Meet Our Team: Yoga, Snorkeling and Rock ‘n’ Roll!


  • By Erin Madsen
  • March 26, 2020
Colorful blue and purple illustration of people swimming and snorkeling

Meet some MSP‑C employees whose creativity spills out into their off-duty hours, with passion projects that run the gamut from art photography to punk bands.

We at MSP‑C are lucky enough to have jobs that are creatively fulfilling. We come to work and spend most of every day doing what we love—with a break to eat some pretty great food; Minneapolis has fantastic culinary offerings downtown!

If we’re really lucky, our creativity spills into our lives outside of office hours. We find ways to flex our artistic or actual physical muscles that are a joy to share with our coworkers, our friends and family (though for some of us, our families and kids are our extracurricular pursuits).

Let us introduce you to some MSP‑C employees who are doing super cool things in their off time—just for the love of their hobbies.

Dana Raidt, Associate Content Director

You are the creative mastermind behind the special sections in Delta Sky magazine. And you’ve found the time to pursue writing when you’re not in the office?

My first book, a biography of Native American rock 'n' roll pioneer Link Wray, will be published later this year. It’s called The First Man in Black and is the first-ever book about Link.

Famous musicians like Bob Dylan and Iggy Pop all were influenced by Link (and many cite him as their favorite guitarists), however he's often considered a one-hit wonder for his 1958 song "Rumble," which you may recognize from Pulp Fiction.

He was so much more, though—Link and his guitar innovations are basically the reason that rock 'n' roll (not to mention punk, Americana and many other genres) has sounded the way it has over the past 60-plus years.

What was a particularly memorable experience related to your book?

I once traveled to Denmark to research where Link spent the last 25 years of his life and literally knocked on the doors of some of his acquaintances and family members, to no avail. A priest even closed a gate in my face! Needless to say, this project has strengthened my perseverance with sources. And my patience—I've interviewed upward of 70 people for this project.

What are your goals for your passion project?

To be a bestselling author, of course! But more realistically, to write at least one more book that shines a light on someone in the music industry who’s never received the credit they are owed.

***

Jonathan Benson, Production Director

You not only get our magazines to the printer on time, you’re also a musician who has been in several bands. When and why did you start doing it?

Some friends and I started a band in junior high. I had my first gig at 13. I don't remember how we managed to get our foot in the door initially, but we wound up playing a talent show at a local (21+ only) club that was hosted by a popular local band, and we won the whole thing.

Playing onstage—to a full house with all that big sound—made a big impression on me and I definitely got the performance bug. Of course, the commendation didn't hurt either. I went on to playing backyard parties and such in high school and, by college, had formed a band that was moving toward paid shows in clubs/bars.

Any big musical influences?

My hometown is where the band Cheap Trick hails from. Local heroes, so to speak. I discovered them pretty early on—10 years old, I think. At the same time, I’d stumbled across the ability to hear pop songs on the radio, then sit down at the piano and play them by ear. Who knows where any of that even came from, but I seemed to have a knack for it.

I was regularly checking out ‘70s rock vinyl LPs from the local library and listening to them on the record player in my room. And I was learning to plunk along with them, first on ukulele, then guitar. So lots of elements surrounding music were starting to gel around that age, and it fueled a lot of creative imagination and ideation for me.

Any big experiences that stick out?

I was in a band that wound up opening for the aforementioned Cheap Trick a couple of times; I don't think I ever envisioned that coming. Playing for my first time at First Avenue was definitely a bucket list moment.

Going to SXSW was another. Recording an album in NYC. And I've gotten to do some small tours in Europe a few times now, which definitely was the fulfillment of some of that childhood romanticism.

***

Allison Cook, Associate Video Producer

You’re one of the creative masters behind the videos we produce here at MSP‑C, but you have another passion. Tell us about it!

I started working at Sea Life at Mall of America back in 2012. I sold tickets, gave tours, was an education teacher and eventually a manager. But my favorite gig was by far being a Snorkel Master.

I’ve always wanted to help people and working at the aquarium gave me the opportunity to help a lot of people learn about sea creatures and have really memorable experiences.

Can you tell us about one of those experiences?

On one of my over 300 snorkel programs, we had a guest who was afraid of water. Even just being in the water made them anxious. They had come to do the snorkel program with us because their partner really loved the ocean and they wanted to give them that special experience. What a supportive partner!

As we sat together and talked about their fear, I was able to help them calm down enough to be able to just look around at the fish. Our fish are really used to people, so they swim freely wherever they want without care. With some gentle coaxing and reassurance, we slowly got closer to snorkeling. And by the end of the program they were swimming with their partner without my help; I was so proud to be part of supporting this individual in overcoming a true fear.

How do you balance it all?

I told myself I would only keep working as a Snorkel Master if I was still having fun. Well, eight years later, I’m still spending my Saturdays swimming with the sharks.

***

Mike Kooiman, Interactive Design Director

Mike, you’re our digital design guru here at MSP‑C, but there’s another reason you always seem so calm and collected, right?

I am a part-time yoga instructor and currently pursuing my advanced certification (500 RYT). I've taught fitness classes for over 20 years and it’s become centered on yoga specifically in the past several years. I teach at the Downtown Minneapolis (Dayton) YMCA.

When and why did you start teaching yoga?

When I fell in love with the personal practice of physical (hatha) yoga, it drove me to study the more deeply rewarding philosophical roots. That has become an all-encompassing passion with endless possibilities for every kind of growth.

What has been a transformational experience?

A recent landmark was the realization that there is essentially no difference between my pursuit of yoga and anything else I do in my life. It's a tenet of the teaching in general (everything and everyone is fueled by the same essential fire), but as it applies to my work as a creative individual, yoga both inspires that work and inspires its own creative acts.

***

Amy Ballinger, Art Director

As one of the art directors who creates our award-winning feature designs in Sky, it’s not surprising you have more than one creative outlet. Tell us about your fine-art photography.

I create surreal and dreamlike images using models, constructed sets and nature.

What sparked your pursuit of photography?

My passion for photography started in high school when I took a film class and fell in love with shooting and developing film. I was always fascinated by alternative photographic processes and experimented a lot in the dark room and in camera to create dreamlike and ghostly images. About 12 years ago, I switched over to digital, constructing images using a combination of real life and Photoshop.

What was a particularly memorable experience related to your photography?

I was featured in Minnesota Original on TPT (the Twin Cities PBS station) in the fall of 2018. I feel honored to have been included in their line-up of local artists.

What’s coming up for you?

I have a show in January 2021 with a wonderful installation artist that I am excited about.

***

Mike Novak, Art Director

You are a crack designer for our TechMedia clients—but you also like to turn it up to 11, right?

I play drums in a local noisy punk rock band called Holler House.

When and why did you start doing it?

I’ve been playing drums most of my life. I started playing with this particular group after I moved here from Chicago around 2011. I had crossed paths with a few of the members in other projects back in college. We always said that if we found ourselves in the same city again, we’d start something. We’re all after a similar 1990s dischord-type sound but wanted to bring more art into it. We’ve done all sorts of absurd design things related to the band.

I made a unique logo for each of our first 32 shows that culminated in an art show at NDSU in Fargo. We’ve used the logos to create a font and codes to plot coordinates for a scavenger hunt around Minneapolis for a record release. We continue to use found sounds, old audio clips and video sometimes in our sets. We’re trying to blend different forms of art into one thing.

What was a particularly memorable experience related to your passion project?

We try to do an extended Midwest loop of shows each year. A few years back while in Milwaukee, we were able to make a bowling pilgrimage to the original Holler House. It’s the oldest sanctioned bowling alley in America, and it serves as a bit of an inspiration for our band (we were all in the same bowling league, too).

Just being there was amazing enough, but we were also able to have a few Polish beers with the 90-year-old owner, Marcy (who has since passed away). She was blown away that there was a band called Holler House. We traded stories and Holler House shirts with her—she was a blast!

How do you find the energy to play in a band?

It’s all a balancing act, but we find that one experience fuels the next. One creative outlet can inspire another—and our day jobs are included in that. Getting to have so much fun playing music with your friends definitely can put a bounce in your step and a smirk on your face even if you’re a bit tired the next day. Everyone in the band has kids and full-time jobs.

The band definitely takes the back seat a lot of the time, but I don’t think any of us would be truly happy if we weren’t playing music sometimes.

Read next: Why Journalists Make the Best Content Marketers

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