Archive for the ‘Omaha’ Category

Countdown to North Omaha Summer Arts Crawl underway – The event is this Friday, August 14

August 12, 2015 Leave a comment

North Omaha Arts Crawl 2015-3-1

Countdown to North Omaha Summer Arts Crawl underway – The event is this Friday, August 14

The North Omaha Summer Arts Crawl countdown is underway, so please clear part of your Friday evening to partake in this progressive arts tour. Whether you drive it or stroll it, you’ll enjoy a laidback night of inspiring art and artists.

So, get your comfy shoes or sandals ready to make the-
Friday, August 14 – from 6 to 9 pm

Sample great art and food at multiple venues. Visual art work by Bart Vargas, Michael Girón, Shea Wilkinson, Pam Hinson, Gabrielle Gaines Liwaru. Brett Henderson, David Guy and many, many more metro artists.

Enjoy the handiwork of Omaha Fashion Week designers.

View a community peace mural.

Chill out to performances by Edem Soul Music Kegey, Kenneth Be, Marilyn Martinez and other musical artists.

North Omaha native, resident and artist Pamela Jo Berry saw a need for more art to be infused into her community. So she dreamed up something called North Omaha Summer Arts (NOSA) in order to bring art in all its forms into that underserved neighborhood. With the help of partners and collaborators she’s made it a reality. This free, family-friendly arts festival for the community, by the community wraps up Year 5 with the annual Arts Crawl on Friday, August 14 from 6 to 9 p.m. The Arts Crawl happens at venues up and down and around North 30th Street.

Take a stroll or drive from Metropolitan College Fort Omaha campus north to various churches to Heartland Family Service/Solomon Girls Center to enjoy inspiring visual art and soothing live music by artists from the community.

Sample the work of artists in a wide variety of mediums and meet some of the artists sharing their work.

Free refreshments and homemade snacks available at each stop.

“I am very excited about the fifth annual North Omaha Summer Arts Arts Crawl.” Berry says. “From 6 to 9 p.m. we have five locations showing beautiful art and serving really good food. New this year, the Washington Branch Library is hosting a reception from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and there will be food and art there as well.

The Arts Crawl features established artists and newcomers, all of whom love to share their art and its story with audiences. The food is wonderful at each stop. The deserts at Parkside Baptist Church are another work of art.”

The Arts Crawl lineup:
• Metropolitan Community College Fort Omaha campus, Mule Barn Building #21 New this year: Work by Omaha Fashion Week designers and photographer David Guy at the Mule Barn
• Church of the Resurrection, 3004 Belvedere Blvd. (just northwest of 30th and Kansas Ave.)
•Trinity Lutheran Church, 6340 North 30th St. (30th and Redick) Featuring a Community Peace mural made by teens and seniors from the North Omaha Intergenerational Human Services Campus
• Parkside Baptist Church, 3008 Newport Ave. (30th and Newport Ave.)
• Heartland Family Service/Solomon Girls Center, 6720 North 30th St. (30th and Titus Ave.)
• Washington Branch Library, 2868 Ames Ave. is hosting an Arts Crawl reception from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Enjoy art and refreshments at the library.

Berry describes the Community Peace mural that a group of teens and seniors from the North Omaha Intergenerational Human Services Campus made under the direction of artist Pamela Hinson:

“This year we wanted to make a mural about North Omaha,” Berry says. “It is a beautiful, vibrant place to live, yes. even with all the attention on the violence and the issue of poverty. There are sweet, peaceful neighborhoods, people of different hues, faiths and languages, families of all generations in the parks, community gardens and small forests. And there is art in all forms.

“Many people care about North Omaha’s redevelopment and the well-being of the people. Better things are on the horizon. There is much prayer for peace in exchange for the violence that seems to linger in the in-between spaces here.. Our mural is about peace in and for North Omaha. Maybe as we focus on the good that can be found here, better ideas for mastering poverty and violence will come forth.”

The mural will be displayed at Trinity Lutheran Church during the Crawl.

The North Omaha Summer Arts team invites the general public from all over the metro to come participate in this important milestone of 5 years bringing art to North Omaha. Discover art and artists in our midst whose work deserves wider appreciation and recognition.

Before, during or after the Crawl, enjoy some of North Omaha’s other resources, including the Loves Jazz & Arts Center, the Carver Bank, the Union for Contemporary Art, the Bryant Center, Miller Park and the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation.

Please Like the NOSA Facebook page and indicate you’re going to the event on the NOSA Arts Crawl Facebook Event page.

For more information, email or call 402-502-4669/402-709-1359.

Omaha Performing Arts at 10: Rhapsody

August 5, 2015 Leave a comment

Like any city of any size Omaha’s had all manner of presenting arts organizations, some small, some large, some financially well-endowed, some financially-strapped.  There have been organizations with sizable staff and there have been one-man bands.  Some have cast a wide net across the performing arts spectrum and others have been more narrowly focused on a particular niche or segment.  Most presenters have come and gone, never to be seen or heard from again, and a few disappear for a time, only to resurface again.  The following story for Metro Magazine  ( is about today’s major Omaha Player in this arena, Omaha Performing Arts, the organization that both books and maintains the two principal performing arts venues in the city, the Holland Performing Arts Center and the Orpheum Theatre.  Befitting its well-heeled status, the organization is celebrating 10 years in a big way this fall with an October 16 gala and an October 17 Holland Stages festival.  These will be boffo, bring-the-house-down blow-outs that are as much a recognition of the rich programming that enhances the cultural fabric here as they are opportunities for OPA to say thank you to its patrons for the community to return the gratitude for all the great shows that come here on a year-round basis.

Omaha Performing Arts at 10: Rhapsody

Presenting organization serves as steward of major halls and brings Broadway and other world-class shows to town

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the August-September-October 2015 issue of Metro Magazine (

What a difference a decade makes.

In that relatively short period the Omaha arts and entertainment scene has blown up thanks to a critical mass of new organizations, venues and events. Together with the treasures already here, this cultural synergy’s transformed Omaha from sleepy flyover spot into dynamic destination place.

Leading the new arrivals is Omaha Performing Arts. The organization books world-class artists at the venerable Orpheum Theater and its state-of-the-art companion, the Holland Performing Arts Center. As the steward of these spaces, OPA’s charged with caring for them and filling their halls with high quality events that appeal to all demographics.

Growing the performing arts scene
Great halls are only truly alive when people inhabit them. OPA schedules year-round offerings that keep its spaces hopping to the tune of 3 million-plus patrons since 2005. All those folks, many from out of town, pump $40 million into the local economy each year.

By bringing the best of performing arts to town, OPA adds to the rich stew of the Blue Barn Theatre, the Rose, the Omaha Community Playhouse, the Great Plains Theatre Conference, the Omaha Symphony, Opera Omaha – all of which are thriving.

OPA president Joan Squires says, “Across the board the arts community has elevated attention and we’re seeing a lot of our colleagues doing well at the same time. So there’s been renewed energy downtown and in our community for people wanting to come to performances and there’s more options to select from than ever before. I do believe we contributed to had a lot to do with that sea change.”

Dick Holland, who with his late wife Mary made the lead gift for the Holland, has no doubt of OPA’s impact. “It’s added enormously to the luster that this is a great city through new events, new opportunities, new shows that bring in a pile of people from out of town.”

That’s on top of popular attractions such as the Old Market, College World Series, Omaha Storm Chasers, Joslyn Art Museum, Durham Museum, Lauritzen Gardens and Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.


Celebrating a decade but looking ahead
OPA board chairman John Gottschalk says the public’s reception to the programming has “vastly” exceeded expectations and quelled any doubts Omaha could sustain two major performing arts centers.

This organization that never rests is pausing long enough this fall to commemorate its boffo first decade run. The October 16 Celebrate 10 Gala will feature Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth in a Holland spectacular. The October 17 Holland Stages will be a free daylong festival highlighted by diverse performing artists at the Holland.

“We’ve had a lot of milestones in a short period of time,” Squires says, “and we really want to use our anniversary to celebrate what everybody has done for the institution and to start looking forward to the next decade. I think it’s something Omaha as a community should really celebrate. It’s an extraordinary story and opportunity for us.”

“For a very young center we’re really advanced in terms of audience, finances, facilities and other ways,” Gottschalk says. “We’re a very healthy arts organization.”

OPA grew out of an initiative Gottschalk, Dick Holland, Walter Scott and others led to renovate the Orpheum and build the Holland. Gottschalk says much effort was made recruiting Squires from the Phoenix Symphony to oversee the Omaha facilities and “she’s done a wonderful job,'” Holland says, “I don’t think we’d have the same success without her. Joan is a perpetual motion machine looking after every single detail you can think of. She’s just plain marvelous.”

Investing in the community
Squires deflects accolades to others.

“The generosity of the donors here has made this possible. We can have all the vision and passion we want but without that support none of this would have happened. Their continued commitment and philanthropy behind all this has been absolutely key.

“The people involved in this organization are highly committed and passionate and that starts with our board of directors. John Gottschalk, who’s been our chairman since inception, certainly Dick Holland, and the entire board have been tremendously committed, generous and great stewards. Their leadership has been everything.”

The public’s done its share, too.

“The response by the Omaha community buying tickets and showing up at performances has been incredible. We can continue to get better and better shows because producers look at our ticket sales and results. Broadway shows come in here and report this is one of the best opening night audiences they have.”

She says the fall anniversary events are “our way to say thank you to everybody who’s a part of this,” adding, “The folks that started this institution made an extraordinary investment and you just have to stand back for a moment and say, ‘Bravo.'”

Getting to this point required a remarkable growth spurt for an organization that began with Squires, an assistant production manager, a desk and a computer in 2002. The Orpheum renovation was underway. The Holland was still in the planning stages. Heritage Services raised more than $100 million in private giving to complete the two projects and to help get OPA up and running.

That level of community buy-in is what attracted Squires to take the job and she continues to be impressed by the ongoing support that feeds her organization and to make enhancements at its venues.

“Omaha is known for the deep roots of its philanthropic community. The leadership behind this project was extraordinary. They were invested in its success.”

Then there’s the fact OPA filled a void left by arts impresarios and presenting organizations no longer around.

“There were no other major presenters in town, so I felt there was an opportunity to bring to the community some of these great art forms and artists that didn’t have a place to perform or anybody to take charge of that. It felt like the puzzle pieces were all here to really make this organization a success. Everybody wanted this to succeed and I felt if we could put this together the right way we really could give Omaha something pretty special.”

She says the support that coalesced around all this “is really about
a commitment to quality of life and making Omaha better for current and future generations.” She adds, “We couldn’t have done this without the partnership of Heritage Services raising the money to get the Holland up and open at the same time we were getting things started here. It’s another key why we were successful from the beginning. That partnership gave us an advantage coming out of the chute.”

Gottschalk says donors made substantial gifts “because they thought it would be good for Omaha and it was, and that’s really been the legacy of the community – we’ve been able to sustain that view – if it’s good for our community, let’s do it.”

Scaling up
The Orpheum renovations have allowed the theater to host the biggest Broadway touring shows (The Lion King, Wicked, Once) whose wildly popular runs make the venue one of America’s best draws. The Holland is home to the Omaha Symphony Orchestra and to a diverse slate of jazz, dance and specials that range from the Omaha Louder Than a Bomb poetry slam to the Hear Nebraska indie music showcase to the Salem Baptist Church holiday concert to Film Streams’ annual Feature event.

The buildings are rich in patron and guest amenities, the latest being the addition of Zinc restaurant just off the Holland courtyard.

Squires spent her first three years putting in place OPA’s infrastructure and branding, including the Ticket Omaha service it operates. She now has a full-time staff of 50 with another 50 part-time staff, plus a volunteer corps of more than 500.

“I’m really delighted with the administrative team here. They are passionate, committed, and talented. They drive so much of this business. We’re lucky to have our volunteer Ambassadors and Presenters. There are hundreds of people involved who are passionate and committed about Omaha Performing Arts.”

With its $18 million operating budget OPA is the state’s largest arts organization. It’s growth, even programmatically, has been gradual.

“You can’t be everything to everybody the day you open the doors,
so you phase it in in stages,” Squires says. “Also by the nature of presenting we’re continuously experimenting in what works or what doesn’t. One of the challenges our very first year is that the Orpheum schedule didn’t allow for much touring Broadway productions. When the symphony moved to the Holland the schedule opened up to allow us to build that Broadway market. That took time and now we’re having tremendous success. This next year is probably going to be our most successful yet. We’re having a wonderful response with subscriptions.”

The mixing and matching OPA does to serve different tastes is always a work in progress but Squires says, “We really have hit our stride in the series we offer. Broadway is one of the biggest draws but we get great responses to our jazz, dance, family and showcase series. New last year was the National Geographic Live Series. The 1200 Club has a following.

“Our mission is to bring in breadth, so we want to really provide a good cross-section to reach lots of segments and to grow audiences.”

The search for new headliners never ends.

“We always have opportunities to bring new shows in but sometimes when they’re touring we may not have availability, so we’re always juggling the schedule. It’s a complex and complicated process to book every year. It’s one of the biggest jigsaw puzzles you can imagine. It takes a lot of coordination to get it all put together.”

More than numbers
She says while OPA depends on earned revenue for 75 percent of its budget, ticket sales are not the only barometer for success.

“For some types of performances, a thousand people is just great because that’s what we expected and budgeted.”

The experience people have is more important than anything.

“My favorite thing is to stand in the back of the theater and to watch a performance both for the quality of what’s happening on the stage and for the response of the audience,” she says. “You do all this work behind the scenes, booking the shows, selling the tickets and raising the money to make that happen and then you get the satisfaction of seeing those performances touch people.

“The arts have that capacity to move people in ways I think nothing else does.”

In addition to the performances it books OPA has a growing education and community engagement mission piece that brings school-age students together with visiting artists and recognizes area youth arts.

“It’s a real important initiative for us,” Squires says. “It’s a chance to reach the community in new ways and have them connect to the arts in ways they may not have a chance to otherwise.”

OPA’s implemented anti-bullying and social justice programs around certain shows and organized master classes with top artists. Its Nebraska High School Theater Awards program is going statewide.

She appreciates how OPA is increasingly seen as an arts leader.

“We’re becoming more and more respected nationally because of the success we’ve had, the quality of the programs and the quality of the buildings. Omaha’s on the map for the kind of work we’re doing.
Artist management companies recognize this is an important tour stop. We’ve been asked to be on some national symposiums and organizations, where we didn’t have that seat at the table in the past.”

Mario Garcia Durham, president and CEO of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP), says, “Running a large arts program and arts center is extremely challenging. The best nationally recognized arts organizations have the equally daunting tasks of presenting the very best artists available and truly engaging with their respective communities. These endeavors take years of dedicated commitment and experience. Kudos to Omaha Performing Arts and the Holland Performing Arts Center for their well-deserved success.”

A solid foundation and a bright future
Squires says OPA will continue building on what it’s done.

“There’s always more to do and more money to raise. That never stops. We never rest on our laurels. There’s always new opportunities for people to make a difference by giving to our institution. The philanthropic side, we’re always working. Nothing is ever a given.

“For the future we have set up the planned giving Marquee Society. Those gifts will go into a permanent endowment.”

She feels OPA’s proven itself a worthy recipient of planned gifts.

“We had to attract people in large numbers and financially we had to show we’re responsible by meeting our budget numbers every year, which we have done. If people have confidence in the organization then you can start to talk about the future so they can leave legacies that will continue to sustain these programs and facilities. These legacy gifts will ensure the longer term future of this institution.”

“We’ve started down that road and I think it’s going to be well-supported,” Gottschalk says of the endowment.

With a decade under its belt, Squires says OPA is squarely focused now on “where do we go from here, how do we build on our success and how do we continue to evolve and grow to continue to touch the community.”

Gottschalk says, “I think there’s more growth ahead for us in terms of amenities and facilities and programming.”

For event or ticket info, visit or

“The generosity of the donors here has made this possible. We can have all the vision and passion we want but without that support none of this would have happened. Their continued commitment and philanthropy behind all this has been absolutely key.”

“…I felt there was an opportunity to bring to the community some of these great art forms and artists that didn’t have a place to perform or anybody to take charge of that. It felt like the puzzle pieces were all here to really make this organization a success. Everybody wanted this to succeed and I felt if we could put this together the right way we really could give Omaha something pretty special.”

“My favorite thing is to stand in the back of the theater and to watch a performance both for the quality of what’s happening on the stage and for the response of the audience. You do all this work behind the scenes, booking the shows, selling the tickets and raising the money to make that happen and then you get the satisfaction of seeing those performances touch people.”
-Joan Squires

“For a very young center we’re really advanced in terms of audience, finances, facilities and other ways. We’re a very healthy arts organization.
-John Gottschalk

“It’s added enormously to the luster that this is a great city through new events, new opportunities, new shows that bring in a pile of people from out of town.”
-Dick Holland

Omaha Fashion Week & SAC Federal Credit Union: Building the fashion eco-system via business focus

August 5, 2015 Leave a comment

One look at me and my duds and you instantly know I am no fashion plate, at least where my own apparel is concerned.  However, I do feel I have a good enough fashion sense where others are concerned.  None of which means a hoot when it comes to the fashion stories I write, and I’ve written a whole bunch of them, mostly in connection with Omaha Fashion Week, because I go the experts who know fashion for my information.  This story for Metro Magazine ( is the latest OFW piece I’ve done and where in the past I’ve focused on designers and shows and trends, looking sometimes back and other times forward, this story examines a burgeoning business relationship between emerging designers and a local lending-financial institution, SAC Federal Credit Union.  The idea being explored by this pilot program and thus by the story is the importance of desginers having access to capital to grow their lines, their brands, their businesses if Omaha is to ever foster a true design community and industry.

The next Omaah Fashion Week is August 17-22.

ecosystem: Omaha Fashion Week & SACFCU
Building the fashion eco-system via business focus


Originally published in the August-September-October 2015 issue of Metro Magazine (

Hooton Images

When Nick and Brook Hudson aren’t caring for their new-born girl they nurture their other baby, Omaha Fashion Week (OFW). The couple cultivate the local fashion eco-system through a multitude of showcase events, educational experiences like Omaha Fashion Camp and fashion sales organizations such as Design Parliament LLC. They were the inspiration and catalyst for the developmental organizations Fashion Institute Midwest and Omaha Fashion Guild.

This infrastructure gives area designers venues to show their work, experts to advise them on aesthetic and market matters and a support system for resources and professional development opportunities.

Now, with SAC Federal Credit Union as a partner, the Hudsons are bringing designers together with bankers to maximize commercial potential. Thus, the new financial support program gives designers the financial acumen and services to put their creative pursuits on a business basis. As SACFCU members, designers have access to credit lines for purchasing materials or equipment, for expanding into new spaces or for doing anything else to enhance and grow their business.

Banking on potential

The test program may eventually work with other kinds of designers as well as visual artists, filmmakers, photographers, playwrights, et cetera.

SACFCU president-CEO Gail DeBoer opted to work with fashion designers to initiate the program since her institution already had a sponsor relationship with OFW. She shares the Hudsons’ vision for building a sustainable fashion community.

“We really saw the potential of the designers and what the development of that industry could do for our region,” she says. “We wanted to be part of an event that’s not just entertainment but also adds to the quality of life here by nurturing these young entrepreneurs. We felt this was a niche nobody else was addressing from a business perspective.”

DeBoer says her credit union is well-positioned to work with the micro-size businesses most local designers operate.

“They’re small and so there’s not a lot of profit at the beginning for a financial institution and that’s probably the difference between a credit union and another financial. I don’t have shareholders to satisfy, so I don’t have to show necessarily a return on every deal we make. The return on the relationship isn’t our motivation.

“Our mission is people helping people, so we have a passion for helping them reach their goals and hopefully someday they will grow. But that’s not our ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal is just to help our members. This is not just giving back to the individual designers but it’s giving back to the whole community because if we can foster that entrepreneurial spirit then it’s an economic benefit to our community.”

The Hudsons see close alignment between OFW’s goals and SAC’s.

“One of the things the team at SAC is very passionate about is helping people get started. They’ve got that mission,” Nick says. “And we have that, too,” Brook says. “We’re a social enterprise.”

Nick says, “I’ve never come across another financial institution willing to put the time and effort into all these small businesses, because we’re talking about tiny loans – a thousand dollars or two thousand dollars.”

Getting up to speed

A typical designer who shows at OFW requires assistance with everything from establishing a business checking account to devising a business plan. But there’s much more they need to learn, including
understanding finance, buying, pricing, sales tax and various legalities.

“There’s a whole set of skills around doing those things,” Hudson says. “You might have it all worked out but then you need access to money – you need some money to make some money. Designers might have an opportunity to sell $10,000 worth of clothing but they don’t have the money to buy the $1,000 or $2,000 of fabric they need.

“We still have a lot of designers we deal with who don’t have bank accounts or credit cards.”

The Hudsons regard the financial literacy entrepreneurs have to gain as empowering and critical to their success.

Nick says OFW and SAC are committed to “help people turn their passions into businesses or to help their existing businesses go further to make them self-sustaining. We’ve got wonderfully talented people having to fund their passion by working in a coffee shop during the day and then spending all night doing their passion.

“We’re trying to help them get to the next stage.”

He says with the skills development that goes on now informally through OFW and formally through Fashion Institute Midwest “more and more are now making a living – some are even employing people.”

Brook Hudson says it’s all about giving designers the tools required to reach more customers and find financial stability.

“In this day and age it’s a lot easier for an artist to turn their passion into dollars because of the Internet. They have a worldwide community they could potentially be selling to. So part of our challenge is helping them unlock that opportunity,” she says.

It’s important designers have the right mindset by being, what Nick calls, “more commercially-minded and thinking what customers want.”

“It”s a totally different ballgame to go from custom pieces to something designed from the beginning to be mass-produced,” Brook says.

Tailoring financial services to designer needs

The Hudsons introduce designers to SAC they consider ready to take the next step.

“Not every designer is ready for that,” notes Brook, who adds that some are intimidated by the prospect of working with a lender.

Bryan Frost and Erica Cardenas, owners of vintage-inspired boutique Wallflower Artisan Collective and designers of their own Wallflower apparel line, are excited to see how SAC can help them expand their apparel production capabilities. They say money’s critical if they’re to grow their business and if Omaha’s to grow a fashion hub. They’re encouraged that designers and lenders are finding alignment.

Samone Davis, owner-designer of the luxury streetwear brand Legalized Rebellion says she’s worked “diligently” with the SAC team to establish a line of credit for her label. She adds, “I definitely feel financial help is key to growth as long as there’s a solid plan and execution behind it. As designers we tend to get lost in our own minds. Sometimes we have to make sure we are focused and know exactly who we want to market to, otherwise there won’t be any progression.”

For designers like these, Gail DeBoer says, “we’re offering a kind of a concierge service,” adding, “We’re walking them through this journey. That begins by really developing a relationship with them to know what each one needs because they all have different needs depending on their business stage. We do look them in the eye to gauge how serious they are, how committed they are. We do talk with them in order to understand the uniqueness of their business and their challenges.”

SACFCU vice president of operations Keli Wragge is that concierge figure working with designers.

“Some are ready to take their designs to the marketplace and others are just getting started and wondering what they need to do in order to be ready for financing down the road,” Wragge says. “One client needs to expand and is looking at buying a commercial building. Another is about to open their first business checking account. Prior to this they transacted in all cash. There is a big gap between what the first member needs and what the second member needs.”

There are also many common issues designers face.

“Supplies and the cost of production are large expenses, especially if the designer isn’t a seamstress and has to hire outside talent,” Wragge says. “One of the big issues faced by designers is irregular cash flow and finding a way to live a comfortable life while trying to perfect their craft, innovate new designs and get a collection ready. Many designers have to have another income or job in order to support themselves.”

DeBoer says, “Just getting started and getting them to think about things they’re not even thinking about – often you don’t know what you don’t know – is huge. We bring in the right person at the right time from the credit union to help them through that next decision or that next product they might need. We want to make sure they have a business partner holding their hand, walking them through the process.”

There’s no guarantee any designers will make it.

“Whether they will all be successful, that’s up to them,” DeBoer says. “But we can certainly help them by taking away the challenge of writing a business plan or getting some early money to realize their dreams.”

Growing a design community and fashion industry
Nick Hudson is heartened by the way the metro’s fashion eco-system has evolved in less than a decade.

“There’s just so many more people and organizations involved and that’s what makes it grow,” he says.

The Hudsons have been planting seeds to see what takes root.

DeBoer says if a true fashion industry is to emerge here it must take the same intentional, step-by-step path that OFW has followed.

“You don’t start out with everything all at once. It has a life cycle and I think this is an exciting next step for Omaha Fashion Week and for us. I think everybody’s excited about taking it to that next level.”

Nick says, “The next stage is going to be helping with marketing and bringing the customers and sellers together.”

Increasingly, he says, designers sell their wares before and after OFW events.

He and Brook envision a brick and mortar base to anchor a dedicated design district. Having a critical mass of designers in close proximity to each other would provide access to shared spaces, facilities and services for sample making or material production and to economies of scale, efficiencies of operation and synergies of creativity.

“We’ve got to have everybody together working in one place and all that collaboration going on in order to reap some of those other benefits,” Brook says.

Ultimately, the Hudsons say if enough capacity is built a factory would be needed to manufacture the garments and accessories of not just local designers but of some select national and international designers.

Brook notes several major designers already have or are looking to move manufacturing from overseas to America, but many U.S. cities make that cost prohibitive. She says Omaha offers certain advantages, such as “great work ethic” and “low cost of doing business and living.”

Should fashion manufacturing ever happen here at scale, she says, “it would be powerful because that positions Omaha on a whole different level as a national player on the fashion scene, plus it’s creating jobs.”

Meanwhile, the creatives behind Wallflower and Legalized Rebellion say they appreciate the financial support system SAC offers as it propels their dreams and strengthens the design community.

The next OFW designer showcase is August 17-22. For details, visit

“We really saw the potential of the designers and what the development of that industry could do for our region. We wanted to be part of an event that’s not just entertainment but also adds to the quality of life here by nurturing these young entrepreneurs. We felt this was a niche nobody else was addressing from a business perspective.”
“I’ve never come across another financial institution willing to put the time and effort into all these small businesses, because we’re talking about tiny loans – a thousand dollars or two thousand dollars.”
“This is not just giving back to the individual designers but it’s giving back to the whole community because if we can foster that entrepreneurial spirit then it’s an economic benefit to our community.”

NEW BLUE: Blue Barn Theatre Putting Down New Roots

August 4, 2015 1 comment

I do not write about theater a lot, but often enough to keep me in the game and I’m always eager to do it because there is nothing else like good live theater, and Omaha has more than its share of solid stage offerings. The Blue Barn Theater is one I’ve written about only from time to time. It is especially fulfilling to write about this well regarded institution again on the occasion of its soon to open new facility. Here is my new piece about the Blue Barn for Metro Magazine  ( It looks backwards and forwards. As fate has it, I will soon be writing more on the Blue Barn.

Ironically, I recently did another theater piece for the same magazine a few months ago, only that time on the Omaha Community Playhouse and its 90th anniversary. My opus on the Omaha Community Playhouse is at:

Cover Photo

Blue Barn Theatre Omaha

NEW BLUE: Blue Barn Theatre Putting Down New Roots

©by Leo Adam Biga

In the August-September-October issue of Metro Magazine (

Edgy material and intimate work have always defined “the Blue Barn way” and now this once nomadic theater finally gets a home of its own but remains committed to staying true to its rebel image.

When the Blue Barn Theatre celebrated 25 years in 2014, it joined the select ranks of Omaha’s longest-lived playmaking companies.

Now BB is putting down serious roots by moving into a new home at 10th and Pacific. A $7 million capital campaign is underwriting the newly constructed building ($5 million) with the imprint of a renowned theater consultant on it. Unusual for a theater this size, funding is to cover a $1 million operating endowment and a $1 million endowment.

Upon opening the 2015-2016 season there, BB will have in place what’s needed for another enduring run.

Stronger through the struggle
The cutting-edge theater’s founders never imagined this. They were fresh out of college diehards from New York City when they launched BB with little more than enthusiasm. Its first two decades saw consistently high quality theater tinged by crisis. The low points included a fire gutting one space, losing the lease on another, a homeless period, serious debt issues and a revolving door of leaders.

Kevin Lawler, now Great Plains Theatre Conference director, began the migration from the State University of New York in Purchase. He recalls building BB’s former Old Market space “on personal credit cards…then watching from across the street as it was destroyed by a giant fire before the first season there was completed.”

BB artistic director Susan Clement-Toberer, who’s led the theater longer than anyone else, feels it’s stronger for the struggles.

“These times when we were in financial stress and maybe made not such smart business decisions really I think strengthened the drive to create Blue Barn-style theater in this town and became a catalyst for needed growth within us. We wouldn’t be where we are now if we hadn’t gone through those tough times.”

Shared approach and consistent mission
BB’s found a niche doing provocative work. Its small but loyal following has stayed true through all the reversals of fortune.

A theater doesn’t survive on passion alone. Clement-Toberer says the BB’s made it by sticking to principles and finally growing up.

“Our mission statement from the beginning has been to produce theater that provokes thought, emotion, action and change. I think the reason we’re in the position we are now of putting down permanent roots is because we have always stayed true to our mission.”

From the start, BB set itself apart as a tight-knit cohort sharing the same ethos. Soon after Lawler’s arrival, SUNY-Purchase classmates Hughston Walkinshaw and Nils Haaland came. Mary Therese Green of Neb. joined this merry band of founders. Clement-Toberer followed.

“The voice of the Blue Barn was born through our training, individual talents, perspectives and passion for our art form,” Clement-Toberer says. “Our coming to Omaha really couldn’t be stopped whether we had one audience member or a hundred. We were kids and we were fired up, and still are, to tell stories.

“I think the play choices in the beginning were very unique and those voices were not being heard in Omaha at the time.”

“The whole endeavor was born of our deep longing to share exceptionally vibrant and surprising stories and to explore life together that way,” Lawler recalls. “When we began we had nothing more than that dream. That passion, free from any other agendas, is a big part of what makes the work at the Blue Barn so special.”

Omaha theater stalwart Jill Anderson is among several local stage artists who found something new there worth following, first as a fan, then as an actress and jill-of-all-trades. She describes how the “singular magic” of the work and “the unfettered, unconventional creativity” transfixed her and still does. “The things that set the Blue Barn apart are the consistent interest in pushing limits, exploring challenging subject matter, aiming really high in terms of talent and production values but keeping things at an intimate level so the audience feels they are a part of the story.”

For most of its history BB thrived aesthetically but lagged when it came to management.

“Artistically we’ve always been strong and we finally built our business side to kind of keep up with our artistic side,” Clement-Toberer says. “We’ve always run the Blue Barn on a shoestring budget. We’ve gone through a lot of different challenges. We’ve been through the ringer.

“But we’ve built from the very beginning the mentality of you don’t have to spend more to do great art and that’s still how the business is run.”

Resources or not, she says, BB’s always been “artistically driven.”

“It’s very unusual in its structure where the board does have say but the artistic director and the work we do is what drives our growth. It’s a very big gift that we’ve been able to retain the core values we began with 26 years ago.”

Along the way, she says, “our voice has matured in a wonderful way,” adding, “It’s still speaking the same language and feeling, just a little more fluently. Sometimes now we do a show more ‘commercially’-based, like 33 Variations. But our process remains intimate and story-driven.” The same with BB’s Our Town production to close last season.

Seeing things through
Relatively few local theater companies have enjoyed its longevity. There were periods when it wasn’t assured of making it another season, much less reaching the quarter-century mark.

“Hughston (Walkinshaw) and I took it over in 2001. Some programming choices that were big and bold ended up not getting underwritten. Then Hughston ended up leaving. I took over leadership fully.”

Looming debt threatened to dim the lights for good.

“I thought, what the hell, the worst thing I can do is close the doors. But I didn’t want the Blue Barn to close on my watch. I was like, ‘Uh-uh, not going to happen.’ It was a grow or go mentality,” Clement-Toberer says. “I think it was my time to run it. I surrounded myself with people i trusted and knew, like Shannon Walenta, my managing director. From 2008 on we started to build it. A fundraiser got us out of debt. From that point on with Shannon as my right-hand woman and the business aesthetic I learned from my father we have steered the Blue Barn to a great artistic and business balance that is fairly equal for the first time.

“I’ve learned to trust my instincts over what anybody else says. Not that I don’t take input but I’ve learned having my own voice is crucial to succeeding and growing. The same with hiring the right people.”

Production manager Amy Reiner and associate artistic director Randall Stevens are other members of her team.

Philanthropist Nancy Mammel says long before joining the BB board “I saw tremendous potential and ongoing growth for the company.” She champions its “dynamic vision” and “track record of excellence” and she feels its repaid “the generous community” support shown it.

Jill Anderson speaks for many in saluting Clement-Toberer.

“Susan has been a great steward of the theater. I think the power of her positive thinking has brought about great things for the Blue Barn. She keeps a strong and steadfast ‘can do’ attitude about the very difficult task of helming the theater. Her persistence is inspiring to me.”

Right place at the right time
There’s wide agreement, too, the theater should prosper at its new site, where it will neighbor with the Durham Museum, House of Loom, the restored Burlington Station, the booming Little Italy district and the coming Omaha Market.

“It’ll be a destination place. I love the area. It’s the perfect place for our home. I couldn’t see it anywhere else,” Clement-Toberer says.

Board member Ariel Roblin, president-general manager of KETV, which occupies the Burlington catty-corner from the new theater, says, “The Blue Barn is the perfect addition to the revitalization of South 10th Street.” She admires BB for “filling the space with great art born from a process that starts and ends with integrity and heart. This wonderful building is just a reflection of the art you will find going on inside the building.”

With the theater’s west wall opening onto green space, BB has an alfresco presence it’s never had before.

“Our indoor-outdoor convertible space is just outrageous and rife for great parties and great theater,” Clement-Toberer says. “It’s a unique set up that I believe will be limitless for opportunities to create our art.”

She says the expanded new digs and deeper resources will help BB to “stretch our wings and go to Chicago and and New York to bring in professional actors,” adding, “Our goal from the beginning has been to make the Blue Barn a regional theater.” BB also has a residence to house out-of-town actors and other artists.

She says the new theater space will retain the BB mystique.

“We’ve realized we are Blue Barn no matter where we are. Many people thought we should build a 250-seat black box and I said, ‘That’s not who we are, that’s not who we’ve ever been.’ We knew we wanted to keep the intimate quality between our audience and the stage.”

Noted project consultant Joshua Dachas suggested the new auditorium repeat the pillars that wrap around the old site’s seating area to create that same “nest-like feeling.” The pillars at the new site are fashioned from fallen trees. Area artists used reclaimed materials to fabricate various architectural features in the theater.

“All these are handmade and very Blue Barn in that nature,” Clement-Toberer says.

Reflections and appreciations
Kevin Lawler, who admires the “beautiful” new space, says, “I feel immense gratitude for having been able to be a part of the Blue Barn.”

“When we started the Blue Barn we just wanted to do theater that thrilled us. No knowledge of how to attract an audience. Just hoped they would show up,” Walkinshaw recalls. “In one of the early years we did a performance for one person. Now Blue Barn is part of Omaha’s cultural landscape and the new building totally seals that deal. To start a theater with only a dream and know it is set up now to thrive for years to come, well, being part of that legacy is profoundly gratifying.”

Clement-Toberer, too, is grateful to be there for its blooming.

“It’s an amazing adventure and opportunity for us to actually be putting down permanent roots in our own space and to do it really the Blue Barn way. It still sometimes doesn’t feel like it’s really real. But I do see an incredible stage light at the end of the tunnel as we create something that will be here long after we’re gone.”

For season details. visit

Change in North Omaha: It’s been a long time coming for northeast Omaha

August 3, 2015 1 comment

With Native Omaha Days having just concluded, it’s a good time for reflection. Here’s a new story I wrote for the August issue of The Reader ( that sounds out some African-American residents for their take on old-new northeast Omaha challenges, opportunities and approaches to revitalize that area. Hard copies should now be out and about in North O, Benson, Midtown, Downtown and the Old Market.

I am presenting the story in this post in two layouts: the first is exclusively for my blog and the second is how the story appears in The Reader.

Change in North Omaha: It’s been a long time coming for northeast Omaha

African-American residents weigh in on old-new challenges, opportunities, approaches to revitalize the area



Quality-of-life metrics assessing the state of African-American northeast Omaha paint a stark picture. Pockets experience some of America’s worst poverty and gun violence. Disparities contradict Omaha’s high best-place-to-live rankings.

Riot-scarred landscapes remain untouched decades later. Urban renewal brought distrust and dislocation. Combined with education, employment, income, home-business ownership gaps, it’s a stuck-in-time place. Stalled economic growth and limited opportunity drive many away. Others stay out of conviction or concession.

While North Omaha is the focus of unprecedented education initiatives and redevelopment efforts driven by major public-private coalitions, key markers show little’s changed where people’s lives are concerned.

With ex-pats back for the biennial Native Omaha Days, there’s much nostalgia and lament. Seven community-engaged residents trying to remedy the challenges recently shared their take on the situation.

After being away, Omaha native Michelle Troxclair, 46, Nebraska Writers Collective deputy director, says upon returning she noted “North Omaha and the people who live there were stagnate in many ways.”

“They became comfortable with nothingness. Our leadership appeared, for the most part, to be spinning their wheels and more concerned with the scraps they were getting than a place at the table. Then they began fighting for those scraps amongst themselves. I thought I could make a difference, and I did, but in a very different community. Yeah, we got a Walmart and Aldi’s. North (High) is getting a new stadium. They tore down the Hilltop projects. I see some new housing. Again–scraps.”

When Angel Martin, 31, moved to Omaha from Milwaukee she saw abandoned, boarded-up properties here as seeds of potential. Now she views them as emblems of lost opportunity.

“If people see that every day you’re unfortunately going to believe it’s the norm,” says Martin, who directs the Katherine Fletcher Center at Girls Inc. “We should have took on that mindset of taking back our community. It starts with the homes. We should have pooled our resources together to buy these houses.”

Preston Love Jr., 73, hails from a North O legacy family led by his late father, musician Preston Love Sr. He left for a while–to work for IBM and to manage political campaigns. He says when he came back home, “my community was in shambles. I got motivated to get involved because of what I found.” He’s since been on a “soap box” about this once great community being brought down by “residual negatives.”

“When I was growing up, North Omaha was rich in culture, rich in commerce, rich in religion and church. We had our own everything. We had each other. We had neighborhoods. We had love for your neighbors and spankings if you didn’t act right. We had all that.”

Discrimination and racism still ruled, however.

“We didn’t have the ability to go places, we didn’t have the ability to go downtown to see a movie, we couldn’t swim at Peony Park, we couldn’t go inside Joe Tess. We didn’t have this, we didn’t have that, and some of it was a little deeper than some carp.”

  •  Preston Love Jr.

Love believes blacks “made a catastrophic mistake” choosing integration over desegregation.

“If you integrate you lose half the things you did have because you begin to water down your culture. When you integrate Walmart into this culture, mom and pops close. We should have affirmed all the things we had and fought for desegregation to get what we didn’t have.”

Sundiata Menelik, 57, has returned after decades as a developer and real estate magnate in Minnesota. He recalls as a kid the flourishing North 24th Street business district: “It was alive.” By the time he went away, however, it died. Job prospects for blacks dried up.

“Everybody from my generation was trying to escape this the way you escaped apartheid South Africa or any place that is hell on Earth. For us, that’s what it was.”

 Sundiata Menelik

In Menelik’s opinion, “nothing’s happened” to reverse the black brain drain and narrow opportunities. He deems this stalemated community “backwards” compared to more progressive sister communities.

“This is a reservation right here and the same ills on the reservation are here, it’s just not in your face. A lot of this is institutional.”

Menelik also says North O is a separate world from the majority of the world. Some blacks can freely step in and out of both worlds. Others can’t.

“When you can’t escape, there’s nothing, What you see is bleak.”

“People feel oppressed,” Martin says. I think poverty is what comes from being oppressed. If you don’t have opportunities to get good paying jobs, then it’s difficult to rise above.”

Ean Garrett, 29, came up in North O’s poverty zone.

“Three to four generations growing up in poverty have come to believe poverty is their place in life as opposed to understanding they should be able to work hard and gain the fruits of this system,” Garrett says.

Menelik says inclusion is an illusion here for many.

“We’re the best place for startups, the best place to raise a family, but it don’t have nothing to do with black people. Nebraska’s as segregated and racist as anywhere in the United States.”
He asserts blacks here are “not looked at as full citizens.”

Ean Garrett, J.D. - Chief Innovation Officer  

Ean Garrett

Aledia Kartchner - Social Innovation Consultant

Aledia Kartchner

Garrett says it’s not just blacks getting the shaft in North O.

‘There’s still a lot of white people living here and they’re being given the short end of the stick as well.”

“What we have left is an impoverished community,” Love says. “That doesn’t mean everybody in it. When you have serious poverty like it is here you have a (drug-gang) subculture that’s figured out there’s no future in the (mainstream) community. So they created their own community and it’s thriving. Money’s flowing, big time. Everything’s working just fine. They may have to die but that’s OK because they’re not expected to live and all that logic. That subculture is created by poverty and breeds total disconnect from lawfulness.”

Menelik has lost loved ones to gun violence, He’s doing prevention work as local Mad Dads chapter president. He is also on the board of the Bryant Center Association that serves at-risk young people.

He sees an urgent need to intervene in the hopelessness.

“The game is over, man. The kids, they’re hollering out silently. If it was a movie you’d see a bunch of black hands reaching up and saying, ‘Where are you and when are you coming?’

“We’re taking it upon ourselves to do for ourselves and to do it right now. It’s crucial.”

“The only major solution is economic inclusion, economic health for this community,” Love says. “If you lay on the table jobs and alternatives a lot more will take it than people realize. Do we need better education? Yes, we’ve got educational gaps that need filling. We’ve got a high drop-out rate that needs improving. We need to reduce STDs. All of those are more factors than potential solutions.”

He says North O should demand more autonomy and accountability from the nonprofit social sector set up to address its myriad needs.

“We have a lot of people pimping the community. They don’t live in the community, they work in the community receiving what benefits there are coming into a poverty-infected area and then they escape out of it, taking the benefits of the drops, the crumbs.”

Menelik says after ignoring North O the power elites “understand they’ve got to do something because we’re right on the doorstep of North Downtown development. They want to come off [as] multicultural.” Whatever happens, he says “we want to see results, we want performance-based, sustainable, social-economic development.”

Garrett says, “You have an entire middle class that lives outside the North Omaha community that benefit by way of employment from programs addressing the issues in North Omaha. So if the issues in North Omaha go away, then a lot of those jobs go away as well. Our destiny is intertwined with the destiny of those that have the resources. What happens if the philanthropic dollars dry up?

“The philanthropic industry here in Nebraska is not sustainable–throwing money into a community and 10, 15, 20 years later not seeing any outcomes. Let’s takes those funds and use them towards outcome-based investments and address these issues from a private sector approach. That is the type of mindset and vigor we need.”

Garrett’s Infinite 8 Institute poses social impact models. He says too often nonprofits don’t produce the social good their grant applications promise and that he favors outcome-based models.

“If you give them the money up front and you don’t make them work for it, there’s no incentive to get the outcome.”
Garrett’s partner Aledia Kartchner, 36, says they find innovative ways to handle “the huge lack in North Omaha.” One is via non-cognitive life skills and work force development classes they teach at Bryant Center. However, programming costs money and resources are scarce.

“If you’re only giving us enough funds to keep the lights on then we can’t bring resources and people in to prepare these young people,” Garrett says. “We have to be able to close the deal. That means people at the top being willing to open up the doors of opportunity in a way that’s sincere and not just talk.”

Kartchner says they’re seeking investments “in human capital.”

Garrett says North O’s human resources get overlooked.

“These kids have been through so many traumatic experiences they are better prepared than many who live in the outer community. As an employer I don’t want somebody who hasn’t dealt with a tough problem before. These kids are having to solve tough problems on a daily basis. Those skills are transferrable in this new knowledge-based economy, where soft skills–the ability to adapt and to be resilient–are things employers applaud.

“If you just look at it at face value, you see thugs with impoverished, destitute, sad stories. But if you turn that around you see potential human capital that can really add value.”

He says the skills he teaches “are all the intangibles that made the difference between myself and those peers who maybe fell victim to unfortunate circumstances.”

“We’re working with kids from early childhood through 12th grade. Local elders volunteer, so it’s very intergenerational. We have a pipeline all within that one structure to measure long-term outcomes.”

He says another key thing taught is “mindfulness meditation to ensure kids focus on peace of mind when they go back to their chaotic environment and the negative energy around them–you can’t control what’s happening around you but you can control how you react.”

Infinite 8 seeks to raise $1.5 million for a social impact bond for violence prevention.

“As an organization one of the things we focus on is creating social impact financing,” says Garrett, who sees it as a litmus test for how serious Omaha is in finding fresh ways to tackle persistent issues.

“Omaha has so much wealth and prosperity but then you wonder why is it not circulating into northeast Omaha. There are people in the city who singlehandedly could eradicate poverty here. It’s a question of whether or not the powers that be actually want that to happen. If you’re trying to do something like turn around the most deadly place to be black in America and integrate that with one of America’s most highly acclaimed places, then I think you have to look at what resources are necessary in order to accomplish that.”

The public sector also has a role to play.

“If we’re not electing elected officials willing to fight those battles for equal distribution of tax revenues and other funding streams, we lose. We’ve paralyzed most of our elected officials because of where they’re financed to get elected, so they’re not willing to stand up and try to act like Ernie,” Love says, referring to firebrand Neb. state senator Ernie Chambers. “They’re nice people but they’re not independent. When it comes time to fight for the community, we ain’t got nobody there.

“The net effect is we’ve become a community on the receiving end and almost on the beg. So you’ve got a community that has to sit down. There’s only a few of us that stand up. That’s a problem. The community doesn’t have enough leverage to fight these battles.”

Garrett agrees. “It’s time for North Omaha to become independent. For North Omaha to be able to do for people in North Omaha we need our own resources. If you want to see us do better, than empower us but don’t beholden us. We have to recognize what’s in our own community and that we have what it takes. We do believe there are people willing to do the right thing and we want to work with them.”

Kevin Lytle Jr. with the Leadership Institute for Urban Education in Omaha, says, “I believe our biggest resource in North Omaha is the people who live and struggle there. We have not found an effective way to develop, foster and encourage true community and camaraderie amongst African-Americans in Omaha.”

Self Xpression (Kevin Lytle Jr.)

Kevin Lytle Jr.

Menelik says “It’s like we’re waiting for somebody to come in out of the sky to save us, when sometimes you’ve got to go within yourself.”

Troxclair says “In the arts community many are coming together and their voices are starting to be heard. In every other major city’s revitalization effort, there is a concentration on arts investment. Omaha did not do that. We are connecting with each other and artist-allies who know we need to work together. Omaha’s leadership is still focused on housing and jobs. We get that, but every artist has created his-her own job and is an entrepreneur. White folks get it. How many people do the Holland, Joslyn, Bemis, Kaneko, Omaha Community Playhouse, Rose employ? We let the John Beasley Theatre go to waste. We let our stagnate leadership dictate the artist landscape and they have ignored our young people completely.”

Meanwhile, Angel Martin has noted a “halt” in the movement by young African Americans to get involved.
“A lot of young people (including herself) ran for the school board or the city council. There were a lot of new faces and voices with a lot to say. That was a prime time to tap into that energy. A lot of those people have since said, ‘I’m out of here,” and that energy’s kind of gone I sense. That’s a concern. Where are we going next?

“Some people are choosing to move on to where things are thriving more and it’s more progressive.”
Everyone concedes North O loses many of its best and brightest.

Martin doesn’t begrudge the defectors.

“I can definitely see why people do not choose to stay here. Some of those who do choose to stay are looking for ways out. Some elders have told me, ‘You might want to look to move on.'”

She’s seriously considered it.

“We don’t have affirmative action. A lot of employers don’t look for faces that look like mine.”

Martin expresses another concern many share.

“I think there’s a lot of outsiders dictating which direction North Omaha should go. There’s a lot stirring. My concern is who’s doing the stirring and what are they mixing up. Was everybody invited to sit at this table? A lot of deals have been made relating to North Omaha’s future. My only hope is my great aunt in North Omaha was kept in mind when they talked about redevelopment. I hope as a people we understand it’s our right to question, to ask for details.”
“We have to stand up together and fight. We’ve gotta put your foot down and say we’re not taking this lack of economic inclusion anymore and be willing to take the heat,” Love says.

Love recently put himself on the line by advocating minority contractors get a share of the $2.3 billion in waste water and sewer separation construction happening. He pressed the mayor and others hard on it. He expected the corporate backlash he got but not the flak from his own community.

“They don’t want you messing with ‘Mr. Charlie.'”

Too, often, black advocates are left standing alone.

Garrett feels the millennial generation offers new hope.

“They’re a lot more informed. Millinials, regardless of color or shade, believe in social good and they’ll put their money behind products and services that have a positive impact on the community and the environment. I believe there needs to be more courage from the outer community to stand up and do what really needs to be done and to do it in a way that sits well with the indigenous people in North Omaha.”

He says Infinite 8 has piloted programs in Kansas City, Mo. and other cities but runs into “a barrier to entry” here he attributes to decision-makers “not being open to new paradigms, ideas, best practices.” He’s not waiting for approval. Bryant Center kids are introduced to Bitcoin, drone technology, green sustainability, 3D printing and mobile Web programming. “We’re really focusing on what sectors have the most promising outlooks. We’re preparing young people with these skills so when they go into the workforce they actually have a leg up.”

Michelle Troxclair, ©C4Photography
Troxclair is all for creative approaches.

“Rote methods are outdated and we all know the world of technology has changed the landscape. Young people don’t want to be bothered with minutia. Applicability, immediacy are what they’re looking for. The arts must be used to stimulate interest and academic motivation.”

Lytle says, “A huge factor not being deeply addressed is how our children are being taught and who is teaching our children.” He wonders “how effective are the educational lessons being transmitted in relation to the culture African-American students” interact with.

Garrett and Co. decry how elements of this civil society demonize and dismiss a segment of the city they have no direct experience with.

“Is it civil to deny opportunity to your own citizens? Are we uncivil because we have violence going on in our community? Is a person who sits back and watches the violence and does nothing more civil?”

Aledia Kartchner echoes others in saying she’s tired of her people being depicted as “just savages killing each other – there’s many positive things going on but they don’t focus on that.”

North O’s good people, neighborhoods, anchors, programs and events get obscured by the actions of a few knuckleheads.

Martin says, “It’s an unfair perception that’s very disheartening. If you never highlight the positive things going on you’ll never know. If you’re not in the area, you won’t know. When we take back our community as a people we’ll take back those perceptions.”

Troxclair takes exception to media depictions of “us as nincompoops holding candlelight vigils waiting on Jesus.” She says, “When a murder occurs, a murder occurs. Report that a murder occurred. Report who the suspects according to the facts. Do we really need to know the criminal record of the entire family?”

Where controlling the message is concerned, Melenik says North O could benefit from more black-owned media outlets and Martin suggests more blacks are needed in newsrooms.

Lytle, 32, repeats a mantra many sound–leaders are doing what they can with what they have. But he says, “We are not getting the job done. The role of leadership is to warn a people of potential dangers and opportunities, educate a people on how to navigate through that and create avenues in which a people can effectively execute and implement the steps that will best serve them.”

Yet, he adds, “I am hopeful for the future of blacks in Omaha and for the area of North Omaha because I believe the up and coming leadership is learning from the choices and paths laid by current symbolic individuals and will dedicate their efforts towards going against the grain and truly establishing community and ownership.”

Angel D. Martin

Angel Martin

Martin feels the same. “We have a long way to go but I’m hopeful because I do think our people get it and we have a genuine love for each other and for North Omaha. I’m just hoping it’s not a day late and a dollar short.” She says even Native Omaha Days might be a catalyst for “capitalizing on connections, sharing ideas, holding roundtables, digging in and getting things moving. It takes all us all working together–those currently living here and those who used to live here.”

Love says The Days are not the pure fun they once were due to the specter of violence. The festival’s still a good time, “but when the dust settles we are still left with the new pure–poverty.”
Sundiata Menelik says all the community gatherings and dialogues are no substitute for “bootstrapping” grassroots action.

Despite much to be pessimistic about, Ean Garrett says, “We’re optimistic. We know there are people who are tired of the situation as it stands. I think there’s good people out there who do want to change some things and to do so in ways that empower people in the community to do it themselves.”

Visit, and





My Joslyn Community Pick is Thomas Hart Benton’s ‘The Hailstorm’ – Read what my fellow guest curators picked and why

August 3, 2015 Leave a comment

My Joslyn Community Pick is Thomas Hart Benton’s ‘The Hailstorm’ – Read what my fellow guest curators picked and why

I am proud to join a diverse group of folks weighing in on our personal favorite artworks at the Joslyn Art Museum. It’s part of what I call a people’s choice art crawl that gives members of the community like me a chance to have a voice in what is, after all, art for the people, by the people. The Joslyn calls the project, Our Museum: Community Picks. My comments and those of the other “guest curators” shared here are part of Round Two of this very cool community engagement endeavor. My comments and the other guest curator comments follow below. As a side note, I personally know and have met and in most cases interviewed at least nine of the guest curators.

Here’s how the Joslyn describes the project:

Our Museum: Community Picks (round two) is an exhibition, of sorts, with the community serving as curator. Joslyn visitors will find a collection of personal reflections, facts, and feelings shared by community members, posted alongside their favorite artworks in the galleries. See “picks” by a diverse group of people — from small business owners, nonprofit leaders, students, artists, educators, and more — each lending a unique voice, bringing a new perspective to a Joslyn treasure. We hope you enjoy the posted comments and that they encourage exploration, thought, and discussion. When you visit, stop by the My Pick station on Strauss Bridge to share a note about your favorite artwork. Or chime in via social media @joslynartmuseum. We want to hear from you!
Community Picks Meet & Greet
Thursday, August 6 @ 5:30 pm
Discover the “round two” gallery reflections and say hello to the contributors! Join us for conversation, light hors d’oeuvres, and cash bar in the Storz Fountain Court. All are welcome to attend this free event.


Susan Baer Collins

Theatre Artist, Non-traditional Student, University of Nebraska at Omaha

My Pick: Frederick Childe Hassam, April Showers, Champs Elysees, Paris, 1888, Gallery 9

Why It Moves Me: “Like the American Impressionist Childe Hassam, I am a huge Francophile – I just want to jump into this picture! I’m always drawn to this painting of a rainy day in Paris with crowded carriages, white horses, and bustling black umbrellas. I can’t help but project myself onto the young woman in the foreground with the bright red flower on her hat. She reminds me of the young woman with the parasol and the monkey in George Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, which is also one of my favorites. I love seeing the detail of the closer figures while the trees and other objects blur in the rainy mist and the reflective puddles.”

Kacie Baum

Science Outreach Programs Coordinator/NE SciFest Coordinator, University of Nebraska Medical Center

My Pick: Paul Cornoyer, Paris Street Scene, 1898, Gallery 9

Why It Moves Me: “This piece instantly takes me back to walking the Paris streets with my mom a few years ago. In one quiet moment I stopped and looked down an old brick alley and saw an older gentleman walking with a coat, cane and hat. It took me back to the images of Paris years ago. When I view this painting and that man walking down the street, I’m taken back to that moment and feel like I’m there in the painting.”

Leo Biga

Author, Journalist & Blogger

My Pick: Thomas Hart Benton, The Hailstorm, 1940, Gallery 10

Why It Moves Me: “Benton’s rolling, roiling work dynamically renders nature quaking in storm. A lightning bolt splits into two arcs, like prongs of a pitchfork or branches of a divining rod. Clouds press heavily, ominously, darkly. The sky erupts in electric, icy bombast. Tree, farmers, donkey, dugout sway in the charged air and furious wind. Man’s pursuits so puny against vast, powerful forces. Yet Benton roots these figures resolutely on the land, of the land, weather be damned. A swirl of determined life goes on. His visceral imagery makes me feel the windswept rain, hail, dirt and hear the clap of thunder, the bray of donkey, the curses and prayers of men. This iconic American landscape straddles modernism, regionalism and folk. It goes straight from Benton’s heart, gut and mind into my individual and our collective consciousness. It never fails to arrest my attention or to fill my senses.”

Gregory S. Bucher

Professor, Creighton University

My Pick: Jennifer Steinkamp, Judy Crook, 2, 2012, Gallery 17

Why It Moves Me: “I love the energy of the twisting tree, the evolving palette of colors as the seasonal cycle progresses, and the drama of the blooming flowers and turning leaves. I can never leave the room without watching the entire loop several times.”

Bruce Carpenter

Architect, HDR

My Pick: Sol Lewitt, Seven-Part Variations on Two Different Kinds of Cubes, 1967-69, Gallery 14

Why It Moves Me: “The simplicity is a creative expression of math or more specifically geometry. There is an obvious sense of architecture in a pure form that I find intriguing. When you experience other installations or images from this series, it becomes playful in the various combinations. Moving from a strict geometric presentation to a playful experience in the variations, I believe demonstrates the brilliance evident in the creativity.”

Clayton Chapman

Chef & Owner, The Grey Plume

My Pick: William Robinson Leigh, A Double Crosser, Gallery 9

Why It Moves Me: “For me this painting represents not only the timeless struggle between man and beast but also conveys the insatiable will of Spirit. The evolution between horse and human is undeniably one of the oldest and most important relationships as it changed human existence forever. In countless ways, man has always been dependent upon the animals’ power. Revered by some but sadly exploited by many. We are mystified and driven by the idea of controlling or restraining something that is wild. Whether chasing an animal or chasing a dream/idea, it is all reflective of this innate desire and need. The opposing colors of the dark horse and light rider is one way this struggle is reflected. The tenacious, wild spirit of the horse and the determined but humbled spirit of the rider is portrayed by the rider’s defeat to the ground. Looking closely, one notices a slight smile on the defeated rider’s face. Perhaps, a smile of gratitude and awe. A reminder to me of the honorable balance we must constantly strive to maintain between man and beast, man and planet, need and abundance, ambition and satisfaction. “

Christina Clark

Professor, Creighton University

My Pick: Jean Vignaud, Abelard and Heloise Surprised by the Abbot Fulbert,1819, Gallery 2

Why It Moves Me: “I like this painting for the story it represents and the way it is represented. Abelard and Heloise are famous star-crossed lovers whose emotional, eloquent letters survive. Vignaud evokes paintings of another famous pair of lovers, Dante’s Paolo and Francesca surprised by her husband Gianciotto, through the pose, the color red, and the books nearby. It feels as if I have opened a door in the wall opposite the abbot, and we have both come upon the shocking scene together.”

Sen. Tanya Cook

Senator, Nebraska State Legislature

My Pick: Edwin Lord Weeks, Indian Barbers, Saharanpore, ca. 1895, Gallery 8

Why It Moves Me: “The image of an Indian bazaar evokes a multi-sensory response. I imagine the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes you might find all up and down those aisles and alleyways. I also appreciate what the painting has to say about culture and community: the bazaar was hugely important in both meeting everyday needs and in forging human relationships.”

Oscar Duran

Community Builder, Habitat for Humanity of Omaha

My Pick: Jules Breton, The Weeders, 1860, Gallery 4

Why It Moves Me: “This piece moves me because it reminds me of my youth and when I first began formalizing the kind of person I would grow up to be. I come from strong rural roots and recall many seasons clearing the fields in preparation for a healthy harvest. Where I grew up, this job was one of the first jobs given to children because it helped us realize the most important tools in our lives, our bodies and our attitude.”

Annika Ellefson

Student Artist

My Pick: Jackson Pollock, Galaxy, 1947, Gallery 16

Why It Moves Me: “When I was little my dad used to take me to Joslyn and whenever I saw Galaxy I would freak out — I would run through the galleries screaming POLLOCK POLLOCK POLLOCK in my tiny little five-year-old voice. It was one of the only times when I wasn’t told to be be quiet because I shared the interest with my dad. For me, Galaxy was a real introduction to art.”

Marian Fey

Executive Director, Nebraska Cultural Endowment

My Pick: Frank Tenney Johnson, Night on the Oregon Trail, 1930, Gallery 9

Why It Moves Me: “As though actually outside on a very dark night, it takes a moment to adjust to the shadows and deep colors in this painting. The details of the wagon and barren landscape become clearer as does the light from the camp fire peeking around the side of the wagon. In thinking about how lonely and isolated travelers might have felt on the trail, I find the camp fire to be a sign of comfort and security.”

Claudia Garcia

Associate Professor of Spanish, University of Nebraska at Omaha

My Pick: Henri Matisse, Head of a Woman, 1917, Gallery 5

Why It Moves Me: “I feel drawn by this painting because of its strength and its contrasting colors. This woman is not pretty but strong. The green background is in stark contrast with her very white face. You can see she has put on make-up, the red lipstick and the red blotches on her cheeks, but it feels more like a way of asserting who she is (saying ‘this is me’), than seducing. She isn’t even smiling- this woman is not trying to please anybody. Woman is viewed as a challenge in this painting, and the colors express that: her white face, her short brown hair on top, the different shades in the background, moving from lighter to darker green and from darker to lighter ocher tones on the right. All the colors look artificial. We’re reminded this is a representation and not reality itself, but at the same time there is strength here that speaks of an inner truth. I like the fact that it is a male artist who captured this force. The intensity of the woman’s gaze parallels the artist’s intuition and insight.”

Mace A. Hack

Nebraska Director, The Nature Conservancy

My Pick: George Catlin, Buffalo Hunt, ca. 1932-35, Gallery 7

Why It Moves Me: “If this scene didn’t happen in Nebraska’s Sandhills, it sure could have. It makes the gallery’s other buffalo hunt paintings seem like bucolic picnics. Fur-clad hunters and bison struggle up one snowy hill, predator and prey as one, facing the same challenge of living in this harsh environment. Yet we’re the ones with bigger brains, hence the snow shoes, long spears, and slim advantage. Could I ever do this? I am in awe of these tough, smart people who preceded us.”

Brook Hudson

Omaha Fashion Week

My Pick: Stuart Davis, American Painting, 1932-51, Gallery 10

Why It Moves Me: “We loved American Painting by Stuart Davis first because it attracted our nine-month old daughter with its bright colors and bold shapes. In doing further research, we appreciated it even more because of its celebration of the New York City skyline, which is very much a part of our life in the fashion world. It truly reminds us of the hustle and bustle of the iconic fashion capital and gets us excited to share the experience of traveling to that city with our daughter in the future. It is also quite meaningful that Davis had a transatlantic inspiration early in his career, as we are a transatlantic family! Nick is a UK native and I am a Nebraskan, living together in Omaha. Now we have our own little masterpiece in Charlotte, who represents our European and American cultural influences, much like this painting.”

Tarna Kidder

Construction Services and Special Projects Manager, Kiewit Building Group Inc

My Pick: Karl Bodmer, Remarkable Elevations on the Banks of the Missouri, 1833, Gallery 7

Why It Moves Me: “I love all of Karl Bodmer’s work. Not only are they beautiful pieces of art in their own right, but they are also amazing for their historical perspective documenting some of the first sights of the American West. I especially enjoy the watercolor landscapes with their muted tones and haziness, because even today these are the vistas in Nebraska and South Dakota that are so breathtaking.”

Valery Killscrow Copeland

Native American Advocate, Lincoln Public Schools

My Pick: Edith Claymore, Dewey Valise, ca. 1900, Gallery 7

Why It Moves Me: “I love Joslyn Art Museum because it is filled with many extraordinary works of art by famous and not-so-famous-artists. One skilled artist you may have never heard of is Edith Claymore, from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The Nakota artist beaded this fantastic Woodland design bag. It’s unique because the Hunkpapa Sioux typically used geometric designs in their art in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This piece is priceless because of its unique design and the detailed combination of Lazy Stitch and Applique beadwork. The bag is made with precision skill that takes decades of practice to accomplish. I appreciate the talents of the artist and I understand the complex design process to make such an exquisite piece, because I’m also a Native American Beading Artist. Lela Washtay Woksu! Very Good Beadwork!”

Chris Kircher

Vice President, Corporate Affairs and President, ConAgra Foods Foundation

My Pick: Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of Dirck van Os, ca. 1658, Gallery 3

Why It Moves Me: “This portrait moves me both from an historic and an artistic perspective. It’s a snapshot in time, capturing not just the detail and look of the period, but also the feeling and emotion of the subject himself. The artist’s dramatic use of light and shadows is particularly impressive. I believe Rembrandt would agree that painstaking restoration efforts have brought this painting back to its original intent, and he’d be proud to know that it’s found an ideal home here in Omaha.”

Melinda Kozel

Manager of the Kaneko UNO Creativity Library

My Pick: Jackson Pollock, Galaxy, 1947, Gallery 16

Why It Moves Me: “There is something that happens to you when you look at a Jackson Pollock painting. You start out by finding a spot to start looking and your eyes will then follow a drip line of paint into a pool. Then a splatter nearby steals your attention and you follow that instead. This painting which seems to be about nothing – with no focal point, figure or composition – is actually about you, the paint, and your time together.”

Jan Lund

Retired Adjunct Assistant Professor, French, Creighton University

My Pick: Camille Pissarro, Haymakers, Evening, Eragny, 1893, Gallery 5

Why It Moves Me: “It makes me very happy that Joslyn has this painting by Camille Pissarro. It gives me an utterly joyous feeling, bathed as it is in an idealized glow of light, health and abundance. Pissarro is one of the lesser known but most important of the Impressionist painters. His profound knowledge of social philosophy informs much of his art, and far exceeded that of any other significant painter of the period. Pissarro’s influence on his fellow Impressionists is probably still underestimated today. Ahead of his time, and a primary developer of the Impressionist style, we see in this painting his experimentation with the techniques that would lead Seurat, Signac, and others to Pointillism.”

Estelle M.

Student, Joslyn Art Camp

My Pick: Dale Chihuly, Chihuly: Inside & Out, 2000, Strauss Bridge

Why It Moves Me: “Abstract art always inspires me to create my own art so I think this piece is really an amazing and inspirational sculpture.”

Linda S. Meigs

Artist, Preservationist & Mill-Lady (Founder & Director of the historic Florence Mill)

My Pick: N. C. Wyeth, Untitled, 1919, Gallery 7

Why It Moves Me: “My compass for travel usually faces West. I love the stories, personalities and its isolated, overpowering nature. I enjoy serendipity, surprise and the intersection of art and history. N. C. Wyeth’s painting both delights and haunts me. I am amazed at how contemporary it looks for having been created around World War I. His use of color, dramatic lights, darks, and loose painterly strokes are quite modern. Strong diagonals create a composition of action. One can almost hear the new-fangled engine roar, tires spin and the startled shouts and whinnies. This painting also speaks to me of a narrative… a shift in history. The artist’s subject and technique can be seen as a metaphor for the dramatic cultural, social, and industrial changes taking place after World War I. It speaks of a clash of culture, lifestyle and the end of an era. This work moves me on several levels. Though designed for advertising, the painting is beautiful and exciting. Yet its message is poignant. N. C. Wyeth masterfully controlled contrasts… both visually and thematically.”

Shaun Murphy


My Pick: Jennifer Steinkamp, Judy Crook, 2, 2012, Gallery 17

Why It Moves Me: “It’s a really unique piece; before visiting Joslyn I’d never seen anything like it. It almost feels like it’s responding to my motion. I love how the wind blows, the seasons change, and the mix of natural and artificial colors. Seeing Judy Crook, 2, leaves me with a real sense of happiness.”

Imani Murray

Student, Central High School

My Pick: Artist unknown (East Indian, 18th century), Ganesha, 18th century, Balcony

Why It Moves Me: “I love how soft it is both in form and color. I love the composition, all of the small pieces, his face, his trunk, the things he’s holding, come together to create a powerful presence.”

Cathy Nelson

Teacher Leader, OPS

My Pick: Grant Wood, Stone City, Iowa, 1930, Gallery 10

Why It Moves Me: “I love how the artist created a pastoral Iowa scene that is reminiscent of the state’s rural roots, and then… Wait a minute–those aren’t trees and bushes!! Why, I see peas, and broccoli, and watermelons! So clever and creative! I looked at the painting many times before I actually ‘saw’ its composition. It serves as a good lesson to me to look past the obvious…”

Gwendolyn Olney

Associate Counsel, BH Media Group

My Pick: Thomas Moran, The Pearl of Venice, Gallery 8

Why It Moves Me: “I’ve loved this piece since I was a little girl. The lush, deep colors of the boats and water in the foreground draw you into the painting and then fade into the light, whimsical city background. Venice appears both romantic and exotic, and the painting drives my desire to travel.”

Brian Smith

Curator of TEDxOmaha

My Pick: François-Edouard Cibot, Fallen Angels, 1833, Gallery 2

Why It Moves Me: “Unrepentant, powerful, full of muscle and thunder. I’m attracted by the dissonance: the imperfection of the dimensions of the eyes, the ropy arm of the seated angel, the clash of blinding light and suffocating darkness. There is another future to erupt from these two. A personal bonus, the balding angel reminds me of musician Jimmy Flemion, who often performed with strap-on wings.”

Jannette Taylor

Director of Programming, NorthStar Foundation

My Pick: Jean-Léon Gérôme, The Grief of the Pasha, 1882, Gallery 4

Why It Moves Me: “I am moved by this painting because it displays the deep connection we have with other living beings. The fact that he is mourning the loss of an adult tiger, leads me to believe they have had a very long and meaningful relationship. It is a wild animal. I love the color in this painting. The images represent almost every human emotion; love, compassion, grief, loneliness, empathy and acceptance. Pasha is in such dismay over the loss of his friend, you can feel the despair through the image. I think we can all relate to this.”

Roger Weitz

General Director, Opera Omaha

My Pick: Karl Bodmer, Schuh-De-Gá-Che, Ponca Chief, 1833, Gallery 7

Why It Moves Me: “Joslyn is not just a building with paintings on the wall; it is an interactive space for creative expression with the community. I was most recently reminded of this while attending a performance of Prince Max’s Trewly Awful Trip to the Desolat Interior in Joslyn’s Witherspoon Concert Hall, the world premiere of a new play by Ellen Struve in collaboration with the Great Plains Theatre Conference. The moving play prompted me to revisit Joslyn’s Bodmer collection where I was with great art, again, both challenged and rewarded.”

Richard White

Professor of Philosophy, Creighton University

My Pick: Jean Vignaud, Abelard and Heloise Surprised by the Abbot Fulbert,1819, Gallery 2

Why It Moves Me: “Abelard was a brilliant professor and Heloise was his pupil. They fell in love, and the rest is history. But here is the crucial moment that Vignaud captures so well: Heloise’s uncle discovers the couple together and you can tell he isn’t happy! Is it jealousy, or just the hatred of anything that celebrates life? There is so much to think about in this painting! Perhaps it is the conjunction of love and loss that makes us who we are.”

Pam Wiese

VP of Marketing & PR, Nebraska Humane Society

My Pick: Thomas Moran, The Pearl of Venice, 1899, Gallery 8

Why It Moves Me: “I find this painting a very satisfying juxtaposition. It’s very calming at first glance, as the whole bottom third of the canvas depicts an epic expanse of water. But as you step closer you see astonishingly intimate detail of life and activity aboard the boats. The city behind is lit from the side and reflected in the calm water, but the moon is still peeking out (maybe early morning sun?) so it holds all the exciting promise and possibilities of a new day. I can imagine gondoliers gliding across the cool water, the smell of coffee and melodic voices speaking Italian as the city wakes up!”

Thomas Wilkins

Music Director, Omaha Symphony

My Pick: Keith Jacobshagen, All Souls, 1994-95, Gallery 16

Why It Moves Me: “Like a Beethoven Symphony, Jacobshagen’s All Souls humbles me. The coexistence of the sky’s grandeur and the welcoming intimacy of the seemingly by comparison tiny land mass is stunning. It reaffirms for me how delicious a gift it is, to know that though we exist in the midst of something much greater than ourselves, we are everyday invited to be a part of it… whether it’s life altering music or life itself.”

Nancy Williams

Chief Information Officer, Boys and Girls Clubs of the Midlands

My Pick: Alexander Brook, Frogtown Lady, 1939, Gallery 10

Why It Moves Me: “I love it because of the contemplation in her expression. Was it good enough? How can I make it better? Did I really hear that? What else could be done? The acceptance of – it is what it is. There is more. I can get there. We get there. The questions that many women ask and the conclusions that many of us usually get to after contemplation.”

Suzanne Wise

Executive Director, Nebraska Arts Council

My Pick: Jesús Moroles, The Omaha Riverscape 2008-09, Sculpture Garden

Why It Moves Me: “I like the way this installation involves all of your senses. It is magical on a summer evening when you hear and feel the cooling effects of the water and the lights cast interesting shadows. I think you have to spend a bit of time with it, and when you do, lots of interesting ideas emerge, like the fact it’s made of granite, which doesn’t seem remotely like the Georgia Pink granite of the building. It’s a great ‘front door’ to the Museum.”

Change in North Omaha: It’s been a long time coming for northeast Omaha

August 1, 2015 1 comment

With Native Omaha Days in full swing, here’s a new story I wrote for the August issue of The Reader that sounds out some African-American residents for their take on northeast Omaha’s challenges and what can be done to revitalize that area. Hard copies should now be out and about in North O, Midtown, Downtown and the Old Market, among other places.






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