before I left for Norway, I spent a day with some of my closest friends, all photographers, and it was the perfect start to the trip and an even better end to one of the most stressful semesters of my college career. I remembered how much I crave adventure and fresh ideas, and that rekindled feeling spilled over when I got to Norway and started working.

While here, I have been looking into stories I want to work on when I get back to Detroit. A story I’m doing here (Hausmania piece) inspired me to do some research about Detroit, and now I have an idea I’ll be starting when I get back. I’ve shared some of my ideas with friends and have planned on getting them involved.

This trip has reminded me what is important to me, what I want to be doing with my time and what I need to be doing in order to be happy. It’s been so nice to have time to focus solely on writing, shooting and exploring. The other commitments I have can wait. And when I get home, they can wait a bit longer.

Art, Inspiration and Huskies

By Amber Ainsworth

When it comes to writing, I have always been a sporadic journalist. My favorite story ideas are ones that I stumble upon, and I write the best stories when I’m not sitting down with the intention to write.

Last weekend, I came across a story I am going to do while I’m Norway. It wasn’t a planned story at all, but I knew it was something I wanted to write
immediately.

I was covering Minioya, a children’s festival in Oslo, on Sunday. The plan for the day was to take photos and put together a photo story, so I took a photo of an artist who was painting with some kids, so I asked him for his name, though I got so much more than his name. Justin is an artist from New York who relocated to Norway several years ago. He now lives with his wife and has a husky farm in Roros, a town north of Oslo.

He told me how he was traveling when he met a woman living in Norway and moved to the country. The way he talked about how important it is to do whatever it is that makes you happy no matter what really resonated with me, and the fact that he’s from the U.S. only added to the importance of doing a feature on him.

Next week, I’ll be heading up to Roros to see how Justin lives, visit the huskies and speak with him more about his job as an artist, his life in Norway and the transition between countries.

I’m excited for the story because it’s outside of what I thought I would be doing here, but it allows me to explore more of the country, connect someone back home and possibly pick up some inspiration for my own future as well.

Right now, the angle I’m looking to take on the story is one that focuses not only on how life is different in Norway on a husky farm in comparison to the U.S., but how he’s able
to survive as an artist and how he was able to take what is important to him and make a life out of it, despite any troubles he may have encountered.

The Beginning: Hausmania Story

During Musikkfest Oslo last weekend, we visited Hausmania and I was immediately intrigued.

The large building is covered from top to bottom in graffiti of all colors. From Norwegian words to sentences in English such as, “Chinese food rules,” it was an interesting assortment of art and chaos that I needed to explore more.

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A view out one of the windows of a staircase in Hausmania.

The building is a cultural center where artists, musicians and other creatives can use the space to work. Some people even take up residency as well. Through the years, there have been legal troubles and the threat of being kicked out continues today.

While in Norway, I will be covering the culture of Hausmania. Mrisha also wants to cover it, so this week, we headed there to see what information we could gather.

When we arrived, there was a lock on the gate. We were under the impression the building was pretty open, but someone entering told us that they are working on improving the area so they are limiting access. We must not have looked too shady because he let us in.

We sat for a while listening to someone switching between playing Norwegian hip-hop and a saxophone in one of the rooms above us. Someone finally came out and gave us an email address of someone who was too busy to talk.

We left shortly after and thought that was the end of the day’s reporting. We were wrong, however, as Mrisha decided to talk to some girls, Ida and Madeleine, who were receiving some sort of basket being lowered down from a room at the back of the building. They explained they were getting something, a pear and chocolate, from their friends. We explained what we were doing, they yelled something up in Norwegian, and the next thing we knew, we were being led up to a room in Hausmania.

The smell of essential oils filled the small but comfortable room. I really didn’t know what to expect inside the building, but the room was nicer that I assumed it would be based on the status of the hallways I had walked through during Musikkfest.

We spoke with Ida and Martin. Mrisha did most of the interviewing while I took photos:

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Ida and Martin talk to Mrisha about their room at Hausmania. 
IMG_9273
Ida talks with Ida and Madeleine.


Right now, I’m working on securing some more sources and getting more information to better solidify my plans, but I’m looking at a story that focuses on what the building is, why it is important and how it has managed to keep hosting people despite the troubles faced. I still need to do a lot of research and talk to more people before the story can develop, but I have a good idea of where I want it to head.

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(From left to right) Myself, Madeleine, Ida, Ida, Martin, and Mrisha

Detroit’s Far (Media) Reach

While in Norway, I’ve quickly discovered that people outside of Detroit have very different views of the city where I work and spend much of my time, but those views aren’t all full of negativity.

To some people, they’ve heard it’s a failing city, while others have an impression that it’s on the rise and good things are happening in the city that has built up a notorious image of urban decay and bankruptcy. In both instances, opportunities for conversation about the city’s highs despite the lows have opened up.

One person told me that through the media, he thought that the city was basically falling apart. I could agree with him that Detroit definitely has a long way to go, but that there is improvement, both gradual efforts and larger projects, that are helping the city to improve. When I explained to him some of what has happened in the downtown area, as well as work being done to eliminate some blight in the neighborhoods, he had a better understanding of the city 4,000 miles away that he was led to believe was trashed.

Another person I spoke with had a different view, as she has heard that good things are happening in Detroit. We talked about the progress she had heard about, as well as some other projects happening that she didn’t know about. We also discussed the effect bankruptcy had on the city. She had heard bad things, but she had heard enough good to balance out what she thought about the city.

Two different people at two different times in the same city, Oslo, had such different viewpoints of Detroit, not because they had been to Detroit, but because of what they had heard about it.

The conversations we had were important to me because they highlighted just how necessary it is to make sure that more than just the crime and blight of Detroit is covered in the media.

There is crime in Detroit, there is blight in Detroit, but there are also amazing things happening in the city, and when someone so far away has such a negative view of the city because of the media, it’s up to people like me to make sure there’s a balance to what the world is seeing about it.

A few months ago, I had an idea for a series of stories that would highlight people and groups working to improve the city that I was going to publish on the local news website where I work. I began on it, but I never followed through. Because of what I have heard while in Norway, I am going to begin on the stories again when I return home.