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O! Omaha Public Art
In 2007, a health insurance company based in Omaha, Nebraska, commissioned 22 local artists to decorate large O letter forms. I responded to this ridiculous branding of my city by building a giant penis sculpture to violate the public art project. I documented my guerrilla performance art on YouTube, and my video received twice as many views than the official video released by the Omaha Chamber of Commerce. Even though my stunt was controversial, many of the participating artists appreciated the joke, and I continue receive positive feedback from the creative community.

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In The Red
The O! penis prankster himself
in Omaha City Weekly
By Elle Lien

As promised, here are excerpts from an interview I recently conducted with artist Scott Blake. Blake's amorous encounters with area O!'s have been stirring up controversy in the local art community.

Describing himself as an "evil conevil" of the art community, Blake has taken to violating the O! public art sculptures with a 7-foot penis. Blake collaborated with Caitlin Martella on the project.

Martella also participated in the interview.

One caveat. The views expressed by Martella and Blake in the interview are not necessary shared by me, the interviewer, or the City Weekly. I wanted to make that clear, because this is an opinion column. Blake and Martella express dissatisfaction with the Omaha art scene and insist that there isn't a place for their work in our community. I may dislike the O!'s and their cookie cutter format and thinly veiled marketing agenda, but I think there are some pretty terrific things happening in terms of art in Omaha - Brigitte McQueen's Pulp, RNG, Bemis, Tugboat Presents, Nomad, Espana...

All of this hits head on the main complaint that Blake has about art in Omaha - that if you want to do something, you're going to have to make it happen yourself. Ummm, yeah.

OK, the interview...

How do you feel about public art in Omaha?

Martella: Well the thing is, I think this encourages the poor art scene, that they give the artists this cookie cutter project and then say, "Here you go city, have some shit."

Blake: For me something is better than nothing.

Martella: Picky people go hungry, is what my mom always said and I said fine. And then I just didn't eat.

Blake: Maybe it is enriching, but I think we can do better. And I think Caitlin and I did that. I think they were pretty bad, and...

Martella: We personalized them.

So where did the idea to f*** the O!'s come from?

Blake: I think everybody had the idea. It just was begging for it. I think a lot of people have the dumb ideas, but I think I'm the only idiot stupid enough to go and do it.

Where does your hatred for the O! come from?

Blake: I hate all art. It started for me in art school when they didn't want me to be an artist. I was studying computer art to become some sort of George Lucas "Star Wars"-type animator. That is what art has become. And there is no real place for someone like myself to get started. You have to kind of go out and do it on your own. That's sort of what we did. We did it on our own. It cost like $200 for us to make that penis.

I mean really, I love art, but at the same time it is like art is sort of becoming, hmm, I mean, I love it so much that is why I would do this.

Why are the O!'s so offensive to you?

Blake: They're just like cookie cutter Mickey Mouse and you know they're not so offensive, it's really just the idea and how much money was spent on them. I think people see the O!'s and then say "OK, we have art in Omaha." But where's my art in Omaha?

Martella: It's disillusioning I think. People are like, "Oh yeah, we support art, we have art all over the place. Art this, art that," but it's not true. You go to art events and nobody shows up. It's a sad state of affairs. And you think that art would be such a big scene because we have such a big music scene. We have people that genuinely appreciate creativity and ingenuity, but at the same time we have a lot of artists that are feeling unrecognized and unappreciated.

Blake: Where are the art galleries in Omaha? Where do I show my art in Omaha? I'm not really that concerned with being a "local" artist, because I am having a pretty good time hanging out here in Vienna, but when I come back to Omaha, there are zero-point-zero opportunities for me to express myself. In a way I kinda acted out. I wanted to do something that would get people's attention. To say, "look at me, look at me" and I know that is childish, but in a way that is what art is.

Do you think the point of the O!'s was to promote art in Omaha, or just to promote Omaha in general - used as a marketing tool?

Blake: Stop doing this cookie cutter crap. The Chamber of Commerce doesn't give Conor Oberst a song list and say, "Here, play these songs," or tell him to make up a song about Omaha and then we'll give you a stage.

So it's not really that there isn't a physical space, it is that there isn't a scene?

Blake: I don't think it is necessarily an Omaha problem. I think it may be a worldwide state of affairs and Omaha is just where I happen to call home right now.

Date Created - November 2007

Run Time - 1 min 26 sec
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