Big ThingsJun 13, 2019 02:08PM ● By Tamsen Butler
It is no wonder Omaha’s art scene in 2019 has been collaborative. With many of these 15 featured venues and organizations willing to work together to create transformative, creative experiences for the community, art fans may feel as though they’re scrambling as they try to attend everything.
Not many communities can boast a large thriving arts scene, let alone one featuring so many places willing to work together. Omaha is fortunate to be the home to so many artists who join together to provide experiences for the community.
Though each art organization has a mission to bolster creativity within the Omaha area and beyond, they go about it in different ways. While some places actively pursue diversity and community engagement, others put their focus on education and changing the way people think. This year means something different for every venue within the Omaha art scene, but one thing is certain—they have been busy.
American Midwest Ballet
Marketing director Jolie Koesters says 2019 has been an important year for the dance community in Omaha. “After six years in the making, American Midwest Ballet brought the world premiere of Erin Alarcon's ballet version of The Wizard of Oz to life on the Orpheum stage in front of a sold-out audience. The company also took the production on the (Yellow Brick) road for a tour in Sioux City, Iowa. The Wizard of Oz featured lavish sets, over 185 costumes, and 85 performers, including the company's 27 professional dancers.”
Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts
Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts launched its Sound Art + Experimental Music Program, a new track within their international residency program designed for artists working in sound, composition, voice, and music of all genres. The program includes a performance venue, opening in October, that will offer free live shows for the public to experience the latest innovations by local, national, and international sound artists and experimental musicians.
“The program offers a new form of support for artists working in an expanding field and aims to build greater appreciation and new audiences for experimental forms of music and sound through free live performances,” says executive director Chris Cook.
In 2019-2020, Bluebarn looks forward to throwing their doors wide open and welcoming new voices that resonate throughout the community. They will bring one-of-a-kind adventures to Omaha while fostering professional artists, locally and nationally. Season 31 will feature bold new creations not seen anywhere else, diverse and surprising theatrical events, and emerging and veteran artists doing their finest work. They continue to invest in Omaha's creative class through their artist's fund and remain committed, now more than ever, to cheerily subversive experiences that connect people to humanity.
CHI Health Center
“It’s hard to narrow it down to really ‘one thing’ we’re focusing on, because it takes a lot of smaller elements to make every one of our huge events a success,” says director of communication Kristyna Engdahl. “It takes hundreds of people to make our concerts, conventions, and sporting events a possibility. So in short, our focus in 2019 will be to stay the course. We’ll continue to provide the top-tier events and premiere experiences our community has come to expect of the CHI Health Center. We’ll continue to land some of the most sought-after acts in the country and serve as a catalyst to lure new visitors to our city.”
El Museo Latino
“As the only Latino art and history museum in the Midwest, El Museo Latino is focusing on expanding our in-house and outreach programs to better serve the growing greater Omaha and surrounding communities,” says executive director Magdalena Garcia. El Museo Latino has continued to serve in 2019 as one of a handful of Latino museums within the United States, making it an important cultural and educational center—one the Omaha area is fortunate to host. By offering educational programs year-round, El Museo Latino helps bring a different perspective to the surrounding community.
Holland Performing Arts Center and Orpheum Theater (Omaha Performing Arts)
“For 2019, I’m proud of Omaha Performing Arts’ expansion of our education and community engagement programs across the entire state of Nebraska,” says Joan Squires, president of Omaha Performing Arts. “We provide experiences with incredible touring artists from Broadway, top dance companies, and amazing jazz artists, reaching over 100,000 students at the Holland Center, Orpheum Theater, and beyond. And I’m also especially proud that OPA is bringing Hamilton to our community in September.”
Hot Shops Art Center
Managing partner Tim Barry says to keep an eye out for information about a celebration as Hot Shops Art Center celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2019. “We can’t believe it,” he says. “We blinked our eyes and 20 years went by.” They purchased the building in the second week of November 1999. Hot Shops is now known as a center of creativity. “It’s a great place to see where art is made,” says Barry. He’s not yet sure what the anniversary celebration will look like, but chances are good it will be creative and innovative.
Kaneko’s director of operations Andrew Bauer says the coming season will focus on influence. “We’re exploring the influence of living in a creative community and the effect that has on people,” he says, continuing that 2019 has been a collaborative year with programming, performances, and “working with artists and other organizations within a creative spirit.” Bauer further says, “Thinking differently leads to innovation.” This is one of the reasons Kaneko puts such a focus on educational programs. “We get to see what other people don’t get to witness—the ripples of creativity and what they do to a community.” Kaneko invites everyone to break their mindset and think differently in 2019.
Joslyn Art Museum
“Joslyn Art Museum’s 2019 focus is the continued expansion of diverse voices and perspectives presented in our galleries,” says Amy Rummel, director of marketing and public relations. “Through exhibitions, collections, and public programming, the museum is committed to showcasing more women artists and more artists of color in its galleries.” The year began with the 30 Americans exhibition, featuring 30 contemporary African American artists. “Several significant new contemporary and European acquisitions will be announced in the coming months,” Rummel hints. They will also celebrate the six-year anniversary of the return to free general admission.
Omaha Community Playhouse
Omaha Community Playhouse continues to offer theater for everyone. Sometimes that means taking steps to make the theater a more accessible space, as they did in January with their first sensory-friendly performance. Other times, they take steps to ensure everyone in the community has the opportunity to experience live theater by offering ticket discounts and donations. They also offer programming that appeals to all members of the community. As OCP’s artistic director Kimberly Faith Hickman explains, “The shows are temporary. What we’re really building is a sense of community and a sense of belonging, and that is something that can last forever.”
This year is proving to be a collaborative one for the Omaha Symphony as they join symphonies from other cities in celebrating the 150th Golden Spike anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad. “Transcend is a co-commissioned piece created by Chinese-born composer Zhou Tian,” says public relations manager Stephanie Ludwig. “It’s our opening concert for this season.” Tian went on a tour of the Transcontinental Railroad route in preparation of the piece, including stops at The Durham and the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs. “We’re really excited for Transcend,” Ludwig says.
Community engagement has been the focus of 2019 for Opera Omaha. Their Holland Community Opera Fellowship brings opera into new environments to promote the value of creativity. “Partnerships with the community are very important to us,” says director of marketing and public relations Rebecca Brown. Opera Omaha works with community partners to cultivate and grow the fellowship program, which in turn benefits the community with creativity and diversity. Additionally, Opera Omaha’s One Festival is a collaborative effort with the Omaha arts community that challenges what people think about “opera.”
The Durham Museum
“We want to continue to delight our visitors with varying exhibitions that will expose them to new and interesting experiences,” says director of communications Jessica Brummer. The Durham’s focus for 2019 isn’t much different than it is any other year; they strive to bring the community together through engaging exhibitions and fun, family-friendly events. Their educational programs, coupled with their interesting exhibitions, make The Durham a place for fun and learning—this year and beyond.
The Rose Theater
The Rose is expanding their class offerings and youth productions for students interested in acting, singing, dancing, and design. They have seen their classes and youth productions grow and are preparing for an exciting announcement about their education programs. On stage, The Rose is offering new productions and familiar favorites. The world-premiere production of Howie D: Back in the Day will feature the theatrical debut of Backstreet Boy Howie Dorough in a semi-autobiographical musical about his middle-school life. By popular demand, Elf the Musical will return to The Rose stage after a sold-out run in 2018.
It's an exciting year for the arts in Omaha. Art is important to any community as a means of expression, learning, and connectedness. Whether allowing people to look at visual art, listen to a concert, or participate in an art learning program, these venues offer myriad opportunities for community members to flex their creative muscles and feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves.
Art can unify a community—it’s one of the reasons why these places do what they do. They offer shared experiences to bring people together and prompt conversations. Omaha, as a whole, benefits from these offerings.
Art can be a reflection of the community, and if this is the case, it’s safe to say that Omaha is thriving in 2019 and has many bold plans for the future.
This article was printed in the July/August 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.