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Passion Project – My new “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” now available at KANEKO


 

FINAL FRONT COVER 6-28-16

 

My life’s work is writing stories about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions. I do this as an author-journalist-blogger. The gallery of people and pursuits I write about is quite diverse.

See for yourself by reading and following my work at–
http://www.leaoadambiga.com and http://www.facebook.com/LeoAdamBiga.

Though I am a generalist who writes about anything and everything, there are a few subjects I keep returning to again and again. Some of these are societal and cultural in nature, others historical. But there is one particular individual who occupies special emphasis among all my writing and reporting: Alexander Payne. The Oscar-winning filmmaker, who has given us such works as Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants and Nebraska, is actually part of a larger interest in film I have cultivated for decades. I got hooked on movies as a teen. I did film programming for a decade-and-a-half. Since the mid-1990s I have written hundreds of stories as a film journalist. Many of my film interviews and profiles focus on Nebraskans in film. I am developing the Nebraska Film Heritage Project as a print, online, lecture and curriculum vehicle for documenting and celebrating the achievements of Nebraskans in film, past and present, both in front of the camera and behind the camera.

Payne is the epitome of the passionate creatives I interview and profile. His magnificent obsession with film ranges from an encyclopedic knowledge of world cinema to support of film preservation and education efforts to pursuit of great film projects. From his very first feature, Citizen Ruth, on through his last completed film, Nebraska, he has satirically, thoughtfully explored a wide expanse of the human heart and soul. He’s paid particular attention to relationships, but he’s also touched on abortion, politics, mid-life crisis, loneliness, identity issues, addiction, depression, love, romance, infidelity, death, family, alienation, old age. The film he’s making now, Downsizing, which releases in late 2017, will offer up his most expansive take yet on the world with the satire this time revolving around themes of depleted world resources, sustainability, technology, geo-political tensions, terrorism, corruption, exploitation, discrimination and civilization. He and co-writer Jim Taylor are exploring the very nature of what it means to be human and how we create society. Where his previous films have been more intimate in scale, he is working on an epic canvas here, though the ideas are distilled into the closely observed personal story of one character, Paul (played by Matt Damon), whose life is the prism through which all these intersecting storylines and themes are played out. In terms of ideas, it may be the most ambitious American film since Apocalypse Now or The Deer Hunter or at least since Avatar.

My extensive coverage of the acclaimed writer-director has resulted in a deep body of work about him and his films that I have collected into a book first published in 2012. I have a new edition out this summer featuring expanded and enhanced content that brings you right up to date with his latest project.

Introducing the new “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” 

I am very pleased to announce the new edition Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film releases September 1. You have an early bird opportunity to buy the book at KANEKO, 1111 Jones Street, in Omaha’s Old Market. It will be available for purchase during the remainder of the Storytelling Series run (through August 27) at this venue that is “an open space for open minds…”

The book will be available at other venues, including bookstores and gift shops, during the course of the summer and fall. The book will also be available on Amazon and for Kindle.

Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film charts the filmmaker’s rise to the elite ranks of world cinema. Articles and essays take you deep inside the artist’s creative process. It is the most comprehensive look at Payne and his work to be found anywhere. This new edition features significant new content related to Nebraska and Downsizing. We have also added a Discussion Guide with Index for you film buffs and students. The book is also a great resource for more casual film fans who want a handy Payne primer and trivia goldmine. The book releases September 1 from River Junction Press and sales for $25.95.

For inquiries and pre-orders, contact: leo32158@cox.net.

 

FINAL BACK COVER 6-28-16

 

Strong praise for”Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”–

“This is without question the single best study of Alexander Payne’s films, as well as the filmmaker himself and his filmmaking process. In charting the first two decades of Payne’s remarkable career, Leo Adam Biga pieces together an indelible portrait of an independent American artist, and one that’s conveyed largely in the filmmaker’s own words. This is an invaluable contribution to film history and criticism – and a sheer pleasure to read as well.” –Thomas Schatz, Film scholar and author (The Genius of the System)

“Alexander is a master. Many say the art of filmmaking comes from experience and grows with age and wisdom but, in truth, he was a master on day one of his first feature. Leo Biga has beautifully captured Alexander’s incredible journey in film for us all to savor.” – Laura Dern, actress, star of Citizen Ruth

“Last night I finished your wonderful new book and I enjoyed it so much! Alexander Payne is such a terrific director and I loved reading about his films in detail. Congratulations.” – Joan Micklin Silver, filmmaker (Hester StreetCrossing Delancey)

“Alexander Payne is one of American cinema’s leading lights. How fortunate we are that Leo Biga has chronicled his rise to success so thoroughly.” – Leonard Maltin, film critic and best-selling author

“I’d be an Alexander Payne fan even if we didn’t share a Nebraska upbringing: he is a masterly, menschy, singular storyteller whose movies are both serious and unpretentious, delightfully funny and deeply moving. And he’s fortunate indeed to have such a thoughtful and insightful chronicler as Leo Biga.” – Kurt Andersen, novelist (True Believers) and Studio 360 host

“Alexander Payne richly deserves this astute book about his work by Leo Biga. I say this as a fan of both of theirs; and would be one even if I weren’t from Nebraska.” – Dick Cavett, TV legend

“Leo Biga brings us a fascinating, comprehensive, insightful portrait of the work and artistry of Alexander Payne. Mr. Biga’s collection of essays document the evolution and growth of this significant American filmmaker and he includes relevant historical context of the old Hollywood and the new. His keen reporter’s eye gives the reader an exciting journey into the art of telling stories on film.” – Ron Hull, Nebraska Educational Television legend, University of Nebraska emeritus professor of broadcasting, author ofBackstage

“Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the book is Biga’s success at getting Payne to speak candidly about every step in the filmmaking process. These detailed insights include the challenges of developing material from conception to script, finding financing, moderating the mayhem of shooting a movie, and undertaking the slow, monk-like work of editing.” – Brent Spencer, educator and author (The Lost Son)

“This book became a primer for me, and introduced me to filmmaking in a way that I had never experienced in my years at film school. The intimacy and honesty in Biga’s writing, reporting and interviewing– and Payne’s unparalleled knowledge of cinema introduced me to filmmaking and film history from someone I quickly came to respect: Mr. Payne.” – Bryan Reisberg, filmmaker (Big Significant Things)

Watch for announcements about book signings and how you can get your copy for yourself, a friend, a loved one. Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film makes a perfect gift for the film lover in your life.

Introducing the new “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”


Introducing the new “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” 

Very pleased to announce the new edition of my book “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” releases September 1. You have an early bird opportunity to buy the book and get it signed by me at a film program I am moderating that features Oscar-winning cinematographer Mauro Fiore on Thursday, July 21 at 7 p.m. at KANEKO, 1111 Jones Street.

Link to details at–

“Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” charts the Oscar-winning filmmaker’s rise to the elite ranks of world cinema. Articles and essays take you deep inside the artist’s creative process. It is the most comprehensive look at Payne and his work to be found anywhere. This new edition features significant new content related to “Nebraska” and “Downsizing.” We have also added a Discussion Guide with Index for you film buffs and students. The book is also a great resource for more casual film fans who want a handy Payne primer and trivia goldmine. The book releases September 1 from River Junction Press.

The book lists for $25.95.

For inquiries and pre-orders, contact: leo32158@cox.net.

Follow my work at–
http://www.leaoadambiga.com and http://www.facebook.com/LeoAdamBiga.

 

Strong praise for”Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”–
“This is without question the single best study of Alexander Payne’s films, as well as the filmmaker himself and his filmmaking process. In charting the first two decades of Payne’s remarkable career, Leo Adam Biga pieces together an indelible portrait of an independent American artist, and one that’s conveyed largely in the filmmaker’s own words. This is an invaluable contribution to film history and criticism – and a sheer pleasure to read as well.” –Thomas Schatz, Film scholar and author (“The Genius of the System”)

“Alexander is a master. Many say the art of filmmaking comes from experience and grows with age and wisdom but, in truth, he was a master on day one of his first feature. Leo Biga has beautifully captured Alexander’s incredible journey in film for us all to savor.” – Laura Dern, actress, star of “Citizen Ruth”

“Last night I finished your wonderful new book and I enjoyed it so much! Alexander Payne is such a terrific director and I loved reading about his films in detail. Congratulations.” – Joan Micklin Silver, filmmaker (“Hester Street,” “Crossing Delancey”)

“Alexander Payne is one of American cinema’s leading lights. How fortunate we are that Leo Biga has chronicled his rise to success so thoroughly.” – Leonard Maltin, film critic and best-selling author

“I’d be an Alexander Payne fan even if we didn’t share a Nebraska upbringing: he is a masterly, menschy, singular storyteller whose movies are both serious and unpretentious, delightfully funny and deeply moving. And he’s fortunate indeed to have such a thoughtful and insightful chronicler as Leo Biga.” – Kurt Andersen, novelist (“True Believers”) and Studio 360 host

“Alexander Payne richly deserves this astute book about his work by Leo Biga. I say this as a fan of both of theirs; and would be one even if I weren’t from Nebraska.” – Dick Cavett, TV legend

“Leo Biga brings us a fascinating, comprehensive, insightful portrait of the work and artistry of Alexander Payne. Mr. Biga’s collection of essays document the evolution and growth of this significant American filmmaker and he includes relevant historical context of the old Hollywood and the new. His keen reporter’s eye gives the reader an exciting journey into the art of telling stories on film.” – Ron Hull, Nebraska Educational Television legend, University of Nebraska emeritus professor of broadcasting, author of “Backstage”

“Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the book is Biga’s success at getting Payne to speak candidly about every step in the filmmaking process. These detailed insights include the challenges of developing material from conception to script, finding financing, moderating the mayhem of shooting a movie, and undertaking the slow, monk-like work of editing.” – Brent Spencer, educator and author (“The Lost Son”)

“This book became a primer for me, and introduced me to filmmaking in a way that I had never experienced in my years at film school. The intimacy and honesty in Biga’s writing, reporting and interviewing– and Payne’s unparalleled knowledge of cinema introduced me to filmmaking and film history from someone I quickly came to respect: Mr. Payne.” – Bryan Reisberg, filmmaker (“Big Significant Things”)

 

Jayne Putjenter Meehan

Fantastic review. Fantastic book, Leo Adam!

 

FINAL FRONT COVER 6-28-16

 

Hope to see you at the July 21 event at KANEKO.

Watch for announcements about book signings and how you can get your copy for yourself, a friend, a loved one. Makes a perfect gift for the film lover in your life.

Get your copy of the new “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” @ July 21 event


Get your copy of the new “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” @ July 21 event

Very pleased to announce the new edition of my book “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” releases September 1. You have an early bird opportunity to buy the book and get it signed by me at a film program I am moderating that features Oscar-winning cinematographer Mauro Fiore on Thursday, July 21 at 7 p.m. at KANEKO.

See details below or link to more info, at–

FINAL FRONT COVER 6-28-16  FINAL BACK COVER 6-28-16

 

Strong praise for”Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”–
“This is without question the single best study of Alexander Payne’s films, as well as the filmmaker himself and his filmmaking process. In charting the first two decades of Payne’s remarkable career, Leo Adam Biga pieces together an indelible portrait of an independent American artist, and one that’s conveyed largely in the filmmaker’s own words. This is an invaluable contribution to film history and criticism – and a sheer pleasure to read as well.” –Thomas Schatz, Film scholar and author (“The Genius of the System”)

“Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” charts the Oscar-winning filmmaker’s rise to the elite ranks of world cinema. Articles and essays take you deep inside the artist’s creative process. It is the most comprehensive look at Payne and his work to be found anywhere. This new edition features significant new content related to “Nebraska” and “Downsizing.” We have also added a Discussion Guide with Index for you film buffs and students. The book is also a great resource for more casual film fans who want a handy Payne primer and trivia goldmine. The book releases September 1 from River Junction Press.

The book sales for $25.95.

For inquiries and pre-orders, contact: leo32158@cox.net.

Follow my work at–
leaoadambiga.com and www.facebook.com/LeoAdamBiga.

_ _ _

Mauro Fiore: Writing with Light

Thursday, July 21 @ 7 p.m.
KANEKO, 1111 Jones St.
Tickets $10 General Admission. FREE for KANEKO Members

KANEKO hosts Academy Award winning director of photography Mauro Fiore for an audio-visual presentation exploring his career. Fiore’s filmography as a DP includes “Training Day,” “The A-Team,””Avatar” – for which he won the Oscar for Best Cinematography – and more recently “Real Steel,” “The Equalizer,””The Kingdom” and “Southpaw.” The Hollywood veteran is recognized for his skill with stylized light and realism. He’s collaborated with such major directors as Joe Carnahan, Michael Bay, James Cameron, Peter Berg and Antoine Fuqua. He and Fuqua have teamed on five features, the latest of which is the soon to release remake of “The Magnificent Seven.”

Fiore very much sees himself as a storyteller working in light and image to fulfill the vision of the writer and director.

The July 21 discussion will be moderated by yours truly. As an author-journalist-blogger I bring years of experience writing and reporting about film to the moderator’s chair.

 

Mauro Fiore: Writing with Light is a part of the Storytelling season at KANEKO June 3 – August 27. Learn more about the Storytelling exhibitions and programs at–

STORYTELLING

Hope to see you there.

Welcome to Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories @ leoadambiga.com


 

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Welcome to Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories @ leoadambiga.com, where–

I write stories about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions

Here are some cover story images associated with my blog posts. The stories represented by these images, like every post on the blog, are written by me. You can click on some of the covers to access the stories.

I invite you to visit the site, take a little or a lot of time, explore and enjoy the ride. Be sure to bookmark favorites and share links with family and friends.

I invite you to join thousands of others in following the blog. You can get email or Facebook updates whenever I post.

The blog by the way feeds into my Facebook page, My Inside Stories, as well as into my Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, Tumblr, AboutMe and Amazon pages.

Hope to see you here again @ leoadambiga.com

The site for My Inside Stories about people’s passions & magnificent obsessions

A compendium of Arts, Entertainment, Culture, Lifestyle, Sports, Style, Fashion, History, Society, Issues, Personalities, Creatives, Entrepreneurs and More

AS YOU CAN SEE, DIVERSITY IS THE NAME OF MY GAME

 

The Reader Sept. 29 - Oct. 5, 2011The Reader 1-13-2011
The Reader Nov. 3, 2011
Iraq War Veteran Jacob Hausman Battles PTSD and Finds Peace | Leo Adam Biga's Blog:
 El Perico February 12, 2015
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The Reader Dec. 11-17, 2014The Reader Feb. 13-19, 2014
The Reader Sept. 18 - 24, 2014The Reader Aug. 21-28, 2014
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The Reader Jan. 9, 2014The Reader July 17-23, 2014
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The ReaderThe Reader Jan. 30 - Feb. 5, 2014
The Reader Dec. 4 - 10, 2014The Reader Oct. 16 - 22, 2014
The Reader Oct. 30 - Nov. 5, 2014The Reader March 3, 2011
The Reader Aug. 28-Sept. 3, 2014The Reader Aug. 14-20, 2014
The Reader March 20 - 26, 2014The Reader
The Reader Oct. 13, 2013The Reader Oct. 3, 2013

The Reader 2-10-2011

New Horizons Newspaper's photo.
New Horizons Newspaper's photo.

 New Horizons Newspaper's photo.

New Horizons Newspaper's photo.
New Horizons Newspaper's photo.

Come to my presentation about going to Africa with Terence Crawford @ July 21 Omaha Press Club Noon Forum


Terence Crawford has captured the hearts and minds of Nebraskans with his move to the front ranks of professional boxing. The Omaha native has traveled a long, hard journey to get where he is at. Boxing is in his blood. The fight game is his life. Yet there is much more to him than the tenacious competitor, finely-tuned, supremely-conditioned and confident, technically-sound, unafraid and unbeaten world title holding prizefighter. He is also a devoted family man who loves kids. He is a sincere advocate for his community. He is curious about the wider world outside his hometown and homestate and he has made it a point to broaden his horizons. To indulge his hunger to know more and to see more, particurlarly to experience the Motherland, he has twice ventured to Uganda and Rwanda, Africa. The story of why he went to those places, whom he went with and what he did there reveals much about The Champ. My July 21 Omaha Press Club Noon Forum presentation describes in words and pictures the 2015 trip I made with him to those countries. I hope to see you at this event, where you will get a behind the scenes glimpse into Terence’s world away from boxing and his heart for people. The event is open to the general public.

 

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Come to my presentation about going to Africa with Terence Crawford @ July 21 Omaha Press Club Noon Forum

In touting the event, Omaha Press Club Education Committee member Chris Allen, a colleague of mine who teaches at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, wrote this in the OPC newsletter:

Boxing champion and Omaha native Bud Crawford isn’t all hard abs and steel fists. Bud Crawford has a soft side to him as well.

On Thursday, July 21, Omaha writer Leo Adam Biga will talk about Crawford’s trip to Africa with his fourth-grade teacher to do humanity work.

Crawford made his first trip to Africa in August 2014, shortly after he defeated Yuriorkis Gamoa in a fight in Omaha to retain his light welterweight title. He accompanied Jamie Nollette, his fourth-grade teacher at Skinner Magnet School. Nollette is the founder and executive director of Pipeline Worldwide, a nonprofit organization working on sustainability and self-sufficiency in Uganda and Rwanda.

When she returned to Africa in June 2015, Crawford went along again, before he had to begin training to defend his title that October, which he successfully did. Biga went on that trip through an Andy Award from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

 

 

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Biga’s talk, including many photos from the trip, will highight their experiences over the 12-day journey.

“We met African, American and European program directors, educators, aid workers and humanitarians,” Biga said. “Crawford was feted as a visiting prince by sports officials, who orga-nized a press conference he handled with aplomb.”

Cost for the Noon Education Forum luncheon is $17. Lunch begins at 11:30 a.m.. The event is open to the general public.

The Press Club is located on the 22nd floor of the old First National Bank Building at 1620 Dodge Street.

 

AFRICA TALES REVISITED: GOING TO AFRICA WITH THE CHAMP
Here I am doing my thing on the Africa trip I made in June 2015 with Terence Crawford, Jamie Nollette & Co.

Link to my stories about the experience at–
https://leoadambiga.com/?s=crawford+africa

Leo Adam Biga's photo.

Me interviewing our team tour guide in Uganda, Apollo Karugaba, a sweet-natured man who escaped the slums to get an education and to do good workwith Watoto Child Care Ministries. He helped give me a local’s sense for the way of life and the scale of need there. This interview took place outside the Bomah Hotel in Gulu, the largest city in Northern Uganda. In that northern region we visited Bless a Child and Sister Rosemary’s Saint Monica’s site in Gulu and Sister’s second site in Atiak.

 

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Let my writing cut through the clutter to make you shine


 

Image is everything in doing business, so let my writing cut through the clutter to make you shine.

 

Behind every organization is a story about people. Let me tell the human story of your company or nonprofit through whatever platform you desire: Website content, blog post, press release, newsletter, brochure, article, white paper, script, book. I am skilled in each medium. I will get to the heart of the matter because of my interviewing and storytelling expertise.

My tagline of “I write stories about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions” is more than a handle, it is what I do and deliver. Story after story, project after project. Long form or short form. Online or in print.

People and what makes them tick are always at the center of the stories I tell. Let me showcase your people. Each one of them. Their passion and personality, their dreams and ambitions, their achivements and awards, their lessons learned, their risks taken. Let me describe how their innovations and successes have moved the organization forward. I will illustrate their administrative, managerial, entrepreneurial, creative, collaborative and team leadership and team building skills. When I get through featuring them, your people will shine like the experts, professionals and rock stars they are. Most importantly, your organization’s story will be framed against the compelling personal profiles of your most important assets and resources – your people. Because, as you know, your organization is only as good as its people.

Let me bring to light everyone and everything that makes your organization special. It will be my privilege to help raise awareness and appreciation for all that your people do and for all that your organization does.

If you are looking for a new and traditional media campaign to highlight your organization or event, I can help with that, too. I bring years of experience as a media expert and liaison as well as thousands of followers across different social media platforms.

 

Testimonials:
“I’ve long admired Leo Biga’s journalism and prose portraiture for its honesty, thoughtfulness, and accuracy. On a personal note, throughout many years of being interviewed, I find Mr. Biga’s articles about me to be the most complete and perceptive of any journalist’s anywhere. They ring true to me — even in critique — in a way that reveals the depth of his talent in observation, understanding, and expression.” –Alexander Payne, filmmaker (Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants, Nebraska)

“Leo Adam Biga portrays his subjects with both precision and generosity, practicing a literary journalism that is enlightening, honest, and immensely readable. His writing is eloquent and provocative, and quite often moving.” –Timothy Schaffert, novelist/educator (The Swan Gondola)

“Leo Adam Biga is an astute, conscientious journalist whose interviews and articles have been widely admired for their accuracy, generosity, depth, and perceptiveness. I would position him among the finest of our national reporters on the arts and culture.” –Ron Hansen, novelist/educator (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford)

“Leo Biga personifies one of H.L. Mencken’s more memorable observations: ‘There are no dull subjects. There are only dull writers.’ Biga consistently teaches and delights, not with showy vocabulary or flashy syntax, but by placing his prodigious talents in the service of his subject and his readers.” –Richard Dooling, author/educator (White Man’s Grave and Brain Storm)

“Leo is one of the best prepared and most thorough writers I’ve ever worked with. With painstaking detail he builds well-crafted, well-researched stories that are a pleasure to read. Leo is truly one of the finest wordsmiths around.” –John Heaston, Publisher, The Reader

“Leo is a talented writer who handles each assignment with passion, style, and a commitment to quality.” –Jeff Reinhardt, Editor, New Horizons

“Leo is one of those inquisitive writers who knows just what probing questions to ask in order to get a fascinating story. He provides the Jewish Press with a behind-the-scenes look at people doing extraordinary things in their lives.”–Carol Katzman, Former Editor, Jewish Press

Recommendations:

“I’ve been fond of Leo’s writing for years. Lucky enough to sit down with him a year or so ago, I got to meet the talented and versatile writer behind those well-chosen words. Recently, we worked together on a story about the Heartland Latino Leadership Conference. As a public relations professional, it was a pleasure to coordinate the article’s interviews with his prompt and thorough communication.”–Marjorie Maas, Director, Community Engagement at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska

“While I was at Opera Omaha, Leo wrote several features about the work the company was doing – both mainstage and community service. He listened well and we had a couple of very enjoyable conversations. The pieces, as published, were balanced and thorough – I was very happy to have him as a colleague.”–John Wehrle, Assistant Director of Development, Western Division

“Leo Biga is one of the most talented writers in Omaha. He has covered many of our community festivals and events for “The Reader” and I have always been impressed by his professionalism as well as his ability to write thorough, fair and most of all, interesting stories. I would recommend Leo as a writer and journalist without hesitation.”–Vic Gutman, President, Vic Gutman & Associates

 

Let’s talk

I am available on a per project or by retainer basis.

Sample my work at leoadambiga.com.

Send your project specs to me at leo32158@cox.net.

Looking forward to being the lightning rod that activates, animates and illuminates a whole new level of engagement with your organization. With my help, the story of who you are and what you do will shine bright.

–Leo Adam Biga, Author-Journalist-Blogger, Omaha, Nebraska

Go Bold and Build Big Omaha – A Contrarian’s View


 

Go Bold and Build Big Omaha

A Contrarian’s View

With the College World Series upon us again, the contrarian in me comes out. First, let me say that I embrace the CWS as a cornerstone and touchstone event for the city. It is great that Omaha has hosted this NCAA championship for so long and has truly made it its own. The CWS is in many ways emblematic of Omaha itself. Stolid, stable, safe, conservative, family-friendly. Those qualities are certainly admirable in the context of a mass appeal, community-oriented event. But the CWS is also representative of Omaha settling for things that are, well, less than perhaps they could be. I refer to our fair city’s lack of truly major attractions and of monumental places and spaces to visit and gather in. Yes, I know all about the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. But for many of us a zoo is a zoo is a zoo, no matter how many new exhibits you add, and frankly a zoo is a very niche thing that doesn’t even fall into the monumental places and spaces conversation. Indeed, a zoo is the antithesis of wide open expanses by the very nature of its secured confinement fences, gates, enclosures and borders. No, what I mean is an urban park or square or plaza that is rather epic in scope and scale. Something measured in a few acres or a couple square miles. A place where many thousands can gather without being on top of each other. Something where permanent attractions and features are part of the landscape, such as wide walkways, extensive gardens, fountains, sculptures, gazebos, amphitheaters, et cetera. It might also be home to brick and mortar museums, theaters, nature conservancies and other large attractions. The actual outdoor area should be conducive to concerts, plays, arts festivals, hot air balloon launches and any number of other things.

It would be expansive enough to accommodate more than one of these activities at the same time. The closest thing we have to anything like that in Omaha is Memorial Park, which is quite nice for what it is but it is a rather small park with limited features and it certainly strains to the limit when a major concert is held there once a year. There’s the park, a small garden area, the memorial and one big event a year, and that’s it.

The city fathers have missed many opportunities to put something of this scale in place. The planners of the 1898 Trans-Miss Exposition designed something along these proportions but did not have the foresight or will or funding to build permanent structures and thus that magnificent faux city disappeared. Another missed opportunity came in the first quarter of the last century, when Omaha was being built out as a finished city, but nothing even approaching monumental arose. None of our major vintage public spaces compares in size or grandeur to those in similar sized Midwestern cities such as Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, Minneapolis or our far west neighbor Denver. Was this because of lack of vision or support? It doesn’t really matter now, except that we are left with what we are left in a rather fixed downtown and inner city landscape. But even within those restrictions more opportunities presented themselves – only Omaha failed miserably each time to realize what could have been. Whether you think it was a good idea or not, the Gene Leahy Mall presented a chance for Omaha to create a big open green space right in the heart of downtown but the leaders got it terribly wrong when they built a smallish sunken mall/park that has virtually no open space to speak of it is so densely designed and its main feature, a filthy lagoon or pond, is less than breathtaking.

 

 

Then there was Jobbers Canyon. Of course, it should have remained just it was – a huge cluster of historic multi-story warehouse buildings begging to be redeveloped for commercial and nonprofit uses. If in the end it did have to be razed, then at least ConAgra and the city should have worked out a deal to create a truly impressive public use park with grand features and spaces. That was not done. What was created is nice enough, but it pales to what could have and should have been. Ah, then there’s the rest of the riverfront development that ensued. Again, it’s a good thing that Omaha finally made it back to the river and cleaned up what had become an environmental wasteland, but leaders were far too timid and constrained with how they repurposed the area. They wasted what was a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a bold statement. What’s there is okay. but that’s the point, it’s merely okay, and mediocre and uninspiring. The biggest fault is that there is just not enough there, there. It needs much more open space and many more amenities. The pedestrian bridge is yet another underwhelming structure. None of these things standup to their counterparts in peer cities. Where is our Arch? Our Forest Park? Our Walker Art Center? Our Millennium Park? Our Lincoln Park? Our City Park? Our Liberty Memorial? Our Nelson Atkins?

Another lost opportunity saw the city never follow through and finish the grand boulevard and parks system that would have given Omaha an enduring and distinguishing urban design highlight.

While I am at it, Omaha also lacks a super wide city street to accommodate a truly massive parade with large floats and inflatables and armies of paraders or protestors, as the case may be.

A whole related conversation could be had about all the historic buildings the city has let go and that would have contributed to a much more interesting architectural aesthetic than the one we are left with today.

Perhaps Omaha is a victim of its own easy to please nature. It is ironic though that just as a new generation of creatives and dreamers have emerged in the city, many of them doing bold entrepreneurial things that enrich the culture, they and the rest of us are stuck with a blah city landscape that does not do justice to their/our aesthetics and aspirations. I wish the design of Omaha could start all over again from scratch but since that is not happening, I pray that some dreamers mesh their grand vision with big dollars to create the kind of space and place I describe. Only where would it go? North Downtown and Northeast Omaha would seem the most likely urban, inner city prospects.

Since Omaha will never have an ocean front or a mountain backdrop or dramatic skyline, much less a major professional sports team, it needs a defining, image-making place or space, not just for branding purposes outside the city, but as a point of pride celebration and destination gathering spot for us residents. Nothing we presently have even comes close to cutting it. Perhaps it’s not too late for a major redesign that would build a public park that encompasses the east Creighton Campus and its arts and sports amenities along with the Joslyn Art Museum, the Rose Theatre and the Omaha Children’s Museum, with new amenities added to the mix, in one contiguous park complex. Nah, wouldn’t work. you say. Probably not. Then again, why not, or why not something like it somewhere else? Why not a grand design element that somehow ties together the string of amenities up and down 10th Street from North Downtown to the new Blue Barn and beyond to the Lauritzen Gardens and the Zoo. Perhaps it involves somehow making 10th Street a wider, prettier thoroughfare that includes a landscaped promenade with extra wide sidewalks and plenty of perches for vendors. And a true trolley system serving that stretch and the greater downtown and midtown districts.

You can’t tell me that the resources are not available do something of scale given the level of private philanthropy here and the kinds of public monies that can be had for projects that redevelop so-called distressed or blighted areas. It’s just a matter of where the funds are directed or diverted. And what the priorities are. But we’re talking vision here, not soup and nuts. And this city is starving for a big bold vision. We just need enough deep-pocketed folks to catch the vision.

I dread having to go through this litany again in a decade or two. That’s why I say, Go Bold and Build Big Omaha. What are we afraid of?

 

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