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Omaha Magazine

Stop and See the Art: Weston Thomson Turns Bus Stops Into Spectacles

Aug 27, 2021 04:18PM ● By Sean Robinson
man sits at mural bus stop

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

Dodge Street’s got a whole new look. The long center drag dividing the city from east to west has been made over into an open-air museum—one bus stop at a time. 

Spanning across both Dodge and Douglas streets, more than a dozen electrical boxes next to ORBT stations now double as canvases for street art. There are oversized wildflowers, abstract patterns in every hue of the rainbow, and portraits of people smiling at passersby.

Weston Thomson serves as one of the lead artists, along with Betni Kalk. Thomson is the creative brain driving the project. These bold, bright boxes are part of Art + Infrastructure, a public art initiative focused on turning urban spaces into unique creative expressions. The project was organized by Omaha by Design and funded by the Faith Charitable Trust. 

“We’re taking the negative space of our city and turning it into something that’s inviting and makes you feel good,” Thomson said. “But it also runs deeper than that.”

The second purpose of this project was to put local artists to work during the pandemic. Thomson isn’t the only one painting for pedestrians. Once completed, there will be 23 boxes transformed in total by 18 artists. His role in the project was to find a diverse group and oversee designs. 

“We thought, ‘What if we put artists to work so that when people reemerge after the pandemic there will be something new in public spaces that inspire us to get outside and feel something exciting,’” Thomson said. 

There are few people in the Omaha area better suited for this job. Since moving to the heartland from California in 2009, Thomson has been heavily immersed in the Omaha art scene—not just as a creative but also as an educator and in nonprofit leadership roles. 

“Weston is extremely talented himself but also pays attention to what others are doing and making in our city. He has the connections as well as the planning and patience it takes for large projects,” Kalk said. “Because of all those abilities, he [was] especially helpful in setting this project up for success.”

Just a little over a decade ago, Thomson was teaching a mixture of digital art classes at California State University, Chico, before he was drawn to Omaha. At the time, he had the opportunity to visit Nebraska, and something caught his attention when he did—Omaha’s bustling nonprofit art scene. 

He was looking to try something new, make a greater impact, and thought this community might be the way. So, he decided it was time to trade in palm trees for cornfields. He finally made the move after landing a job as the education manager at The Kent Bellows Studio and Center for Visual Arts, an interdisciplinary studio and education program that matches teens with professional mentors. 

“I got my start at Kent Bellows, and that just kind of opened all the doors and introduced me to Omaha in a really impactful way,” Thomson said. “I haven’t seen another program like it. It’s this creative powerhouse where former students are going off to serious art schools or to start their own businesses. Some of those students are currently working on the ORBT project. I owe a lot to Kent Bellows.”

Since that introduction to Omaha, Thomson’s career has flourished. His impact in the art community is undeniable, too. He went on to become the community outreach manager at Kent Bellows, where he oversaw murals and other public art projects, and later became the executive director. More recently, he served as the director of community learning at Do Space. 

“Do Space was me getting back to my digital arts wheelhouse,” Thomson said. “In this role, I got the chance to work with incredible teachers to create programs that had to do with digital literacy.”

Through nonprofit and education work, Thomson has helped oversee more than 40 public art projects. Today, 15 years into his career, his creative heart beats as loudly as ever. He currently works as an independent artist for Chromatic Black Studio. 

This studio is the umbrella that all his current creative ventures fall under—of which there are many. His work includes project planning, community art administration, creative services, murals, portraits, graphic design, comic illustration…the list goes on. 

“Weston is probably one of the most diversely talented people I know,” Kalk said. “He can do computer-generated art and almost anything by hand. The fact that he can plan a long graphic novel then also go out and spray paint a design spontaneously—how many other people can do that?” 

Thomson just wrapped that novel, titled System, Book 1: The Light Bearer. And once the ORBT boxes are complete, he hopes the Art + Infrastructure project continues to find opportunities that empower local artists to create social environmental experiences. 

“Art can offer the whole community a language to speak and process what’s happening in our lives. We are seeing the value of that in our community,” Thomson said. “When you see a piece of powerful work out in the public, it recontextualizes the environment. It reminds you you’re not alone in how you feel. There is more to see and understand than what’s at the surface. I think those things are really important.” 

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This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Photo by Bill Sitzmann