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Life Itself XIV: Art stories through the years

August 4, 2018 Leave a comment

Life Itself XIV: Art stories through the years

Brigitte McQueen Shew

 

 

Free North Omaha Summer Arts Crawl features variety of art forms – Friday, August 10 at select North 30th Street Corridor venues

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/07/25/free-north-omaha…-corridor-venues

Process equals passion for migrant Bemis resident artist Trevor Amery

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/03/08/process-equals-p…ist-trevor-amery

Sculptor Benjamin Victor gives shape to Ponca Chief Standing Bear’s enduring voice

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/05/01/sculptor-benjami…s-enduring-voice

Mural Man – Artist Mike Giron captures heart of South Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/05/02/mural-man-artist…t-of-south-omaha

A Fluid Life: Dana Oltman Goes With the Flow

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/08/03/a-fluid-life-dan…es-with-the-flow

New Artist Residency Program at El Museo Latino supports the practice of local Latino artists

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/06/10/new-artist-resid…l-latino-artists/

Art in the heart of South Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/09/22/art-in-the-heart-of-south-omaha

 

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©“Crucifixion”  triptych by Leonard Thiessen

 

 

 

Brigitte McQueen Shew’s Union of art and community uses new Blue Lion digs to expand community engagement

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/06/26/brigitte-mcqueen…unity-engagement/

South Omaha Museum: A melting pot magic city gets its own museum

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/04/13/a-melting-pot-ma…s-its-own-museum

Artist Erin Blayney: The Great Reveal

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/08/03/artist-erin-blay…the-great-reveal/

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

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/08/05/omaha-fashion-we…a-business-focus

Leonard Thiessen social justice triptych deserves wider audience

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/01/21/leonard-thiessen…s-wider-audience

 

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img_4248 ©Crosses and prayer stations by Pamela Jo Berry and pottery by Katie Cramer

 

 

Harmonious, luminescent pairing of art – “Prayer” and “Share” – on exhibit at Florence Mill ArtLoft Gallery

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/09/12/harmonious-lumin…-artloft-gallery

Mural project celebrates mosaic of South Omaha culture

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/07/19/mural-project-ce…th-omaha-culture/

 

 

Los Dias de Los Muertos festival offers three weeks of exhibits and events

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/10/16/los-dias-de-los-…ibits-and-events

My Joslyn Art Museum Community Pick is Thomas Hart Benton’s “The Hailstorm”

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/08/03/my-joslyn-commun…s-picked-and-why

Bright Lights: Teen designer Ciara Fortun mines Filipino heritage in Omaha Fashion Week collection

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/07/29/bright-lights-te…-week-collection

 

Yolanda Diaz success story with Little Miss Fashion nets her new recognition

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/05/yolanda-diaz-suc…-new-recognition

Yolanda Diaz works on a skirt in her Little Miss Fashion shop in Omaha. (©Photo by Mike Tobias, NET News)

 

 

The Designers: Omaha’s Emerging Fashion Culture

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/02/02/the-designers-om…-fashion-culture

A Passion for Fashion: Omaha Fashion Week emerges as major cultural happening

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/09/21/a-passion-for-fashion

Coming Home: Watie White’s public art installation tells stories of North Omaha home and family

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/02/07/coming-home-wati…-home-and-family

Art and community meet-up in artist’s public projects; Watie White mines urban tales

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/09/24/art-and-communit…ines-urban-tales

 

Home exterior art installation by Watie White

 

 

The Artist in the Mill: Linda Meigs brings agriculture, history and art together at Florence Mill

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/08/01/linda-meigs-brin…at-florence-mill/

Opera Omaha enlists Jun Kaneko for new take on “The Magic Flute” –  co-production of Mozart masterpiece features stunning designs setting the opera world abuzz

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/02/01/opera-omaha-enli…pera-world-abuzz

Isabella Threlkeld’s lifetime pursuit of art and Ideas yields an uncommon life

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/04/isabella-threlke…an-uncommon-life

 

Isabella (Byrne) Threlkeld

Isabella Threlkeld

 

 

Omaha arts-culture scene all grown up and looking fabulous

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/03/06/omaha-arts-culture-scene-grows-up

Artists running with opportunity to go to the next level; Carver Bank resident artists bring new life to area

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/05/20/artists-running-…new-life-to-area

Carver Building rebirthed as arts-culture haven; Theaster Gates, Rebuild and Bemis reimagine North Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/12/05/carver-building-…gine-north-omaha

North Omaha synergy harkens new arts-culture district for the city

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/26/a-synergy-in-nor…ict-for-the-city

 

Inaugural group of Carver Bank resident artists

 

 

Change is gonna come: GBT Academy in Omaha undergoes revival in wake of fire

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/14/a-change-is-gonn…the-wake-of-fire

Community-builders Jose and Linda Garcia devote themselves to a life promoting Latino art, culture, history

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/09/30/community-builde…-culture-history

The Wonderful World of Artist and Social Entrepreneur Jeffrey Owen Hanson

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/01/01/the-wonderful-wo…frey-owen-hanson

Matter of the heart: Pamela Jo Berry’s love for community brings art fest to North Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/08/08/pamela-jo-berry-…-in-diverse-work

Old Market Pioneer Roger duRand

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/12/26/old-market-pioneer-roger-durand

 

©Work by Wanda Ewing

 

 

Wanda Ewing Exhibit: Bougie is as Bougie Does 

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/12/08/wanda-ewing-exhi…s-as-bougie-does

Color Me Black, Artist Francoise Duresse Explores Racial Implications 

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/17/color-me-black-a…ications-of-race

Artist-Author-Educator Faith Ringgold, A Faithful Conjurer of Stories, Dreams, Memories and History

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/18/artist-author-ed…ries-and-history

Old Market-based artist Sora Kimberlain: A life in art

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/20/old-market-based…in-a-life-in-art

Artist Claudia Alvarez’s new exhibition considers immigration

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/03/23/artist-claudia-a…ders-immigration

For artist Terry Rosenberg, the moving human body offers canvas like no other

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/03/23/for-artist-terry…as-like-no-other

 

 

©Works by Terry Rosenberg

 

 

Fine art photographer Vera Mercer’s coming out party

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/02/18/artist-vera-merc…coming-out-party

Exhibit by photographer Jim Krantz and his artist grandfather, the late David Bialac engages in an art conversation through the generations

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/10/28/photographer-jim…-the-generations/

 

A very young Jim Krantz with iconic mentor, Ansel Adams, ©photo Jim Krantz

 

Touched by Tokyo: Hairstylist to the Stars Tokyo Stylez

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/08/27/touched-by-tokyo…ars-tokyo-stylez/

The Troy Davis Story: From Beyond the Fringe to Fringes Salon

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/12/27/the-troy-davis-s…to-fringes-salon/

Hair stylist-makeup artist Omar Rodriguez views himself as artisan

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/05/13/hair-stylist-mak…mself-as-artisan/

Young artist steps out of the shadows of towering presence in his life

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/03/a-young-artist-s…ence-in-his-life/

Eddith Buis, A Life Immersed in Art

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/11/eddith-buis-a-life-immersed-in-art/

Artist Bernard Stanley Hoyes explores the lamentations and celebrations of Jamaican revival worship

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/28/artist-bernard-s…-revival-worship

 

Flow with the Rhythm, ©Bernard Stanley Hoyes (the Lamentations and Celebrations of Jamaican Revival Worship) -“The intention is to show where we gather our strength in all the trials and tribulations we have to endure. The strength comes from the commonality of our spiritual seeking. That’s one of the reasons I group the figures together and put them kind of like solid. They feel like one. You need all these bodies together to evoke the strength of what it takes to have a spiritual community.":

©”Flow with the Rhythm” by Bernard Stanley Hoyes

 

 

Catherine Ferguson’s exploration takes her to Verdi’s “Aida” and beyond

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/01/artist-catherine…-aida-and-beyond

Therman Statom works with children to create glass houses and more

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/glass-artist-the…kids-art-brigade

Blizzard Voices: Stories from the Great White Shroud

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/07/27/blizzard-voices-…eat-white-shroud

African presence in Spanish America explored in three presentations

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/03/25/african-presence…ee-presentations

Jose and Linda Garcia find new outlet for their magnificent obsession in the Mexican American Historical Society of the Midlands

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/03/25/jose-and-linda-g…-of-the-midlands

Timeless Fashion Illustrator Mary Mitchell: Her Work Illustrating Three Decades of Style Now Subject of New Book and Exhibition

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/01/07/timeless-fashion…k-and-exhibition/

 

Mary Mitchell in her studio, @photo Jim Scholz

 

 

A Passion for Conservation: Tara Kennedy

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/11/25/a-passion-for-co…ion-tara-kennedy

Nancy Kirk: Arts maven, author, communicator, entrepreneur, interfaith champion

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/10/21/nancy-kirk-arts-…erfaith-champion

Art as revolution: Brigitte McQueen’s Union for Contemporary Art reimagines what’s possible in North Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/10/25/art-as-revolutio…e-in-north-omaha

“Portals” opens new dimensions in performance art – Multimedia concert comes home for Midwest premiere

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/10/06/portals-opens-ne…midwest-premiere

Open Minds: “Portals” explores human longing in the digital age

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/04/15/open-minds-porta…-the-digital-age

 

©Triptych designed and painted by Bro. William Woeger

 

 

Soon Come: Neville Murray’s passion for Loves Jazz & Arts Center and its role in rebirthing North Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/28/soon-come-nevill…hing-north-omaha

Inner City Art Exhibition Tells Wide Range of Stories

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/01/an-inner-city-ex…range-of-stories

Art from the Streets

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/01/art-from-the-streets

Manifest Beauty: Christian Bro. William Woeger devotes his life to Church as artist and creative-cultural-liturgical expert

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/27/manifest-beauty-…-cultural-center

Photographer Larry Ferguson’s work is meditation on the nature of views and viewing

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/21/photographer-lar…iews-and-viewing/

Frederick Brown’s journey through art: Passage across form and passing on legacy

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/22/frederick-browns…ing-on-of-legacy

 

 

 

 

Jazz and blues artist Frederick J. Brown displays his painting “Stagger Lee,” in Kansas City, Mo.

 

 

A stitch in time builds world-class quilt collection and center-museum

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/21/a-stitch-in-time…nd-center-museum

Once More With Feeling: Loves Jazz & Arts Center back from hiatus 

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/05/05/once-more-with-f…back-from-hiatus

Adventurer-collector Kam-Ching Leung’s Indonesian art reveals spirits of the islands

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/14/adventurercollec…s-of-the-islands

 

 

©Indonesian art piece, collection of Kam-Chieng Leung

 

 

Kent Bellows Legacy Lives On

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/10/13/bellows-legacy-lives-on/

Kent Bellows: Soul in Motion

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/09/21/kent-bellows-soul-in-motion

Rebecca Herskovitz forges an art family at Kent Bellows Studio and Center for Visual Arts

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/10/13/rebecca-herskovi…-for-visual-arts/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©Self-portraits by Kent Bellows

 

 

Art for Art’s Sake: Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/09/21/art-for-arts-sak…ontemporary-arts

Combat sniper-turned-art photographer Jim Hendrickson on his vagabond life and enigmatic work

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/30/combat-sniper-tu…d-enigmatic-work

Naturalist-artist John Lokke – In pursuit of the Timber Rattlesnake and In the footsteps of Karl Bodmer

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/09/02/naturalist-artis…s-of-karl-bodmer

 

©Painting by John Lokke

 

 

Art Missionaries, Bob and Roberta Rogers and their Gallery 72

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/19/art-missionaries

Photographer Monte Kruse pushes boundaries

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/22/photographer-mon…ushes-boundaries

From the Archives: Photographer Monte Kruse works close to the edge

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/10/13/from-the-archive…lose-to-the-edge

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Brigitte McQueen Shew’s Union of art and community uses new Blue Lion digs to expand community engagement

June 26, 2017 1 comment

Brigitte McQueen Shew’s Union of art and community uses new Blue Lion digs to expand community engagement

©by Leo Adam Biga

Brigitte McQueen Shew so believes the arts can promote social justice she founded and directs The Union for Contemporary Art as a resource supporting artists in their practice and as a change agent engaging underserved North Omaha. Last year, The Union moved from cramped 2417 Burdette Street quarters in northeast Omaha to much larger new quarters at the nearby renovated Blue Lion Center.

Once that occurred, the organization’s already full program slate increased, as didl the number of people it serves.

Union artist studio and coop spaces, exhibits, youth activities, mural projects, community garden, tool lending library and neighborhood potlucks expanded with the fall move to the Blue Lion and courtyard at 24th and Lake. With the move, The Union is now an anchor at the intersection of a once thriving black business corridor and live music scene finally emerging as a new arts and culture district.

Going from 3,000 to 16,000 square feet has enlarged adult and youth spaces and thus allowed greater capacity and participation. There are dedicated facilities for graphic art, printmaking, ceramics, fiber arts, woodworking, cooking. Instead of leasing a storefront for its Wanda Ewing Gallery, the organization has a permanent gallery for curated shows in its new home. A mixed use space doubles as a black box theater hosting performances by Union’s newly formed Performing Arts Collective. Under the direction of Denise Chapman, the Collective stages African-American theater, dance, spoken word and music events.

The two-story, brick. century-old Blue Lion housed many enterprises, including McGill’s Blue Room, before going empty in recent years. Its new life is made possible by the Sherwood Foundation, whose purchase and renovation was expressly for the Union. McQueen Shew coveted the building as her organizatIon’s home. “It perfectly fit us,” she says.

Seizing the moment

“The Union has been a key player in the revitalization of the Blue Lion,” says former board member Julia Parker, Omaha Small Business Network (OSBN) executive director. “This is a culturally significant building known as a gathering place in North Omaha and the home of small business and job creation. The reopening of the Blue Lion is yet another indicator North 24th Street is being reactivated as an arts, culture and small business district.”

That district already includes Loves Jazz & Arts Center and Carver Bank. It also encompasses the Omaha Star, the Omaha Economic Development Corporation, OSBN and the former homes of the Great Plains Black History Museum and the Dreamland Ballroom. The recently opened Fair Deal Village Marketplace features cargo container spaces for micro entrepreneurs and artists.

All of this is in addition to major construction projects on North 30th Street, including Highlander Village, three new Metropolitan Community College Fort Omaha campus buildings and a new mixed-use of the former Mr. C’s site. Together with new housing developments, the Nelson Mandela school, the North Star Foundation campus, No More Empty Pots, the 40th Street Theatre, North O’s long dreamed of revitalization is taking shape.

“It’s our moment,” McQueen Shew says. “More money is coming into the community than has happened in years. I think it’s an amazing thing that’s happening and if you look at 24th and Lake, it’s the hub that connects everything together. This is our moment and if we don’t seize it then it just quiets down again. This is the time. That’s why it’s so important to me and why I push so hard.”

Seventy Five North Revitalization Corp. executive director Othello Meadows, whose organization is developing Highlander, says, “There’s this culmination of a lot of things happening at once and I think there’s definitely pressure to continue to move the ball forward. We’re not going to be satisfied with the status quo. We’re looking at new and innovative ways to address old problems. The point really is to continue to push and learn and get better at serving the community. A lot of people are saying, ‘Let’s try something different’ or let’s do something in existence before but do it better.”

Even with all these currents, McQueen Shew says, “so much more needs to happen in making it a place people want to live, such as dealing with food policy issues. North Omaha is one of Nebraska’s largest food deserts. How do you expect families to move into this community and set down roots if you can’t even get food? There’s lots of vacant land that needs developing. There’s lots of things we’re lacking on an infrastructure level. We need to coalesce behind real economic development. We also need to train the next generation of leaders. Who will they be? Those conversations need to be tackled now because there are eyes on North Omaha in a positive way that weren’t on this community before, and that’s exciting.”

She insists the arts will drive people to North 24th but once there they need other gathering places to hang out, such as eateries and coffeehouses. Meadows agrees arts-entertainment amenities are essential. “In a healthy community you have multiple avenues of self-expression and self-actualization for people to explore their interests and to fulfill who they are,” he says.

Stakeholders see retail commerce flowing in North Downtown, Midtown, Benson and South Omaha but still lagging on North 24th.

“I’ve started pointedly asking investors, developers and realtors why they don’t think this of this neighborhood or community for development” McQueen Shew says.

 

 

Art as social change

That she and The Union are players in this equation is unexpected given the organization launched only six years ago and its leader got fed up with Omaha the first time she lived here A journalist by training and trade, McQueen Shew worked for a national magazine when she arrived in 2001 at the urging of an artist friend residing here. She liked the local arts scene and the people but she hated the segregation that excluded persons of color from opportunities that, by contrast, were open to everyone in New York City, where she’d lived, and in Detroit, where she grew up.

She left Omaha dismayed by its racial inequity, but returned to do something about it. She asked people hard questions.

“When I got here it was like, ‘Well, this is just the way it is, this is the way it’s always been.’ And so I started asking why. Why have you never crossed Cuming Street? Why don’t you ever go over there? Why did this happen? How has this been allowed to go on?”

It took her awhile to find the right advocacy-activist vehicle. Her failed Pulp store in Benson nearly cost her everything. Then she ran the Underground Gallery at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts before a new idea overtook her: starting a North Omaha-based organization to address chronic studio space shortages and limited access to equipment and to engage residents through programs. The Union name reflects her interest in community, inclusivity, unity and sharing.

Among Omaha residencies The Union uniquely requires fellows do a community service project in North Omaha. McQueen Shew feels it’s vital artists give back, connect with community and demystify the arts. She believes deeply in fellows being social practice artists who do public work with some greater purpose. The Union’s Neighborhood Tool Library began as a project by then-fellow Kjell Peterson. During their residency Dan Susman and Andrew Monbouquette worked on their sustainable foods documentary Growing Cities and formed Truck Farm, a mobile urban farm ed program operating independently today.

“Having artists engaged and visible in the community gives North Omaha residents a chance to meet artists and talk art and to find out it’s not all about sacred spaces but really a part of everybody’s life,” says McQueen Shew.

She’s aware most fellows get their first real taste of North Omaha during their residency and she’s confident they leave with changed perceptions and broader knowledge.

Before doing her Union fellowship artist Shea Wilkinson says she was “completely ignorant of what was in North Omaha” but the experience so inspired her that she’d North Omaha her home. “I love my home and my neighborhood there. One hears a lot about the crime but rarely does one hear the things that make it an area worth investing in. I have lived here three years now and love seeing the positive changes happening.”

Artist Angela Drakeford grew up in North O but she says her Union residency helped her “think about the realities of what it meant to be a black artist in America,” adding, “I started not only to think about who I was and who my audience was but also what my obligations were as an artist. The Union has a very radical mission to help empower the community. Honestly, I would not be the artist and person I am today without this fellowship. It was truly a transformational experience.”

 

 

Embracing, implementing, fine-tuning a vision

The first person McQueen Shew shared The Union’s radical concept with, Katie Weitz, caught her vision and got the Weitz Family Foundation to back it. Not everyone was supportive. “I had donors tell me I was committing career suicide when I started The Union – that no one would follow me over here and no one would come.” She ignored the naysayers. “Maybe it’s just about tenacity.” Grants came in. She took a year to flesh out the idea and to devise a strategy for making The Union, launched in 2011, sustainable. At the start it was just herself at the repurposed former food bank on Burdette. As more funding’s come, she’s added staff and programs.

For a small nonprofit with a short history the organization’s made a large impact and won over many fans. So much so it isuccessfuly realizing a $5 million Growth Campaign to support its operations and programs.

Board chair Mary Zicafoose, a textiles artist, admires how McQueen Shew has “carved out a template for an organization designed to uniquely serve the community and become a unifying bridge for the arts for the entire metropolitan area. Many hundreds of metro area citizens and arts supporters have broken bread and attended Union community events that previously had never ventured farther north than Cuming Street. That’s powerful in itself. It’s mission is to unify our greater community through the arts and that is what it does program by program, artist by artist, exhibition by exhibition.”

Zicafoose has an insider perspective on how McQueen Shew has gained so much traction so fast for the organization and its niche.

“The Union’s mission and Brigitte’s vision is a story about understanding one’s purpose, seizing opportunity, taking action and then moving forward without hesitation. Her vision and attitude is simply quite contagious. Hence, the great interest, growth, stellar track record and support of this project. Brigitte is also an articulate and accomplished networker.”

No More Empty Pots executive director Nancy Williams says, “Brigitte is genuine. She has a rich history and eloquently shares her experiences. Brigitte is also generous. Brigitte has many talents and knows how to effectively leverage those talents for The Union. She is focused and reaches out for help when needed.” When McQueen Shew put out a call for folks to clean up the current site shortly after moving in, Zicafoose says “It was transformed in one weekend with the sweat equity of a hundred community volunteers.”

Zicafoose marvels at all the organization does. “It’s really quite shocking the amount of programming that has emerged from this small building, lovingly worked and reworked, to make every inch of precious space be of purpose. The move provides more appropriate and much needed additional space for existing programs to expand and thrive as well as allow new programs to be born. Its strategic location makes it a natural hub and meeting place.”

Seventy Five North’s Meadows appreciates that The Union is “a constant and consistent presence” instead of a “one-off” project. He adds, “What I love about Brigitte and what she’s doing is that she’s made a commitment to this neighborhood and to being there all the time. Having access to explore art is an amazing opportunity for this community, whose population is often forgotten about.” For a community that’s had many promises made and unfulfilled it was important McQueen Shew and the Union develop trust and Meadows says that’s happened. “People know she’s there for the right reasons.”

Prospect Village Neighborhood Association’s Rondae Hill is impressed by how The Union’s partnered on art-infused beautification projects, including a mural, bus benches and a redesigned park, in her area.
“Prospect Village appreciates everything the Union has helped to start in our neighborhood. The mural brought new life to an old building that started a ripple effect of prosperity. It has now become the center of our neighborhood and brings pride to the area.”

Not everything The Union’s done has succeeded but it’s small and nimble enough to try new things. Three areas where McQueen Shew feels it’s fallen short is connecting with area residents, helping artist fellows with their community service projects and integrating exhibition themes across all programming. To strengthen those elements she’s hired Nicole Caruth as director of pedagogy and public practice.

“Nicole joined our staff to help ensure all of our programs revolve around our commitment to social practice,” McQueen Shew says.

“Even though we were in the community people still saw us as Other. We were still missing the opportunity to connect. We had to fix that. Here at The Union we do everything as a team, so we had conversations about that disconnect. Nicole comes from that background. She has the resources and the networking connections
to be in tune with community.

“It’s about being flexible, realizing the gap and then going back and fixing it,. You have to be willing to jump off and readjust the course. It’s probably easier for The Union to do that than it is for an organization thats been around 40 years. Almost everything we do is a grand experiment. If we do it once and it works, awesome, let’s keep it. If it fails, then we’ glean some knowledge and let it go. We’re in an amazing position to do that.”

 

 

Forging a more perfect Union

The Union name is apt because in classic union organizing style, McQueen Shew came to Omaha as an outside agitator to build solidarity around addressing certain disparities.

“It’s just such a simple premise – that you can use the arts as a vehicle for social justice and to effect change in your community. That you can put things in place to uplift your local artists but at the same time be working to make some headway into ridiculous issues with segregation in this community. No one else was putting those two things together. They were two very separate issues and I don’t think people we’re seeing the connection,” she says.

She’s coalesced like-minded people around the mission.

“I may have been the one to stand up and wave the flag but if other people weren’t willing to fall in line with that then it never would have happened. The Union wouldn’t exist without people willing to take a leap of faith on this idea the arts can be more than just something you look at on a wall. I’m just fortunate the people with the means to help us get there also felt it a risk worth taking.

“People have made sacrifices to do this with me. Our program manager Paige Reitz took a crazy cut in salary to be here because she believed in the work I was doing. Paige was not the only staff member to take a pay cut to work with us. Actually the majority of my staff did. People willing to sacrifice something of their own to put into this dream is really how tTe Union has continued to grow.”

The Growth Campaign, which went public last summer, closed in early 2017. Its millions have helped boost employee salaries in addition to increasing the budget and solidifying things moving forward.

Public celebrations of that growth happened in October when the organization held open houses and special events at the Blue Lion. Since then, McQueen Shew and staff have been proudly welcoming visitors to their new digs and the community’s new gathering place.

Bomb girl Zedeka Poindexter draws on family, food and angst for her poetry

March 11, 2015 4 comments

This is a breakout season in the life and career of Omaha slam poetry champion Zedeka Poindexter.  Her work is getting in front of more and more people thanks to her live and YouTube performances, her readings, and her published pieces.  My Reader (www.thereader.com) story about her and her passion for all things poetry related, including the Nebraska Writers Collective and its Louder Than a Bomb Omaha festival, reveals a woman extremely passionate about what she does and supremely confident in her own skin.  Zedeka’s coached several teams in Louder Than a Bomb Omaha, which runs March 17 through most of April, but work commitments are preventing her from coaching this year.  Her heart though will be with the youth competing in the event.

 

 

Photo by Justin Limoges 

©Photo by Justin Limoges 

 

 

 

Bomb girl Zedeka Poindexter draws on family, food and angst for her poetry

©by Leo Adam Biga

For The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

Three-time Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards poet nominee Zedeka Poindexter envies the performing outlets high school-age poets have today. The March 17-April 20 Louder Than a Bomb is a case in point. There wasn’t anything like it when she was in school.

“I was working in a notebook, I always did, but there was no place to go with these things,” says Poindexter, 39, who’s blowing up with her personal anthems about race, family, relationships, loss and blessings.

But as a teen her thoughts didn’t find a voice outside her private journals. That’s a far cry from today’s young poets, who have platforms galore for their innermost musings. Poindexter should know since she’s coached LTAB teams from Blackburn, Westside, Millard West and her alma mater, Omaha North.

“These kids are doing things that blow my mind and all I have to do is facilitate a space for them to do what they were already going to do anyway and help them figure out the best way to present it, These kids are fearless, they will tell you any personal story they have, They are incredibly courageous and just all by themselves so cool. It kind of fuels you as an artist, You’re like, If you’re doing this and you’re 16, what the hell’s my excuse.”

Just as LTAB gives youth an expressive arena, Poindexter uses slam and other opportunities to evolve her own work. For example, her Union for Contemporary Art fellowship will culminate in a new collection of poems that revolve around family recipes and food as focal point and bridge for familial divisions. She plans a May 2 reading and tasting.

“It’s a very different thing trying to write a series of poems that interconnect and relate to one another,” says Poindexter, who’s used to crafting slam’s more instinctive, one-off performance pieces.

In 2012 she became Omaha’s only female city slam champion.

“It has almost always been a white man. I might also be the only person of color who’s won, but I know I’m the only woman, so that’s a huge honor for me. I was a cranky woman that year because there was only one other woman and there wasn’t anybody else brown. I was like, ‘C’mon, y’all, can do better than this.’ I was pissed.”

She represented Omaha at the 2013 Women of the World Poetry Slam in Minneapolis, where she was voted an audience favorite.

“It’s all women, it’s all storytelling, it’s very affirming.”

Her work appears in the WOWPS anthology, Alight.

She’s not inclined to leave her slam roots. She has a long history with the Nebraska Writers Collective, whose head, Matt Mason, is the godfather of Omaha slam. He considers her “a cultural treasure for our community.”

“Zedeka is a nationally-known performance poet. You wouldn’t know by meeting her as she doesn’t name-drop or talk about all she’s accomplished, but her work is among the best in the country,” he says. “It’s been great to see her expand her role by publishing more lately as well as taking on the role of running Omaha’s poetry slam. She really does it all. She’s also a great presence in classrooms.”

In turn, Poindexter’s proud of her Collective family. “We’ve been a force for a good long time. We really had a pretty good run as far as accolades in the slam community. A lot of writers have grown beyond that and published work I really love.”

Beyond her Collective circle she’s studied with former Kennedy Center Imagination Celebration poet laureate Stacy Dyson and with storyteller A-Nanci Larenia Stallworth.

Recently, she joined novelist Joy Castro and poet Roger Gerberling for a Backwaters Press reading and paired with Nebraska state poet Twyla Hansen at the Kaneko Feedback Reading Series. Being matched with Hansen gave her pause.

“Being a slam artist is very different than being somebody who’s devoted their life basically to craft and teaching, which I have not done,” says Poindexter, who’s a thesis away from completing her master’s in communication at UNO. “But it turned out to be amazing. I think there are some people who exist strictly in the performative world and some who exist strictly in academia, but there is a lot of crossover.

“I think the bigger separation or chasm I noticed for awhile was a white scene and a black scene. Myself, i just went wherever the baddest ass readings were. They were different things but vitally important to how I grew as a writer and performer. The perception that anybody is not welcome at either place worries me.”

 

 

©photo by Eric David Herrera

 

 

 

She appreciates the diversity of the OEAAs and enjoyed doing her thing at last year’s awards show.

“The fact I got to perform poems really important to me before a roomful of artists and everybody got quiet was absolutely one of the most magical things.”

She often writes about the dynamics of her large African-American family. The Great Migration brought her people from the South to Chicago and Omaha. She mines their rich vein of idioms and imbroglios, delighting in food as a bond that nourishes and heals.

Her poem “Poor Relations” discusses her Omaha family line being branded inferior by their affluent Chicago relatives.

“There were struggles, we had our own personal dysfunctions but we were strong and we were happy. It’s been really cathartic to try to tell these stories and be honest about them.”
Born into a family of matriarchs who were “voracious readers,” Poindexter immersed herself in books and writing from an early age.

“Poetry’s been this thing that’s sustained me spiritually but it kind of existed outside regular life.”

She dabbled in theater and journalism but discovered her artistic home in the emergent slam and spoken word movement.

“I always wrote poems but I kind of started finding a community when Matt Mason ran readings at Borders years ago. There were Pop Tarts for prizes.”

She followed the local slam scene to the Om Center, where it’s still based.

Slam slayed her the first time she saw Def Jam. “I didn’t know what that thing was but I was going to figure out how to do that thing.”

She immersed herself in slam in Colorado, where she moved after losing her grandmother and anchor. She returned to Omaha a few years ago to be close to her spoken word soul sister, Felicia Webster, and to her slam girls, Katie F-S and Sarah McKinstry-Brown.

“Slam has saved me in more ways that I can think of. It feels right. If I migrate away from performance and writing I feel the atrophy of it. I like the fact I have a passion, that there’s this thing that drives me. I don’t know what I would do without that as a rudder.”

She wouldn’t know what to do without her creative community.

“I don’t know if I could function without having that sense of support. It’s afforded me most of the close friendships and safety nets I’ve experienced the last 15 years.”

She’s encouraged by the camaraderie LTAB students display. She’s still struck by what happened a few years ago when a Lincoln High team member lost her mother.

“As a team they decided they wanted to come to finals with all new work, including a piece that the girl who’d just lost her mother had written. And so they scrapped everything. There was no strategy, they were not worried about winning, they were like, This is the work we want to feature. They believed in it and they won, and it was so good. The thing that was so cool was they were willing to sacrifice to do this thing intrinsically personal to them. I’ll take that any time over people who live for the scores and stuff.”

She calls LTAB coaching “the best job ever.”

She feels confident about one day supporting herself as an artist and teacher. She may next pursue a master of fine arts degree,

“I don’t know many artists who value themselves for the work they do because it’s always something that’s never fully supported them,” says Poindexter, who works a corporate day job.

“Being valued for my artistry is something I’ve learned to do a lot better.”
Zedeka hosts the Om Center poetry slam the second Saturday of every month. Visit OmahaSlam.com.

View her performing at buttonpoetry.com.

For Louder Than a Bomb details, visit ltabomaha.org.

Art as revolution: Brigitte McQueen’s Union for Contemporary Art reimagines what’s possible in North Omaha

October 25, 2011 12 comments

Change is coming to North Omaha and one of the change agents is Brigitte McQueen, one of those transplants to this place who brings a new energy and perspective that can help the community move in positive new directions. She’s just begun her work there with her fledgling Union for Contemporary Art but my bet is that she and her organization will wind up being long-term playera and change agents who make a difference.

 

Brigitte McQueen

Art as revolution: Brigitte McQueen’s Union for Contemporary Art reimagines what’s possible in North Omaha

©by Leo Adam Biga

Soon to be published in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

Brigitte McQueen is hell-bent on revolution.

The entrepreneurial arts maven first made a splash with Pulp in Benson. Then she revived the Bemis Underground in the Old Market. Now she’s about to shake up North Omaha via The Union for Contemporary Art, which she could have located anywhere.

She chose North Omaha.

“It’s one of the only communities in Omaha that does not have a dedicated, consistent art presence, and it shows in the neighborhood. There’s very little public art, the kids are not getting it in their after school programs, it’s not in the schools,” she says. “Kids there can go for weeks without seeing a piece of art or anything beautiful.”

The Union is leasing two eyesore buildings on a mostly empty plot between Patrick Ave. and Burdette St., and 24th and 25th Sts. One structure housed the landmark Fair Deal Cafe, where Charles Hall served soul food and welcomed community activists. The other is the former St. Martin de Porres food pantry.

 

 

A future capital campaign will attempt to raise the $400,000 to $500,000 she estimates renovations and repairs will cost. The cafe will be gutted, save for the tin ceiling, overhead fans, booths and lunch counter, and converted into a gallery. The bunker-like pantry will be opened up with more windows and reconfigured for artist studios, a classroom, a commons area and offices. Both buildings will be refaced. The design work is being donated by Leo A Daly, Alley Poyner Macchietto and BVH.

The Union will be home to artist residency and youth education programs. Visiting artists in the Studio Fellowship will receive a stipend for supplies and access to professional development and critique. At the end of their four to six-months stay participants will get an exhibition. During their immersion experience McQueen says artists “will have to be doing community service the entire time, whether teaching a class or curating a show or working with kids. They’ll be a part of the community and leave something tangible behind. It’s all about engaging the community in a constant dialogue about the arts.” McQueen says she has several artists lined up to teach upcoming youth art classes.

Board president Watie White, an Omaha artist, says, “The Union is working off the model of not-for-profit street-level arts activist organizations” that do community-based projects aimed at addressing real issues and transforming lives and neighborhoods. In return for the opportunities given, he says, the expectation is for “the creative generation we foster to pay it forward to the community they come from.”

 

 

The Stockyard Institute in Chicago will be sending Windy City artists here and The Union will reciprocate with Omaha artists there.

“Ideally I would like to have relationships like that built with organizations all across the country so that we’re constantly sending people out but having people come in,” says McQueen.

Her “arts campus” is to include finished green space. Perhaps a sculpture garden. In three to five years she’d like to erect a new building housing artist live-work spaces and retail art bays.

As a North O resident McQueen is making a statement that contemporary art shouldn’t bypass a community based on perceptions and is creating a reason for greater Omaha to visit the area.

“Omaha is my adopted city and ever since I’ve been here I’ve been really aware of the segregation that exists. You can see the lines. It’s horrible we’ve divided ourselves up that strongly. I want Omaha to be a truly open city.

“Why can’t we build something that would provide all of this support to Omaha’s arts community and put it in a neighborhood that so desperately needs to have that influx of people? It adds a level of vibrancy to this community.”

 

 

 

 

It’s about “building bridges and changing the way we think about Omaha and the lines we have made,” she says. “Nothing’s going to change until we start doing that and bringing people into the community. If I can open a small door and people from outside come to see stellar contemporary exhibitions, then maybe that’s how that migration north starts to happen.”

She says she’s doing something “dynamically different than what has been done before” to prove more than just social services or Afro-centric art-culture can flourish there.

After initial resistance she’s “overwhelmed” by the support The Union’s received from such stakeholders as the Omaha Economic Development Corporation, the Empowerment Network and the City of Omaha.

The Union is slated as the front door to a revitalized North 24’s mixed use arts- commercial-residential district.

“I think it makes perfect sense to have this place where creativity is celebrated as the entrance way and gateway,” she says.

The Union’s received grants from the Weitz Family Foundation and the Omaha Venture Group and will apply for funds to help underwrite programs and building makeovers.

Collaboration will be key. Last summer the Union partnered with Catholic Charities of Omaha on a kids art program at the Christ Child Center. It joined the Bellows Studio in bringing artist Lavie Raven here. Through Dec. 11 Birdhouse Interior Design and Birdhouse Collective is staging a Home exhibition at the Bancroft Street Market as a Union fundraiser. Early next year Union is collaborating with Peerless Gallery and Worksite on an art-in.

Until its own buildings are completely renovated some Union programming will occur off-site.

McQueen’s convinced the arts can make a difference in spurring North O’s renaissance.

“I want to make an impact. I want to change lives. It’s all about creating this cyclical process where The Union is supporting the arts and artists, the artists are encouraged to support the community and then hopefully the community feels a stronger connection and therefore wants to be more supportive of the arts.”

Up to six artists will begin using the former St. Martin de Porres space in January. A January community clean-up to get the building ready will be announced soon. Applications for the Studio Fellowship slots will be taken starting Dec. 16. Artists working in any contemporary art form are eligible to apply.

For application details and to follow Union developments visit http://www.u-ca.org.

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