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Mr. & Ms. Pac-man at Level Up

Quarters are being used for more than just parking meters and washing machines these days. For $0.25, Oregonians can escape reality and enter into the world of Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Troy. They can even drink a beer while trying to get to the next level. That’s because barcades, or bars that feature classic vintage arcade games, are beginning to sprout up across the Pacific Northwest. For avid gamers and gaming novices, barcades offer a fun environment for anyone old enough to reach the start button.

Barcades are hitting new levels of popularity because of nostalgia, because people want to connect together in real life, and because it’s fun. There aren’t many things in life that still cost a quarter. Thanks to new establishments like Level Up and Blair Alley Vintage Arcade popping up in Eugene, Oregon, people now have places to grab a drink, meet up with their friends, and play the video games from their childhood.

Nostalgic games like Pong (1972) and Frogger (1981) may seem out of date but they’ve never been more popular.  Kids and adults are lining up to play these games from the ‘70s and ‘80s because they celebrate the simplicity of the past. Kids can learn the game quickly while parents and the older generation can jump back into their favorite game without much practice. For Andre Sirois, a Eugene-based DJ, this means it’s easier to socialize while trying to get to the next round of a game. “The old games are simple.  One or two buttons, a joystick, and that’s about it.  So, you can go out with the homies, drink, be social, and still play these games,” Sirois says.

Aaron Thayer, gamer, game review blogger, and author of Silicon Sasquatch, agrees that nostalgia plays a major role in why vintage games are rising in popularity. “What seems to prevent these games from dying is the level of nostalgia they impart upon people, and that’s the same for frequent gamers and those who haven’t touched a game since Pong. Many gamers, myself included, play these older games because of the memories attached to them,” Thayer says.

This is exactly what barcade owners are banking on: customers reliving those childhood moments. Level Up is the latest bar to open up its door to gamers in the college town. It’s centrally located both to the University of Oregon and downtown Eugene, making it an easy place to meet up or play a round of pinball. With only a handful of bars to choose from in the college town, Level Up offers Eugenians a place to get away from the regular bar scene and try out something new or old, depending on their level of gaming expertise.

It’s only been open since April of this year, but Level Up is already becoming a hot spot, drawing people of all ages to stop by. “Happy hour is from 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. If your kids get off of school and you get off of work, you can have a beer while your kids do their thing,” says K-I, assistant manager at Level Up. “It’s a safe place and there’s always a good vibe in here.”

Level Up also wants to reiterate to its customers that it’s not a nightclub. The space used to be occupied by The District, the troubled dance club that had a history of problems with the law. The barcade does offer daily and weekly events for patrons to enjoy. Customers will soon be able to purchase hanging pieces of artwork featured by local artists and Thursday and Friday nights cater to those looking to blow off some steam on the dance floor.  Andre Sirois also moonlights as DJ Foodstamp during Next Level Fridays. But don’t expect to hear any LMFAO or Nicki Minaj. “DJ Foodstamp is more of a turntablist. He plays the classics which is the vibe we’re trying to maintain in here,” K.I. says. The bar is open until 2 a.m. and kids are welcome to play games until 9 p.m.

It’s refreshing to see that these vintage games have a home again. With the advent of in-home gaming systems like Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s Playstation, kids never had a reason to leave their rooms in order to play their favorite games. Thanks to barcades, now people can congregate together, play against each other, and compare scores and gaming techniques. This environment encourages a more active approach to gaming, rather than the sedentary lifestyle that so many gamers have become accustomed to. “We are used to video game masturbation; that is, playing by ourselves,” Sirois says. “Barcades get us away from our computers and allow us to play games socially. Not like fake socially via a network, but in person.”

It may be 2012 but walking inside Blair Alley Vintage Arcade in the Whiteaker neighborhood of Eugene, feels like strolling through an arcade in the 1980’s. It celebrates a time when machines and video games were packed into one giant room and people came together. Located directly behind Ninkasi Brewing Company, this pinball haven offers food, dancing, and plenty of games for the whole family to enjoy.  It’s a little off the beaten path but that’s part of its charm. As owner Chad Boutin says, “It’s a speakeasy arcade.”

Arcade sign located outside of Ninkasi Brewery

What started out as Boutin’s 350 square-foot photography studio waiting room turned into a full fledged bar and arcade in a matter of months. “My friends brought four pinball machines over and I had one already. We started opening up the space for Friday night art walk and people loved it,” Boutin says.  Within three months, they added a bar, two bathrooms, increased the size of the entrance door, obtained a liquor license, and opened their doors for business. “It’s that place, when you have a friend in town, that you take them to because only a local would know about it,” he adds.

Blair Alley Vintage Arcade also offers food and has happy hour specials. Kids are welcome until 9 p.m. and all the machines are set up so they can easily be moved and played outside once the DJ arrives. It certainly has the old vibe of a classic arcade, with all of the machines lined up inside a dimly lit room and the sounds of quarters clanking in the background. “After you’ve been here 5 minutes you know without a doubt that this is a place you want to spend some time in or thanks but no thanks, I’m never coming back. Don’t you wish all your relationships were that up front in 5 minutes?” says Clark, a regular customer and part-time worker at the bar.

August, age 3, masters mini bowling at Blair Alley

Now residents of Eugene don’t have to drive out of town in order to play their favorite vintage games. Ground Kontrol, located in downtown Portland, and Shorty’s, located in Seattle, used to be the only options for barcade enthusiasts living in the Pacific Northwest. Wunderland, a family-owned nickel arcade, has franchises all over Oregon but it’s catered more to children and those under the age of 21.

Although the barcade isn’t an entirely new concept, the community of Eugene appears to be catching up to the trend. Who wouldn’t want to grab a beer, play a round of Pac-man, watch a game on the big screen, and dance until it’s time to go home? With two barcades opening over the past year and half and another console-based lounge set to open in the near future, it looks like this trend isn’t going anywhere.

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What if I don’t live in Eugene? No problem. Take your quarters here:

Barcades are popping up all over the country!  The original barcade in Brooklyn, New York came about thanks to five friends coming together back in 2004. They bridged their love for gaming with their love for American craft beer and established Barcade. Just this year, two more Barcades have opened in Jersey City, New Jersey and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Over in Grand Rapids, Michigan, gamers can head over to Stella’s Lounge where they can enjoy Sunday brunch and their favorite vintage video games.  Denver, Colorado is the latest city to get on board with the arcade/bar concept. The 1up opened in June 2012 and features three lanes of Skee-Ball and multiples sets of Giant Jenga, in addition to 45 classic arcade games and 15 pinball machines. Game on!

Barcade in Brooklyn, New York
(credit: barcadebrooklyn.com)

Barcade in Jersey City, New Jersey
(credit: barcadejerseycity.com)

Barcade in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
(credit: barcadephiladelphia.com/)

Stella’s Lounge in Grand Rapids, Michigan
(credit: heinemanbarco.com)

1Up in Denver, Colorado
(credit: the-1up.com)

The women’s bathroom at Ground Kontrol in Portland, Oregon

Shorty’s in Seattle, Washington
(credit: http://www.shortydog.com)

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Three senior theater major students, who are graduating this June, are ready to move forward and pursue their theater career in their own ways.

Miller Theatre Complex at University of Oregon is the place that students learned and got experiences.

June is a season of graduation in the city of Eugene, Ore. Each student is excited and anxious at the same time. Kyle Leibovitch, Derek Verhoest and Sophie Kruip, theater students at University of Oregon, are not the exception. Leibovitch is going to New York to attend a conservatory for acting. Verhoest is starting his acting career in Portland, Ore. Kruip is getting an apprenticeship position at a theatre in Philadelphia, Pa. They have been studying and working hard together on the shows at university theatres with other great theater mates and amazing faculties. No one can argue about University of Oregon theater department not offering one of the top best programs in the country. However, Leibovitch, Verhoest and Kruip believe that a broad range of experiences and its uniqueness of UO theater department made them realize what they really love.

Theater students know that pursuing any types of theater career is not easy. According to John Schmor, the UO theater department head, no more than 10% of the students who graduate move into a professional theater work field right away after they graduate over the last six years. Also, not a lot of students go to a graduate school or conservatory. Many students tend to get a non-theatrical job at the beginning and keep trying for a while, which has always been how theater people start out. For example, a number of students work for Netflix and help the customers on the phone.

“When you are 21, you are floundering to figure out how to break into the business or how you want to do with it.” Schmor says. “It takes a couple of years.”

In fact, theater students have a lot of advantages in the business field, according to Schmor. They are self-disciplined. They know the importance of meeting a deadline. They, especially the actors, are often well spoken and professional when speaking in front of people. They know how to dress. And they know how to cooperate. Because of that, many of the students usually do not have a hard time finding some kind of job as their first step.

“I think we are really good at giving students a broad range of experiences, and we are really good at supporting the liberal arts degree,” Schmor says.

Students in theater at University of Oregon are required to take many kinds of classes, such as acting, stage setting, costume and make-ups, directing, playwriting and drama history.

Verhoest thinks that it is valuable for the actors to learn about the different aspects of theater production. By taking non-acting classes, actors will be able to have different perspectives and build a better relationship with other members of the production staff, such as directors and designers.

Leibovitch says that the comprehensive program gives time to students to deeply think about what they really want to do in the future. For example, Kruip was nominated, as an actor, to join the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival twice. KCACTF is a national theater festival program in every February, which involves 18,000 students from colleges and universities nationwide to help improving the quality of college theaters in the country. Although she really enjoyed acting, she then realized how competitive the acting world is. It made her wonder whether acting is something that she really wants to do.

At the same time, the UO theater department as “jack of all trades, master of none” could also be a downside in some situations.

“I am just worried that I don’t have enough skills in any one area,” Kruip says. “By the time to you to decide, it is the time to you to leave.” She did not choose to go to graduate school because of the money issue. She did not really want to spend $40,000 more for an education.

The city of Eugene is not a perfect place for theater people either.

Schmor says that there is no theater in Eugene that pays professionally. Though Lord Leebrick Theatre Company pays on a semi-professional basis, there is no equity company.

After Leibovitch moved to Eugene from Los Angeles, where he grew up, and fell in love with theater, he found that the UO theater department was inspiring. He thinks that he could not make a decision to go to New York to pursue his dream without it. But he also admits that he cannot be satisfied by staying in Eugene.

“I want more. I want to really just invest myself,” he says.

Kruip built a great relationship with the faculties, backstage crews and classmates in her four years of college life. She also loves the laid-back atmosphere of Eugene. She is originally from California but does not want to move back to the big cities, such as New York or Los Angeles. At the same time, she is not satisfied with a city with very few community theaters, such as ACE, Actors Cabaret of Eugene.

“I am more ambitious and more driven, so moving to a new city is pretty important at this point for opportunity,” she says.

Despite of these concerns, the students appreciate what UO theater department gave them. One of the things that the students are really proud of about the program is the Pocket Playhouse. The Pocket Playhouse is the smallest theatre in the basement of the Villard Hall, which is completely under the direction and operation of students. The theatre is open to all UO students to hold any kinds of show. Because of the limited number of shows and crews, not all theater students are able to join the main university shows that are performed at the Robinson and Hope Theatres. The Pocket Playhouse is a chance for those students who do not have any former theater experiences. Some students take classes and then do their first show at the Pocket Playhouse, and some does the opposite.

“It’s very experimental,” Verhoest says.

Kruip experienced every aspect of theater at the Pocket Playhouse. She acted. She designed. She stage-managed.

“You can do whatever you want in there,” she says.

Those experiences had greatly helped her building her resume to apply for the apprenticeship.

“This is a special resource that we have, and I wish that more people would take an advantage of it,” she says.

One of the shows that Leibovitch is very proud of is Sonnets for an Old Century, which was performed at the Pocket Playhouse last year. It is a series of monologues written by Jose Rivera, and that was when he realized that he loves to play a serious character, like the murderer that he played at Sonnets. Even though he himself was fortunate enough to get a chance to be involved in the main shows from the beginning, Leibovitch thinks that the Pocket Playhouse is a great place to be seen by the directors, which is kind of like an audition.

“If you are in the theater, you are going to get denied. That’s just inevitable,” Leibovitch says. “It’s a good opportunity to be auditioned and get used to auditioning in a less stressed situation.”

These Students all have different dreams in theater field. What is common among them, however, is that they all aim to make living out of something they really love to do. The dream might not come true right after they get the degree, but they believe it will eventually.

Kruip’s final goal is to own her own theater. Her dream theater is not just for plays but also for many different forms of arts.

“If I do someday own my own theater, I could do acting, maybe in the theater that I own. That would be ideal,” she says.

Leibovitch’s final goal is to act professionally and work. He does not want to be a one-hit wonder. He wants to keep acting.

“I’m totally content with just being able to work consistently,” he says.

Verhoest says, “I will be happy just supporting myself as an actor.”

The most important thing for him, he says, is to keep doing what he really loves.

He says, “The worst thing that can happen is me giving up on the career.”

The stage of the Pocket Playhouse is his favorite place at U of O.

Kyle Leibovitch, 23-years-old, is going to a conservatory for acting called Atlantic Acting School in New York.

“I didn’t feel like I was ready quite yet to go right into acting career because I was kind of new to theater,” he says.

He was originally majoring in human physiology in his first two years at University of Oregon. But after taking the second year acting class, he just fell in love with theater, especially the people.

“I think my personality fits more towards theater than human physiology people,” Leibovitch says.

He thinks that the human physiology people were more introverted, which did not suit his outgoingness. His personality was more of a weird one, which he thinks who exactly theater people are. The great thing about acting for him is that he can pretend to be and live a life of someone else. He also loves people and to talk to people. So, he changed his major at the end of his junior year and determined to devote his life to acting.

Leibovitch did not have any former theater experiences. However, surprisingly, changing major in the middle of his college life did not scare him.

“It was an easy decision for me,” he says. “I felt at home.”

Even though he could imagine the hardship that he will experience in the future as an actor, Verhoest is full of excitement to move forward to his dream.

Derek Verhoest, 22-years-old, is stepping into the film acting. He has already started his acting career by being part of a TV show, Leverage, as well as short films and feature films in Portland. He will pursue his film acting career for the present. In his opinion, there is a lot more job opportunities in the filming industry than in the theatrical productions. Also, theater shows take a lot of time for the rehearsals, which does not allow actors to join several different works. His plan is to work at a deli place and audition in his off time until he can support himself as a fulltime actor.

“I really don’t mind being like a server or a waiter or a bartender,” Verhoest says. “I think it goes well with my lifestyle.”

Verhoest had been a business major for two years until he first visited to the university theatre and knew about the UO theater program. At the same time, Verhoest’s enthusiasm toward acting has been deep inside his heart. He used to play when he was in 5th grade and has always been an outgoing person. So, when he found out about the theatre, he did not hesitate to join the audition to act at university theatre. Since then, he is completely absorbed in acting. He switched his major few months after his debut to the university theatre.

“I honestly don’t know why I wasn’t in a theater major before,” he says. “It’s just like this missing piece of my life that I didn’t have.”

Kruip found out her real dream through the UO theater program.

Sophie Kruip, 21-years-old, is planning to get an apprenticeship position at Arden Theatre in Philadelphia, Pa. It is hands-on company management experience opportunities, including box office, fund raising and stage management works. Her plan is to work at small theaters and get part time jobs at restaurants at the same time to earn her living for a while. She is ready for the challenging theater life in front of her.

She has been an actor since her 3rd grade and believed that acting is what she is going to do for the rest of her life.

“I still love the acting and I love the recognition too, and I love working with people so closely in a cast,” Kruip says. “I just love so much about it, except for the lifestyle that professional acting would needs.”

Kruip does not want to live an insecure and unstable life with a lot of moving around for a tour. It is just not her style of life.

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An illustration from page 6, “The Eugene Food Scene”

Emily Hope Dobkin came to Eugene, Oregon by plane in 2010. Dobkin was born in Simsbury, Connecticut, got her bachelor’s degree in creative writing at Maryland’s Goucher College, and had just spent a year working in Baltimore. She wanted a change for graduate school, and decided to attend the University of Oregon.

“I came here and I had a month before I started school,” said Dobkin. “The first weekend was Eugene Celebration, and I was like, ‘This place is awesome!’”

A year later, Dobkin was trying to figure out a thesis project to complete her master’s degree in arts administration. She’d just summered in San Francisco and interned for the 1,000 Journals Project, which sends blank notebooks around the world and exhibits the results. It’s an experiment in analog mass communication that connects artists and writers everywhere.

Dobkin wanted to do something similar, but on a local level. She was browsing Smith Family Bookstore for inspiration when she found “The First Eugene, Oregon Coloring Book” created and published by Mike Helm of the Rainy Day Press in 1979.

This was no ordinary coloring book. On each page was a tender line drawing of a scene from the Emerald City, populated by characters that would still fit in on Eugene’s streets today.

“When I show people pictures of the coloring book, I get the same reaction of this slow smile creeping up on their faces,” said Dobkin. “Clearly things have changed in Eugene, but everything that’s in that coloring book is still here.”

The second she saw the coloring book, Dobkin knew it would be her project. She just had to figure out how to enlist Eugeneans to color it in.

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Doug Blandy came to Eugene in a “very small” Ford Escort with his wife, infant daughter and 3-year-old son in 1987. He’d left his teaching job at Northwest Ohio University to be a professor in arts and administration at the University of Oregon.

“I remember coming for my interview and thinking how beautiful it is, and also, coming from the Midwest, how many different shades of green there are that I never even realized,” he said.

The Blandy family’s first place in Eugene was Motel 6, and housing was hard to find around campus because of an enrollment boom. They eventually settled in a home in the south hills. Two years later, Mike Helm published “The First Eugene, Oregon Coloring Book” and 32 years after that Blandy became Dobkin’s research advisor for her thesis project.

Blandy loved the coloring book as much as Dobkin. They started throwing around questions about how our memories might be enhanced or changed when we see our hometown from different perspectives, or with “new colors.”

“Conceptions of Eugene are always changing, which is one thing I like about this town,” said Blandy. “There seems to be always an interest in reimagining what communities are.” How could Dobkin help Eugeneans along in this grand remixing process?

In October 2011, Dobkin registered the domain name eugenecoloringbookblog.com. The following February, the site was open for locals to virtually browse the pages of the book. At the bottom of every page, from one (“Arriving in Eugene”) to 20 (“Parks of Eugene”), site visitors were asked to leave stories about their experiences in the city.

Dobkin also gave local artists paper copies of the coloring book asking for remixes. She planned to exhibit the stories and art at the DIVA’s downtown gallery space in May and June. The Eugene Coloring Book Project had officially begun.

“People communicate about their relationship to place in a variety of ways,” said Blandy. “Emily was able to provide an array of possibilities with which people could communicate.” Now all she needed were some stories.

Mary Morgan drove from her home state of Wyoming to Eugene last fall, with her dog riding shotgun.

“I made jokes all the way here about finding wild berries and getting cholera because I went the route of the Oregon Trail,” Morgan wrote on the Eugene Coloring Book Blog. She’d never been to the city before and was “extremely nervous” about moving here, but she’d decided to get her master’s in art administration at the University of Oregon and wasn’t looking back. She quickly befriended Dobkin, and when the project started she became one of the blog’s most avid writers.

“Since I’m new here, I really feel like I want to be part of a community,” she said. “I don’t want to be a student who just shows up and leaves. Anywhere you live is just as cool as you make it.”

The blog has become something of a virtual diary for Morgan. She’s chronicled her adventures in a new living situation (“We lived like hobos for a long time”), the art scene (“Art walks breathe the life”), the Saturday Market (“Wow, this is what this town is about”) and other places around Eugene.

The tales of Morgan and others were starting to bring the pages of the coloring book to life, but Dobkin knew that in order for the project to reach its full potential, she had to get strangers to submit stories.

“I needed a sign that knowledge of the project had broken into the public consciousness,” said Dobkin. With stories trickling in, she was getting worried about the project.

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SLUG Queen Holly GoSlugly’s diorama

Debbie Williamson Smith arrived in Eugene at Sacred Heart Medical Center on her very first birthday. She grew up going to Eugenean operas, ballets, art museums and, of course, the Eugene Celebration Parade.

That’s where she first saw the SLUG Queen, riding by on a fancy float in her traditional spot at the front of the parade. “I was more about the queen part than the slug part,” she said of her initial fascination with Eugene’s royal representative. “Any time you can incorporate glitter into your wardrobe, it’s a good thing, right?”

Williamson Smith would grow up to become 2011 SLUG Queen Holly GoSlugly, and also the communications manager at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. Dobkin had been working an internship in the museum’s education department, and enlisted Eugene’s unofficial ambassador to her cause.

“I am probably Eugene’s number one fan or pretty close to it,” said Williamson Smith. “Emily wanted to see Eugene from the SLUG Queen’s perspective.”

Williamson Smith took the pages of the coloring book and remixed them into an enormous, very slimy diorama full of photos of Eugene. She also started spreading the word about the project. Dobkin’s network of stories began to expand.

“Most of the people involved in the project are from other places,” said Williamson Smith. “I’ve enjoyed looking at their perspectives. It’s nice seeing people coming from more metropolitan areas and embracing a more casual attitude. ”

A few connections with bloggers and University classes followed, and Dobkin was hearing word from all sorts of folks.

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The “anablog” displays some of the stories that were collected

“Let a five-year-old design a sundae—gummy worms, cake batter ice cream, Oreos, sprinkles and maybe some chips—and it might come close to what the Eugene food scene looks like,” wrote Melissa on page six. “It’s a whimsical world of sometimes local, sometimes Sysco food with a focus on everyone-friendly fare.”

“Far from modest or shy is the ‘LTD Bike Guy,’” wrote Basha Gitnes on page 12, “The Characters of Eugene.” “From his attire, or lack thereof, his profane words and his unwillingness to leave campus, us students will definitely keep memories of this ‘character’ for the rest of our lives.”

“Autzen Stadium is the symbolic Roman Coliseum-like arena that is home to our mighty Ducks,” wrote Cory Kirchner on the page devoted to the Ducks. “From the walk over the river and through the woods to the stadium steps and finally to the final horn, it was at the time the best fan experience of my life.”

Dobkin noticed that those who chose to write tended to have a deep love for and a healthy sense of humor about the town.

“It’s funny, even in the ‘Rainy Days’ section, people… always find something that resonates with them about the rain,” she said. “Because this is a college town, a place where people root themselves from other places, I think it’s really important to take time to appreciate and process where you are.”

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As May approached, Dobkin began collecting the paper versions of remixes from artists. There was a beautiful sketchbook full of tips to living in Eugene, a series of collages, and a book full of photos culled from an adventurous Eugenean’s Instagram. Dobkin had also been working with a Lane Community College design class, which created an analog version of the blog for her.

The art, the stories and the “anablog” all came together at the beginning of May at the DIVA. Dobkin printed out giant vinyl versions of the characters in the coloring book and stuck them around the space. She set up a coloring area with copies of the pages, hundreds of crayons and a corkboard. There were iPads with a coloring app running, and a laptop displaying the blog so that more people could share their stories.

“I started naming all the characters and making the exhibition a compact version of Eugene,” she said. “I even had a dream one night that all the characters that I put up came alive.”

On June 1st, the night of the First Friday Art Walk and the official opening of the exhibition, Dobkin bought a cake, made sure the anablog was working and waited for familiar faces to arrive. In came Blandy, and a very excited Morgan in a flower print dress, and the SLUG Queen in her signature green organza gown.

Also in attendance were countless Eugeneans, some of whom could have been straight from the pages of the coloring book. They browsed the artistic remixes and scribbled on pages and reeled through the anablog. They lined up to write down their own stories of the town.

Dobkin had good news to spread that night. She’d just heard word that the Lane County Historical Museum was interested in remounting her exhibition. It seemed Eugene wasn’t ready to part with this quirky storytelling tool just yet. However, Dobkin will be graduating and moving on.

“It’s going to be really strange when I graduate, and all of a sudden everything I’ve been doing is just over,” she said. “But in a sense it’s not, because this is going to continue. I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish while I was out here, which was this idea of preserving culture through art, and I did it in a completely different way than I ever anticipated.”

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