Week Fifty Two


Posted in Art news, Art openings, general interest by sarahbakerhansen on 4 March 2009

Too Many Phone BooksMy Dad absolutely detests telemarketing calls. When they’d call during our family dinners, in the days before the “do not call list” came about, he’d often get pretty hot under the collar. I think he was probably one of the first people to put his number on the list when it became a reality. Ironically, just a few days ago, he changed his cell phone number after he started to receive tons of unsolicited calls on his iPhone.

I worked a telemarketing job when I was a college student. I sold magazines from a dungeon-like, dank basement office. Periodically, a man who subscribed to Playboy would pop up as the next call on my computerized screen. Those were the worst. It never failed that the man asked me if I was a playmate. I always wanted to say “yes, sir, I am a playboy playmate who works as a telemarketer hocking you a magazine in my off time. And I am nude right now.” Of course, I never did. I think I lasted about two weeks at the job before I quit. That was about the usual turnover rate, one of my coworkers told me before I left. I could see why. The job blew.

So I haven’t decided if I’ll volunteer to make some calls as part of Matthew Dehamers’ new show at the Bemis Center, (402) Disconnect/Reconnect. During the show, Dehamers and a team of volunteers will make one phone call to every individual listed in the Omaha white pages. It totals about 100,000 calls. The “call center” will be in one of Bemis’ galleries and the center will install 10 phone lines for the purpose of the calls. Dehamers says he’s trying to turn what’s normally a negative experience into a positive one. The “telemarketers” will offer a brief question or an affirming thought that relates to the community during each call. Dehamers says that “all he’s selling is Omaha.”

I wondered aloud to Bemis Curator Hesse McGraw if the artist planned to tape some of the responses, and he wasn’t sure. But wouldn’t it be interesting to see how many people hang up before they hear the affirming thought? I wonder how many people will “get it?” I wonder how many people will think its a prank call.

I haven’t told my Dad about the project yet, but he’s a “B” in the phone book, so his call will arrive soon after the show opens March 13. I’ll remind him to listen for it and plan to ask him to save the message on his voice mail machine if it arrives during the day, when he’s at work. I’ll also tell my Grandparents about the calls. What’s funny about this project is that as I looked through an Omaha phone book last night, I realized that none of my contemporaries are listed in the phone book. We all survive on cell phones. Who has a land line any more? The generation gap adds another layer to the project. Anyhow, when they receive their calls, I’ll report back. And if I can get over my fear of Playboy subscribers and the memory of my Dad yelling over a plate of meatloaf, I might just make a few calls myself.


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