‘Clinecasso’: Musings on life, art and selling newspapers

Editor’s note: During each Chips Quinn orientation and multimedia training in Nashville, Tenn., scholars are required to complete a mobile media reporting module, which includes producing videos and reporting and writing stories. Their work is displayed here.

by Julieta Martinelli

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—It is a Tuesday afternoon in May, and it is a big day for the city. The Predators, the city’s National Hockey League team, has made it to game three of the Western Conference Finals of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Though the early afternoon sun is scorching, downtown is buzzing with eager fans, tourists and street vendors. It is the type of excitement usually reserved for a Friday night.

One vendor is 50-year-old David Cline. He stands in front of the Bridgestone Arena at 6th Avenue South and Broadway, wearing a bright yellow-and-black Predators jersey. He cheerily calls to passersby with a stack of fresh newspapers cradled in his arms.

David “Clinecasso” Cline sells copies of The Contributor newspaper near Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., where the Nashville Predators opposed the Anaheim Ducks in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Photo by Julieta Martinelli)

His yellow visor offers scant protection from the unforgiving heat. Behind him, a matching yellow chair and two orange sports drinks are guarded from the sun under another neat stack of newspapers.

Cline points to the photo of the Predators on the front page of The Contributor and seamlessly recites the streak of wins that led the team to the conference finals for the first time in the franchise’s history. He admits he’s not a hockey fan himself, but he’s learned the stats. Cline is a good salesman and hopes to appeal to new readers who might be interested in the special edition.

The influx of out-of-towners can mean good business for the city’s street vendors – if they can connect with the product.

Many of the visitors might not realize that Cline is selling more than a local newspaper. The Contributor is one of Nashville’s best-known publications. With more than 300 currently or formerly homeless vendors, The Contributor’s sales force can be found at almost every street, highway exit and corner of the city.

The paper is a nonprofit social venture that aims to provide gainful employment for the city’s large homeless population. Vendors buy the paper at the wholesale price of 75 cents per copy and sell it to readers for $2. Vendors keep the difference, plus tips, and learn how to grow and manage their microbusiness.

Cline is a prime example of the newspaper’s ability to shape the lives of its vendors. He had been homeless for six years when he met a vendor while riding a city bus. Cline says he had been living off the little money he made by donating plasma twice a week.

The Contributor’s offices are reached through a side entrance at Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Julieta Martinelli)

In 2010, he was running out of options and decided to try selling newspapers for a couple of days. A few months later, he got himself into a housing program. The team at The Contributor recognized his artistic talent and published some of his artwork. The little newspaper he sold on the streets became more than a job opportunity; it became a vessel for his art.

Cline began going by the name “Clinecasso,” inspired by the Cubist painter Picasso. He met a woman and fell in love. They live in their own home and have a green parrot that likes to nestle under her hair.

These days, Cline has one foot in an ankle brace, but he still paces the sidewalk patiently, paying little heed to rejection from strangers who often seem too busy chatting with friends or focusing on their phones to look at him for long, and moving to a new corner when arena security officers usher him away. Cline doesn’t let it alter his mood, because he knows how far he has come.

“I figure I’m over here until they run me off,” he says with a chuckle. “They haven’t run me off yet, but I know they will.”

He often sings to pass the time. He prefers classics and church hymns, and has written a new verse for “Amazing Grace” that he likes to share with strangers.

The Contributor has provided him with a fresh start, dignified employment and an outlet to share his story.

“I joke around and tell people that if I don’t get into heaven, I’m just going to sneak in the back door,” he says with a chuckle. “I’m a good guy, I’m a nice guy. I can’t help it.”

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