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Shifting Images: Cleaning Up Amsterdam And Controversial Art


It is time for The New and The Next.


VIGELAND: Eugene Robinson is the deputy editor of the online magazine Ozy. And he's filling in for Carlos Watson this week as we talk about what's new and what's next. Welcome back, Eugene.

EUGENE ROBINSON: Hey, thanks for having me, Tess.

VIGELAND: Let's start around the world in Amsterdam. Shall we? When I say Amsterdam, I think there's some things that probably come to mind for everybody. They've got windmills, wooden clogs on one hand, legalized pot and brothels on the other. But there is some business owners who are trying to change that seedier side of the city's reputation.

ROBINSON: Yeah, they've decided to take that whole kind of red light district and gentrify it. So they've been cutting deals with businesses that are sort of non-standard for the area, like cafes and barber shops, galleries, and the biggest one there is an arcade bar. And this is amidst the brothels. So the businesses are co-existing.

VIGELAND: Then what is attracting businesses to that area if they are in shouting distance of a brothel?

ROBINSON: The city has a program and they're giving them lower rent. And plus, they want to bring more locals there, not just tourists.

VIGELAND: You know, you have to wonder if they try to remove some of the prostitution from this one area, it's not likely that it's just going to go away entirely. It's going to go somewhere else, right?

ROBINSON: The concern is that it's going to go underground. But, I mean, when we talk about a reduction, we have to kind of put that in perspective. They've gone from 500-some odd brothels to 350. But people are enjoying being able to walk down the street and not see naked people in a window behind red light every 10 feet.

VIGELAND: Well, from coffee shops and the Red Light District to another story, a bit closer to home. You have a piece this week about a man in New Orleans who is - I love this - a detective by night, and an artist by day. Tell us about him.

ROBINSON: Oh, this is great. This guy, Charlie Hoffacker, he's a homicide detective. He's about 32 years old. He started painting at a community college just to help himself with the rigors of the job in New Orleans. He's now painting stuff that's largely informed by the job that he does.

One of his most famous pieces is of this guy Telly Hankton, who is like New Orleans' most dangerous criminal around. And he took shells from the police firing range and did this really beautiful mosaic of the guy's face where he burnished the back of the shells, just like a 250-pound work of art. It took him about 45 hours of gluing the shelves and the portrait, and it really is pretty phenomenal.

VIGELAND: How does he explain the dichotomy between his art and his job? Or does he even see one?

ROBINSON: It doesn't seem to me that he sees one. He has combined his calling with his hobby in a really kind of compelling way. For example, he did a great charcoal portrait of one of the victims, which he then presented to the victim's family and instructed that they could keep it as a keepsake or they could auction it off to help with the funeral expenses or they could do whatever they wanted with it. And I think what makes him great and exciting as an artist is the conceptual heft behind it.

VIGELAND: I know some of the artwork has stirred up some controversy though. He had a series with AK-47s draped in Mardi Gras beads. What's his reaction to that kind of criticism?

ROBINSON: First he was depressed, told his art teacher I'm quitting. And the art teacher said, you know, dust yourself off, get up and get out there. Art exists largely in the eye of the beholder and he's made his peace with that.

VIGELAND: Eugene Robinson is the deputy editor of the online magazine Ozy. You can explore all of the stories we talk about at Eugene, thanks again.

ROBINSON: Hey, thank you, Tess.


VIGELAND: Coming up, Terry Crews, the guy with the NFL physique and those weird, weird Old Spice commercials.


TERRY CREWS: Old Spice, odor-blocker, body wash, has 16 hours of BO blocking power.

VIGELAND: But behind those poppin' pecks and a warm heart, one that could have hardened during his troubled childhood.

CREWS: I was a bedwetter until I was 14 because the stress has to come out somewhere because all night you hear these noises and parents fighting and you just wonder is somebody going to die?

VIGELAND: Terry Crews on his revealing new memoir in the next part of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.