March 3, 2016 by
Photography by Scott Drickey

This is an open letter to the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art’s new executive director.

Mr. Cook,

Welcome to The Cornhusker State and The Big ‘O.’ And welcome to beef country, tornado alley, and the heartland. All packaged, of course, in the warm embrace that is “The Good Life.”

Run.

If you didn’t catch my Morse-coded pen clicks when I interviewed you last October, your first month in town, that’s my only advice to you as a fellow transplant: Run. Run back to Florida, back to Miami and Cannonball and all the great things you did there in innovative forms of cultural production and education to advance critical discourse and understanding of contemporary art.

Look, I get it. The Bemis Center’s executive director position is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You’re 40, ready to make your mark at an internationally renowned artist-in-residence program. But believe me when I tell you this: Omaha will husk your heart and butter it and consume every last morsel of it, and then you’ll never be able to feel whole outside of this town again.

The ice age of January will be underway when this article is printed. And you’ll also have one of the organization’s fabled annual art auctions under your belt. By then you’ll have a manic sense of community and belonging…

That’s just the prairie fever kicking in. It has something to do with the wind and isolation.You’ll soon find out. Then again, you seemed to already have at least a Wikipedia’s grasp of our climate:

“I’m certainly looking forward to four true seasons and rotating the wardrobe and dusting off my winter driving skills for sure,” you joked with me on that false autumn day.

It was all I could do to keep from laughing. “Four seasons.” Good one. You’re going to need that sense of humor to survive our dry (as in wry) climate. As for the seasons, there are only two: too hot and too cold.

But you knew that. You’ve dabbled in Midwestern affairs curating at the Sioux City Art Center, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, and the Salina Art Center in Salina, Kansas.

“Returning to this part of the country is returning to an old friend,” you confessed. “I seem not to be able to get away from the Missouri River.”

But you’re not here to rekindle old relationships, are you? You’re here to make new ones.

“I’m trying to download as much information as possible in terms of the history of the organization [the Bemis Center], so I can try to better understand the context here,” you said. “And it’s also a period of establishing relationships and asking relevant and sometimes critical questions to better understand where we are and where we need to go as
an organization.”

Well, at least you have your job. Because the way I see it, if you’re reading this and you’re still in Omaha, it’s already too late. You’re now one of us. Go ahead, try and run.

“It’s not just about the Bemis, and it’s not just about the history and legacy that the organization has,” you said. “It’s about a certain quality of life one can have in Omaha. I’ve finally seen the light.”

Visit bemiscenter.org to learn more.

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