Bob Ballard, a Landmark Education graduate whose Hearts of Fire project empowering homeless people to create art and music has been written about previously by Landmark Education News, was interviewed by Radio Ojai about the project and his music. Ballard also teamed with Ellen Snortland, who performed her one woman show in February to raise money for Hearts of Fire. Here is the interview.
Lisa: Welcome to Radio Ojai. Bob Ballard is an Ojai local, he is a musician and he also is the founder of the Hearts of Fire project. Bob, thank you so much for playing that wonderful song. Welcome to the program.
Bob: You’re welcome, thanks so much for inviting me. I love it here.
Lisa: You are sort of a multi-faceted fellah. Tell me a little about your song, first of all.
Bob: Well, the song I wrote it about a meeting place, about a place I go to in Santa Barbara I go to meet with homeless advocates from time to time, and they meet in a house, and in the house there’s a wall, and the wall is made out of brick. One day I noticed there were people’s names written all over the wall in calligraphy, and I said “Wow, what are all those names on there?” and they said “Those are the people who died on the train tracks, the homeless people in Santa Barbara.” So I wrote this song about them.
Lisa: That’s amazing. And that segues right into – I really wanted to talk to you not only about your music, but about the Hearts of Fire project. Certainly your work in Santa Barbara is just the tip of the iceberg. Tell me about what you’re doing with this project.
Bob: Well, what we’re doing is transforming the face of homelessness in America. We’re actually empowering homeless people through their own art and music to show the world who they are. So we travel from shelter to shelter and we have art programs and music programs and they show everyone who they are and we empower them to do that.
Lisa: That’s a lofty goal. I know when I interviewed you, what was it a year ago, in the spring, for the VC Reporter, when you were first starting out, and you had just come off of your first tour back east, to shelters in DC, I believe. And since then you’ve done quite a few of these tours at various homeless shelters, bringing art and music to the homeless. Tell me what has transpired since then, and how your fundraising is going.
Bob: Well, it was amazing, so many things have happened since then. I think at that point like you said we had just left Washington DC. And since then we went about 5,000 more miles, visiting shelters; we’ve been to 25 shelters now and all over southern California. We just completed our 2008 tour where we went from Santa Barbara to San Diego visiting shelters. This year we’re getting ready to plan our next tour. We’re leaving February 12th to go from Los Angeles to New Orleans, visiting shelters in Phoenix, Austin and Albuquerque along the way.
Lisa: Wow. So you’re getting some national attention now I take it.
Bob: Yeah, that’s the objective. That’s really the purpose. It’s a two phase program. The first phase is visiting shelters on a tour and raising awareness and really developing the program so that we can implement the second phase which is the permanent arts program that we want to have at the shelters because right now we just go and visit for one day and we have an art workshop and then we take their art and exhibit it all over the country.
Lisa: And you have had a local exhibit. Are you planning to do more here locally?
Bob: Yes, we’ve done several here. We did one at the art center; we did a couple at the Ojai regional center; we’ve done them at people’s homes; we’ve had some great home art shows, and we’re getting ready for the next one, which is a combination art show and benefit play performance at the Theatre 150 here in Ojai.
Lisa: And that’s going to happen February 3rd and 4th at Theatre 150. This is a one woman play?
Bob: Yeah, it’s Ellen Snortland and she was just nominated for a Pulitzer prize in drama for her play. I’ve seen her before; I’ve met her before and I told her about this project and that’s why she’s coming here, so she can do a benefit for two nights for this project.
Lisa: When that play happens, is there also going to be art on exhibit?
Bob: Yeah, in the lobby we’re going to be showing some of the artwork that we have. Typically what we do is we make prints of the artwork; we sell the prints so people can order any size print they want from the originals, as well as greeting cards. We’ll also be showing some film clips in the lobby too off the tour.
Lisa: Now are you going to have a documentary on this?
Bob: Yeah, that’s eventually what we’re working on. We’ve been compiling the footage to make a documentary footage on the tour. We’re well on the way to doing that; we’re going to film some more on thuis next tour.
Lisa: My listeners are probably catching that you have a bit of an accent. You are from Boston originally. You have an interesting story about when you were walking the streets of Boston, sort of how this whole project became inspired. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Bob: I wrote a song about what came up for me when I see homeless people, and It’s called “Not Like Him”. And while it’s mostly about me and my feelings, and when I moved here, people heard me playing it and they said you should make a music video out of it. So we went back to Boston and we did make a music video with the homeless people. So we hung out on the streets for three days with them, and they were in the video and they took us all over the place, and I was just really very inspired by how wonderful they are with each other and the tremendous heart that they have, and the community that they have. So I really fell in love with who they are from that experience.
Lisa: And they were actors in your video, right? I really got a kick out of that. Is that video still up on your website?
Bob: Yeah, it’s on the website, it’s actually linked to Youtube, so it’s on Youtube. A lot of people have seen it. There’s also other videos up there too. We have some clips from our 2008 tour up there. So there’s a lot of good stuff happening.
Lisa: That’s fantastic. Now, you’ve been involved with music for what, 30 years now, you’ve been playing your guitar?
Bob: (laughs) I don’t want to say how long!
Lisa: So music is definitely a passion of yours. And you have some involvement with the local Ojai Songwriters Anonymous. So this song you just sang – Did that go through the workshop process?
Bob: Yeah, it sent through the whole thing. Scott Smith started it and I was his first member. So, we kind of like, sometimes hung out by ourselves in the beginning, but yeah, this has gone through that process.
Lisa: I sat in on some of those meetings and I thought that’s such a painful process you go through from the time the song starts in your head to the time here it is being recorded here on Radio Ojai, that must have been a very long process.
Bob: Well, it wasn’t too bad. I work on it for a while before I bring it there and then I just kind of fine tune it from what people say.
Lisa: Well, it’s a lovely song. I really enjoyed it. What is next for your music?
Bob: Well, I’m writing more stuff and I perform with my friend Joe Cicero from Santa Barbara from time to time around here, whenever we can find a place to play. Nowadays, there’s not a lot of venues to play at, but whenever we can we play together, and we do all our own material. Kind of like Simon and Garfunkel, that kind of thing. There’s also some videos of us performing on Youtube called Ballard/Cicero.
Lisa: Ballard/Cicero, we’ll have to look that up, for sure. Tell me where our listeners can find a little bit more about Hearts of Fire project.
The easiest thing to do is go to the website, www.heartsoffire.tv – There’s a lot of information there.
Lisa: I’ll put a link up on the site. We can donate through the site, I take it, as well?
Bob: Oh yeah, we seriously need some donations to make this tour, because the price of gas in an old Winnebago that somebody gave us – It eats some serious gas?
Lisa: What’s the mileage on that?
Bob: About ten.
Lisa: Oh, geez!
Bob: So, I gotta get from LA to New Orleans and back – we’re having some fundraisers and events in each of those cities on the way back, too, and we’re also having a big sendoff from Skid Row from the LA Mission. On the 11th, there’s going to have a ribbon cutting and the whole nine yards when we go pulling out.
Lisa: Well that is so exciting; I’m really excited about the work you’ve been doing. I’m so proud that you’ve taken it this far and it looks like it’s going to go even farther, so keep us posted. Thank you so much.