March 23, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you’ve attended a performance or event at the Holland Center or Orpheum Theater during the past 16 years, you’ve witnessed the work of Omaha Performing Arts. If you’ve purchased tickets using Ticket Omaha, you’ve used services provided by Omaha Performing Arts. If your family or children have participated in an education program like the Nebraska High School Theater Awards or attended a community engagement program like Jazz on the Green, you’ve benefited from programming offered by Omaha Performing Arts.

Over the past 16 years, the organization has grown to reach nearly 500,000 people annually, support a budget of about $20 million, and generate an economic impact of about $40 million, making it difficult to find anyone in the Omaha area who hasn’t at some point been touched by the organization.

And the woman who has been at the helm of OPA since it was founded is president Joan Squires.

“Joan is an extraordinarily valuable asset,” says OPA Chairman John Gottschalk. “The fact that she came here when we were at the threshold of enormous growth in performing arts is fantastic. She started almost from scratch when we were getting ready to open the Orpheum [for more performances] through the Holland. It’s changed not only the volume, but the quality, of the performing arts available in this city.”

Squires has received accolades for her pioneering leadership since OPA was founded in 2002. But lately, even more national organizations and publications are noticing her continued excellence.

In spring 2017, Squires was given the Samuel J. L’Hommedieu Award for Outstanding Achievement in Presenter Management from the Broadway League in recognition of her contributions and service to the Broadway industry, and in December, she was elected to a two-year term on the national Broadway League’s board of governors. Also in December, Musical America magazine named Squires one of 30 U.S. “Movers and Shapers” for 2017. And OPA will receive the 2018 Governor’s Arts Award for Organizational Achievement at the prestigious biennial event organized by the Nebraska Arts Council.

Squires is grateful for these recognitions; however, she attributes her success and OPA’s continued success to many factors.

The two venues the organization operates—the Holland Center and the Orpheum Theater—offer the community “some of the best venues anywhere,” she says, making them a popular destination. The high quality of performances, presentations, and artists OPA brings to Omaha—Broadway, dance, jazz, popular music, family presentations, world music, and speakers—continue to draw robust audiences.

Gottschalk attributes the OPA’s quality to Squires’ management abilities.

“To start a business up from scratch is no mean feat,” Gottschalk says. “You have to manage the product, manage the costs, and you have to market the place. Joan has never failed to meet the targets that are set in our budgets.”

“When we started, there was no one in this community to present these great artists,” Squires says. “Not only do we have an organization that can support them, but when [the artists] come to Omaha they’re always amazed by the quality of venues and response of the audiences.”

Finally, the community’s support through philanthropy, ticket sales, volunteer hours, and board leadership have helped OPA establish and sustain its presence. And Squires says OPA isn’t finished growing.

Looking ahead, Squires says OPA’s biggest area of growth is in education and engagement. OPA currently partners with national organizations including Jazz at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Disney Theatrical Group, and the Broadway League.

“We’re really developing those programs and continuing to seek out national partnerships to bring new things to young people…and also look for opportunities to further deepen and strengthen our relationships throughout the community.”

Visit omahaperformingarts.org for more information.

This article was printed in the April/May 2018 edition of B2B.