Tag Archives: artists

Lunch With Buffett

August 13, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

With food-inspired songs such as “Charleston’s,” “Medium Rare,” and the album’s title track, the duo displays a penchant for sweet-sounding beats and aspirations to dine with Omaha’s most affluent resident, Warren Buffett.

They speculate that arranging lunch with the local billionaire would be easier than getting airplay on local radio stations.

“We want to be heard,” Big Tate says. “The radio DJ abides by guidelines that [forbid] touching the streets. They are afraid to challenge the norm.”

“Radio is stagnant,” Absolut-P adds. “It isn’t as influential as it once was. If we want to make an impact, we’d be better off putting together a lunch with Warren Buffett and creating a buzz from that.”

Or maybe just make up a song about having lunch with Buffett.

Big Tate

That sort of creative thinking would be the driving force behind Absolut-P (aka Stevin Taylor) and Big Tate (aka James Buckley) collaborating on the album.

The idea came from another friend’s fateful encounter with Buffett at a now-closed Omaha steakhouse known to be one of Buffett’s favorite local restaurants.

“A friend of mine happened to be eating at Piccolo Pete’s when she called to tell me that Warren Buffett and Bill Gates were sitting across from her,” Big Tate recalls. “I told her that I needed her to get a picture of them by any means. I’m always thinking of ways to promote our music with imagery and catchy choruses. I was sure that I could come up with a song for that image.”

Big Tate was familiar with Buffett’s history of auctioning off a “power lunch” for charity. In 2016, an anonymous bidder paid $3,456,789 for the experience, with the money going to benefit the Glide Foundation, a San Francisco nonprofit dedicated to helping homeless and underprivileged residents.

For months, Big Tate continued to stew over his idea. Later in 2016, he partnered with local producer Absolut-P (the P stands for “Perfection”), and they were able to create an infectious melody.

The song’s music video even featured a faux cameo by Buffett (thanks to a cut-out photograph of the billionaire’s face pasted over one of their friends).

They consider it an homage to the wealthy hometown hero.

“We’re from the north side of Omaha, and you don’t see those types of people on the north side,” Big Tate explains. “Other than Bud Crawford, it’s hard to relate to anyone on such a big stage. It’s good to look up to self-made men.”

Absolut-P

“As independent artists, Warren Buffett’s entrepreneurial spirit gives us a sense of self-pride,” Absolut-P says. “He shows us that by investing in ourselves we can reap big rewards.” 

One such investment involved professional mastering for the album by Rick Carson at Make Believe Studios. Absolut-P and Big Tate hope the song resonates with fans of hip-hop, Omaha, and Buffett alike. They released the album Dec. 31, 2016 (with a parental advisory warning for explicit content).

“The album-making process was so organic,” says Big Tate, explaining that hip-hop works best when pursued in a natural, fun way. “We just made songs about what we like; everyone likes to eat at a nice restaurant and order a good prime rib. That made us think of Charleston’s; they have some of the best steaks in Omaha. I like my steak well-done, but I’ve heard that they are very good medium-rare.”

When asked where they would like to take Buffett for lunch, both agree that Time Out Foods or The Taste’s of Soul Cafe would be a good place to accommodate them.

“I’m sure Warren Buffett is used to eating at the finest establishments,” Absolut-P says. “I’d want to give him a taste of our roots with some good food for the soul.”

Find Big Tate on Twitter at @BigTate402 and Absolut-P at @IAmAbsolutP. Both musicians frequently release new songs on social media. Their respective Soundcloud accounts are soundcloud.com/big-tate and soundcloud.com/absolut-p. Lunch with Buffett is available on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, Spinrilla, Google Play, and YouTube. Copies are sold at Homer’s in downtown Omaha.

This article appears in the July/August 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

*Editor’s note: The printed edition misspelled Taylor’s first name as Steven.

One of Ours

February 21, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“There aren’t a lot of people in Nebraska writing new musicals,” says Roxanne Wach, executive director of Shelterbelt Theatre.

The Omaha theater company is in the middle of its 24th season of producing original work by Midlands theater artists, and Wach reads around 200 original plays a year. But when she discovered the musical Catherland, it stood out from the pack.

A collaboration between Lincoln-based theater artist Becky Boesen and musician-composer David von Kampen, Catherland will open at the Shelterbelt April 21. It’s the latest incarnation of the project after a staged reading was produced at the Red Cloud Opera House in 2015, followed by a workshop at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in Lincoln.

“I championed the piece because I thought it had such potential. I liked the music to begin with, and that’s a huge hurdle with musicals. I liked a lot of the script and where it’s going,” Wach says. “David has really captured something in the music, and Becky is really talented with her lyrics, and it’s a pretty engaging score.”

It’s hard to imagine a story more quintessentially Nebraskan than Catherland, which is set in Red Cloud, the central Nebraska hometown of writer Willa Cather. The musical focuses on a present-day couple, Jeffrey and Susan, who move from Chicago to Red Cloud. Susan has some reservations about leaving Chicago; but early in their marriage, the couple agreed that once she finished her first novel they would slow down, move to Jeffrey’s hometown of Red Cloud, and possibly start a family.

Boesen explains that when people are experiencing culture shock they go through a honeymoon phase. Jeffrey and Susan are in that phase when “someone crashes into the barn outside and their life starts to unravel as a result, and there’s an immediate life or death problem that has to be solved,” Boesen says. “Willa Cather shows up, too. Susan, the novelist, is not a Willa Cather fan, and that’s a problem.”

That would be the ghost of Willa Cather. Boesen says that a lot of her own writing tends to include ghosts, though the ghosts are not always literal.

“I mean like a missing piece of your heart. Anything that’s missing to a protagonist,” she says. “But in this [show], there are legit ghosts, which is pretty fun.”

Von Kampen agrees, “And I don’t really like ghost stories. I don’t seek out movies or books that are like that, but from a creative standpoint, it feels really good.”

Boesen was born in southern Missouri and von Kampen is originally from Michigan, but they both moved to Nebraska as children. They’ve lived other places thanks to their careers, but are now settled in Lincoln raising their respective families. Boesen and von Kampen are full-time artists and arts educators who met briefly in 2013 while working on another project.
Boesen’s company, BLIXT, is an arts management and consulting firm that produces projects for the Lied Center, Lincoln Arts Council, and other entities. Von Kampen is a musician and composer who also teaches at Concordia University in Seward as well as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Roughly a year after their initial meeting, Boesen talked von Kampen into working as the musical director on a staged reading she was directing.

Von Kampen says, “I remember when (Becky) called, and I was thinking, ‘How can I get out of this?’”

She talked him into working with her, and it went well.

“David said, ‘Hey, don’t you write stuff? We should get together and talk about writing sometime.’ And I said, ‘cool let’s get together,’” Boesen explains.

They discovered their work “sort of sounded alike” and began to share ideas. Boesen had been thinking about her experience as a teaching artist in Red Cloud. Her play, What the Wind Taught Me, ran at the Red Cloud Opera House while on tour, and she says she fell in love with the town.

“You’re driving in Nebraska and all of a sudden you feel like you’re on Mars, because the prairie is like an ocean out there,” says Boesen, who started thinking about Cather and “what it must have been like to live in Red Cloud, Nebraska, in the late 1800s.”

The Nebraska prairie might be considered a character on its own in some of Cather’s work. That striking landscape also has inspired the creative team behind Catherland.

“It’s an exploration of sense of place, what it means to be home, what does it mean to make a commitment, and how does that change over the course of time, and the messy nature of long-term love,” Boesen says.

“I really think they’ve captured something. I’m so excited to be working on it. I just can’t wait for people to see it,” Wach says, impressed with Boesen’s willingness to revise her script. “To have somebody who’s that fearless in the process is a real asset to Shelterbelt in really giving new works their highest potential.”

Wach points out that supporting and nurturing new work by local artists is essential to the vitality of the Omaha theater scene.

“There are very few theaters our size who do new work in a city of our size.” Wach says, “We have a very vibrant theater community, and having new works helps feed it.”

Boesen says she and von Kampen feel lucky to have such a joyful creative process, “We just like making stuff, and we make stuff well together, and we have a lot of fun doing it.”

Visit shelterbelt.org for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Alisha Davis

December 23, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Alisha Davis, like so many of her digital generation, is a self-taught photographer. She didn’t study the subject in school, had no mentors, and her teachers at Central High never knew she was interested in photography. CreativeLive courses, contacts, and workshops made up the UNO grad’s education on the subject. Her devotion to the subject is personal, illuminating the faces of her neighbors.

“I learned valuable business information online,” Davis says. “But the people are my inspiration, and I have the privilege of meeting them each and every day.”

Davis is currently working on a project called “Building Our Legacy in Love & Light,” encouraged in part by the Thomas Allen Harris documentary  Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People. “I love it,” Davis says of the film that tells the story of how images have affected the lives of black Americans. “Everyone should watch it.”

alishadavis1Her objective is to capture and present as public works of art “strong, positive images of black Americans” in places where everyone can see them. “I wanted to create images that capture not only people’s eyes, but their minds too. I wanted stories to be told. African-Americans are consistently misrepresented in the media,” Davis says. “This propagates a sense of fear around the image of black people. It sets the tone for the stereotypes associated with African-Americans and gives way to judging a person’s character by their physical appearance.”

The photos in “Building Our Legacy” show images from the daily lives of African-Americans in Omaha rather than images that reinforce misleading stereotypes. “The exhibit features a total of 12 images, six of which were chosen by project supporters at the December release party to be transformed into murals around Omaha during the spring,” she says.

Davis is working with noted Omaha muralist Reggie LeFlore to transform her photographic moments into murals for everyone. “It’s great,” Davis says of her work with LeFlore. “We’re both passionate artists who feel compelled to use our gifts to help the community we care about. It’s about bringing people together, sharing positive energy, and igniting power within those who feel powerless. You become what you are surrounded with.”

Images create a constructed reality in the minds of the viewer regardless of their accuracy.

“If you spend a majority of your time surrounded by controlled media images, what they create becomes normal to you,” she says. “If you spend a majority of your time tuning into the life around you, you can paint your own picture and decide for yourself what is normal and acceptable. The change that can come from that is unbelievable, but not impossible.”

Davis comes from a family of artists, poets, and musicians. Her grandmother chronicled memories that stayed with Davis, energizing her mission to become “the eye behind the lens.”

“I’ve always been fascinated by cameras and photographs,” says Davis, whose current “weapon of choice” is a Canon Rebel XS. “Taking pictures to capture memories was something my grandma was passionate about. She never practiced it as a profession, but it was an important element at all of our family gatherings. I used to love looking back at all of the photos she had collected over the years, reliving the moments, even if I hadn’t been there to live them. It was like therapy for me. Those photos were the pages in a book, and I was reading the story.”

Visit facebook.com/daviegrams for more information.

Eric Nyffeler

August 12, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There is a formula for creating a generic artist name: Ditch your street name. Forget your middle name. Find a word that makes you seem “bigger and cooler” than you really are. Use that word.

Eric Nyffeler didn’t use that approach. His method was more oblique: make fun of yourself. But do so in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and slightly confusing.

“I overestimated how many people actually know that ‘Doe Eyed’ means naive and unsophisticated,” Nyffeler says about his former artist moniker of six years from his Benson studio. “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who have told me, ‘Oh! I expected you to be some cute, hipster girl from that name.’”

Doe Eyed no more. The 32-year-old illustrator and designer has changed the name of his studio as he ventures beyond producing concert advertisements for an eclectic Grammy-nominated clientele that includes Dave Matthews Band, Phish, and Gotye. Nyffeler is taking his brand of “gritty geometry” and “mid-century whimsy” to more diverse audiences.

“I felt like I needed something of a change,” he says. “I felt like I had outgrown working under that name, and changing it felt like a fresh start for me.”

EricNyffler1Indeed, under Eric Nyffeler Design & Illustration—a more sophisticated moniker that would likely please the artist’s parents—the Lincoln transplant has been attracting clients such as Target, Nike, and Airbnb, and publishing work in a variety of design and print publications. Though Nyffeler isn’t one to forget his roots:

“I cannot deny that cutting my teeth in the gig poster world was unbelievably huge and influential,” he says. “A lot of those people, who my work might not look anything like, were people who showed me what was doable in graphic design, and they pushed my work so it wasn’t just advertising.”

Nyffeler’s visual style can be characterized as an Arcadian dropping acid in a vibrating Eames chair. His design sensibilities tend to veer toward concise and direct as opposed to minimalistic, and his artistic sensibilities have one foot in the deep end of psychedelia. The rest of it is buried in pizza, or the artist’s muse.

“I joke that it’s Charley Harper plus Charles Bukowski,” he says, hearkening back to the minimal-realist artist and the dirty-realist author. “Because it’s the geometry, simplicity, and mid-century stuff of Harper but with a trashier, punkier, weirder vibe.”

Of course, he says, somewhere in that clean mess is a kid from Columbus, Nebraska, who used to “draw fake album art for bands that didn’t exist.” And then when they did exist, mainly his own bands, Nyffeler says he began creating “crappy Xerox flyers” that kept getting less and less crappy.

“My passion was doing design stuff for bands, and that’s what made me fall in love with design,” he admits. “Even though I love design and illustration as a whole now, my entry point was doing stuff for bands.”

Now a successful independent commercial artist, with a name that makes Nyffeler sound like himself again, the artist sits back, takes a deep breath, and wonders how he even got here.

“It was pretty much by accident,” Nyffeler says. “But when I look deeper, it makes total sense.”

Visit ericnyffeler.com for more information.

Meet the Hughes

June 22, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article was published in the June 2015 issue of Her Family.

Chris Hughes is a father of three who spends most Monday and Wednesday evenings toiling away in his upstairs workshop on Farnam Street. It is a curious space filled with antiquities and tools akin to his trade—custom leather bags.

He fulfills orders from across the world, assembling packages containing his hand-constructed waterproof tote bags, briefcases, and artisanal aprons crafted with quality materials.

“I wanted the items that I designed and sold to have a timeless quality to them. I wanted someone to look at them years in the future and say ‘look at this artifact,’” Hughes says. Hence, you have the evolution of the name of his business, Artifact Bag Co., a thriving online business that Hughes started more than four years ago

Hughes says that being an entrepreneur is a constantly evolving process of new experiences. “The minute I get comfortable with something, I take on a new challenge. I’m always throwing myself into the fire so that I’m never comfortable. When you come home from days of that, you really just feel like your legs are rubber bands. You feel like you could just collapse.”

Hughes2In a flip-the-switch moment, Hughes dons his daddy hat before stepping in the door at home. “The minute I cross that threshold into my house, I’ve got two boys and a girl that are jumping up onto me. I have to kick in the afterburners. I just have to be present because for them they’re fresh and they want to see their dad,” he says. His children are Kit, 6, Levi, 4, and Jane, 2.

Hughes’ schedule has him spending weekdays at his shop, surrounded by a small team of craftsmen and craftswomen who assist him as business demands. He also works until almost 11 p.m. a few nights of the week and at least one weekend day.

He says his demanding schedule sometimes frustrates his children. “It pulls me away from them so often.” But they do enjoy visiting their dad’s cool space. “They’re fascinated by the workspace because of all of the machines and all of the materials.”

His wife is Beth Hughes, who works as a speech-language pathologist at the RiteCare Speech and Language Clinic located in the Munroe-Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The couple went to school together at Westside High School, but didn’t actually date until years later when the two crossed paths again while Beth was in graduate school.

Beth says that having an Internet-based business can make finding the right balance between family and work challenging. “The Internet never stops. So it’s not like Chris can just walk away at 5 p.m. and say, ‘Oh, the shop’s closed for the day.’ There are always more things to do in terms of emails to respond to and social media stuff to post and promote and things to research for projects that he has coming up,” she says.Hughes3

But knowing that the family sets aside evenings for sit-down meals and plans one day out of each weekend to spend together provides a home base for sanity. “Getting some sort of schedule just so that we all know what to expect has been helpful,” she says.

As a mother, Beth says she feels privileged to help her children grow and develop into the people that they’re meant to be. “I like to help foster their interests and teach them things and to see things through their eyes. It’s just fascinating.”

She finds strength in her support system of mommy friends. “I’m learning every day and I make mistakes every day. I’m very fortunate to have a great group of friends who’ve been on this parenting road a little bit longer than I have that I can learn from,” Hughes says.

The kids keep active with swim lessons, fishing, tee-ball, and riding bikes. Some Sunday mornings, one might find the Hughes family over at the Bagel Bin—a family favorite. They also love going
to the zoo.

Friday nights are family movie nights. “I’ll make popcorn on the stove,” Chris says. “They love watching Star Wars over and over again. They like that good versus evil kind of stuff.”

Hughes is inspired by his children’s creativity. “All of the sudden a card table becomes a fort to drape blankets over, or a stick becomes a rifle. They’re just constantly interpreting their environment in very imaginative ways.”

“They haven’t really been taught that they are not artists or those other things that happen in life when people dash people’s dreams and hopes. They are still very optimistic,” he says.

“In many ways, I never lost sight of that either, so on some level, I relate with them.”

Hughes4

 

Omaha Under the Radar

May 6, 2014 by

Sometimes “the good life” can get a little bit blurry. When it comes to Omaha’s music scene, soprano Amanda DeBoer Bartlett is happy to see that happen and wants to help perpetuate it. “Around the country, there is less and less differentiation between genres; people are forming small ensembles that blur genre lines.” This amalgamation of styles, which can be found in big cities and small towns all over the nation, is not limited to only the world of music. Nearly every type of art form is seeing various innovative mixtures of influences and mediums emerging.

Noticing this trend in the theater field, another Nebraska native, Thom Sibbitt, began to consider starting a festival which would highlight area performers and their works. After Sibbitt and DeBoer Bartlett—who has run a contemporary classical music festival in Madison, Wis., for the past three years—had the opportunity to work together and learn about their shared interests, a natural partnership was born. The result: Omaha Under The Radar, a three-day interdisciplinary festival taking place July 11-13, which will feature the latest in contemporary music, dance, theater, and performance art.

This region is by no means lacking artists who are steering works in creative new directions. “There are a lot of amazing and interesting things happening in Omaha,” says Kayleigh Butcher, a member of the OUR Festival support team. “Installation art; new jazz music; avant garde “new” music…these all totally exist and are thriving. We are really excited to see what Omaha artists bring to the table.” However, what the area might be lacking is a soapbox from which these performers can shout locally and nationally about what they’re creating. Butcher adds that, “there hasn’t been a platform where artists can come together to showcase what they’re doing. Under The Radar is a perfect opportunity to do that—to show to Omaha and beyond what is happening artistically but might not be being highlighted the way they should be (and are in places like
New York, L.A. and Seattle).”

Festival activities will be split between a number of venues in town, including House of Loom, KANEKO, the Bancroft Street Market, The Slowdown, and the University of Nebraska-Omaha. The Joslyn Art Museum will host an opening event—free and open to the public—on Thursday, July 10. The three days that follow will feature performances, workshops, and discussions spread out among the participating venues.

Local and nonlocal artists and works will be presented, and some shows may be accompanied by a Q&A with the guest performer, composer, or choreographer. As DeBoer Bartlett points out, such discussions give one the opportunity to be “working with living composers, which a lot of classical musicians don’t do.” She continues, stressing that there are “more composers living now than ever before,” and that these dialogues can stimulate valuable conversations and collaborations. This interaction is quite possibly one of the greatest reasons for a contemporary musician to come be a part of the festival.

A complete schedule of events will be announced on May 15.

An OUR day pass is $15, while a $30 weekend pass allows you to “choose your own festival adventure.”

Find more information and updates at UnderTheRadarOmaha.com.

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Taking the “Special” Out of Special Needs

February 24, 2014 by

VODEC began in 1968 when a group of parents, educators, and others sought to implement a paradigm shift in how people with disabilities are perceived and, more vitally, how they interact with society. Loved ones with disabilities were too commonly all but invisible throughout the larger community. Many went to special schools. Some lived in special housing arrangements. The emphasis, it seemed, invariably centered on the concept of “special.”

“We serve people first and foremost as members of society,” says Daryn Richardson, the local nonprofit’s services development director. “Only secondarily do we see them as persons with disabilities, as persons with special needs.”

VODEC provides day programs, employment programs, and residential programs that are designed to meet most every need in helping individuals and communities reach their full potential through inclusion.

Originally known as the Vocational Development Center, VODEC today serves over 500 individuals with intellectual, developmental, and other disabilities.

“The core of our mission is to recognize each and every person’s full potential as just that—a person with unlimited potential,” says Richardson. “It’s the most basic of starting points in our thinking, and we want the community to think the same way. After all, these are our sons, our daughters, our neighbors, our friends.”

The nonprofit offers a robust slate of programs. The business services unit offers packaging, assembly, shrink-wrapping, and other services staffed by VODEC’s people. Activities programs include dining out and trips to parks, museums, and other places of interest. Additional initiatives are aimed squarely at the idea that we are all social beings. Such topics as how to meet new friends, strategic thinking and problem solving skills, stranger danger, and understanding boundaries help open doors to a broader, richer world for all.

Creativity was the buzzword the day Omaha Magazine visited VODEC.

“WhyArts is here today (see related story on page 111) so they encountered a room full of artists,” says Richardson. “Sure, they also happen to be persons with disabilities, but today they are artists. We want to give them every opportunity to be themselves and experience life in new and rewarding ways. Tomorrow and next week and next month they will be something else, but today they are artists.”

VODEC's Pam Wyzykowksi with Greg Foster

Visit vodec.org for additional information.

Old Buildings, New Art

November 3, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Since Omaha was founded nearly 160 years ago, many of its older buildings have seen their demise. But in at least two of Downtown Omaha’s historical structures, creative artists and imaginative entrepreneurs have replaced staid bankers and burly beer makers, enabling these pieces of history to continue on with a new purpose.

Carver Bank

An abandoned building near 24th and Lake streets became a renovated space this year for:

  • Artists in residence. Visual and performance artists receive workspace and a $500 monthly stipend for one year.
  • Art. Exhibitions, events, and workshops are available for youth and adults.
  • Participation. A cultural and economic resurgence is happening in North Omaha.
  • Environmentalism. Finishes inside are mostly made of salvaged and recycled materials, such as a gymnasium floor from a decommissioned school in Panama, Iowa.
  • Delicious food. Big Mama’s Sandwich Shop is open till 4 p.m. every day but Sunday, even serving a roast-beef sarnie called The Carver.

Carver Savings and Loan, named for scientist George Washington Carver, opened in 1946 as Nebraska’s first African-American bank. Vince Furlong, who conducts walking tours for Restoration Exchange Omaha, says that the bank closed in 1966. After housing several nonprofits, the building shut its doors in 2006.

In 2010, Hesse McGraw, then chief curator for Omaha’s Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, and Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates began talking to people in the neighborhood about the needs of North Omaha, according to Jessica Scheuerman, program coordinator for the Bemis Center.

After two years, McGraw and Gates decided to renovate the abandoned Carver Bank building. They wanted to spearhead a program with an emphasis on visual and performance artists of color or who are North Omaha-minded.

Patricia “Big Mama” Barron, the eponymous owner of the sandwich shop, says the neighborhood was excited about the renovation that began last year. “People would come by and talk about how happy they were to see something go in there.”

The Carver Bank building is owned by the City of Omaha and leased for $1 over five years to the Bemis Center, which renovated and programs the space.

The artists’ program fits in well with the City of Omaha’s long-range, public-private plan to revitalize North Omaha, focusing on the 24th and Lake Cultural Arts District.

The building’s renovation is a good example of recycling. Framing lumber torn down during the building’s demolition was reused to frame new walls. Says Barron: “I’m a person who believes in recycling things, and I hate to see old buildings torn down. That’s a part of history being torn down.”

Anheuser-Busch Beer Depot

The stable is gone. The ice house is gone. Even the beer vault is gone. All were destroyed by a fire.

What remains is a quaint, brick building that was an office when the brewery’s complex was built in 1887. At 1213 Jones Street near the Bemis Center, the building has housed The New BLK (pronounced Black) advertising agency and art gallery for three years.

“‘The new black’ is a term in fashion for the next hot thing,” says Brian Smith, who gives his title as connector, catalyst, and co-conspirator.

The building was remodeled in 1988 by its current owner, Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture, which had offices there before moving. The architecture firm added a mezzanine loft area for nonprofit offices, and the space is still set aside for that use. “A recent example was Aqua-Africa, which builds wells in South Sudan,” says Smith.

The New BLK spreads out on the main level in a modern, open, workspace. The advertising firm also runs an art gallery on the lower level, featuring emerging artists.

Gerard Pefung, born in Cameroon, is one such artist who exhibited his work at The New BLK. “He recently did a mural installation at Omaha Police Headquarters,” Smith says. “Some of our partners are active artists and some have managed artist studios in Europe.”

Kith

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“I think there’s something about sharing a meal together that gets rid of a lot of nonsense,” says Brigitte McQueen, director of The Union for Contemporary Arts. “Those conversations are what bring us together. It levels the playing field.”

In late January, The Union, an organization that provides studio fellowship programs for six months at a time, hosted its first monthly Kith dinner. It was an informal potluck shared by artists, local residents, and perfect strangers, heralded by nothing much more than a Facebook event. Why would a group like that come together at 24th and Burdette in a simple ranch building usually dedicated to the arts?

“The arts have not always been a conversation in North Omaha,” McQueen says. “A lot of the people who live in this area don’t think art is for black people or that black people make art. And I get why those thoughts are held, because you don’t really see it. Why would you go out of your way to engage with it? You change that,” she adds, “by making artists more visible in the community.”

When McQueen first posted the invitation on Facebook for a free community potluck at The Union, each of the 30 spots were spoken for within two hours. When she mentioned it later in The Union’s newsletter, people asked, “Can we just come?” So McQueen eked out space for 50 people around the Union’s common room. “I worked that space in a way I didn’t even know was possible,” she says a touch proudly.20120803_bs_2517

The artists in residence had their studios open, so during the cocktail hour, guests milled around. The food was all on one table, beautifully set with flowers and china. Old R&B music played in the background. The gathering began around 6 p.m., and it was about 9:30 p.m. when the last person left.

The first Kith dinner yielded such beauties as Thai fish curry and Italian sausage lentil stew. McQueen, who studied at a pastry school, made a chocolate stout cake. Tim Shew, her husband and a chef at La Buvette, made a five-cheese mac-and-cheese casserole with toasted breadcrumbs on top. “People bring their A-game,” McQueen adds, still obviously impressed. “This one woman showed up with these cupcakes, and everyone was like, ‘Where’d you buy them?’, and she said, ‘Oh no, I made them.’ They were these caramel toffee…amazing. Beautifully done.” One couple brought a bottle of Bailey’s for the coffee at the end of the night.

Karin Campbell, curator of contemporary art at the Joslyn Art Museum, says, “I remember sitting in The Union’s main room pondering the fact that maintaining a community is really not rocket science. All it takes is a little bit of willingness to leave the house. It’s refreshing to sit at a table with living, breathing human beings.” Also, she confessed, there were Samoa cupcakes. “Mind. Blown.”

With the summer weather, there will be barbecues and outdoor movie nights. Hours will switch up from brunches to late cocktail parties and back again in order to make Kith open to every schedule.

“I think there’s something about sharing a meal together that gets rid of a lot of nonsense. Those conversations are what bring us together.” – Brigitte McQueen

Whatever the theme, whatever the time, the gatherings have only two rules: Everyone brings something to share, and you don’t sit next to someone you know. There are no cliques, no circles. Everyone interacts with everyone else. “It’s not just a bunch of artists sitting in this pocket,” McQueen says. “The conversation starts out being about art, but it ends up being about, say, politics.” Or films. Or food. Or about what it will take to make North Omaha thrive again.

“The things that separate us,” McQueen says with emphasis, “are stupid. And they are stupid things that have been in place for generations.” With Kith, she’s inviting residents of the area to interact with people who might be coming into North Omaha for the first time in a setting that guests can’t help but associate with comfort, coziness, and conversation.

Artist in residence Victoria Hoyt sums up the appeal of Kith: “When you sit down for a meal, you talk about things you wouldn’t standing up in a gallery or chatting in a bar. You can go beyond small talk and make meaningful connections.”

Jo Anderson

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jo Anderson adores Midlands art, and she loves showcasing the talent of those who create it.

Anderson is founder and owner of Anderson O’Brien Fine Art, an upscale art dealer and gallery that has been a fixture of Countryside Village at 87th and Pacific streets for more than three decades. Two years ago, she opened a second location in Omaha’s Old Market.

“I always had my eye on it,” Anderson says of the space at 1108 Jackson St., which housed Jackson Artworks for nearly 18 years. “Wouldn’t it be great to have a gallery downtown and have a broader audience?”

When the owners of Jackson Artworks announced they were closing, Anderson stepped in and took over the space in summer 2010. It’s since become one of downtown’s leading galleries.

The gallery in the Old Market has a different energy, audience, and atmosphere than the one in Countryside Village, says Anderson. Housed in a former warehouse, the downtown space is sleek and contemporary with white walls, exposed ductwork, concrete floors, and an open, airy feel. It’s also larger, so viewers have more room to get further back from the work and admire each piece fully, whether it’s an oil painting or sculpture.

Anderson’s gallery represents about 60 artists from Nebraska and surrounding states. Many are professional artists and art educators from area universities and colleges. Anderson says she prefers to represent established artists rather than up-and-coming talent.

“We have a consistency of work that is solid,” she says.

“Every day is different. It’s very rewarding. It’s just a great life.”

Keeping the number at a manageable 60 allows Anderson and her staff to give artists the time, attention, and resources they need. She takes great joy from being around art all day. “You’re dealing in beauty,” she says.

Anderson’s love of art goes back to childhood. She often accompanied her physician father to Indian reservations, where he treated patients. The visits sparked an interest in ethnographic art. Years later, Anderson opened the Plains Gallery at 78th and West Dodge Road, which she operated for more than a decade before selling it.

She then opened a poster gallery/frame shop near 76th and Pacific streets with business partner Sharon O’Brien. They didn’t have enough money to invest in original art, so they sold poster art.

In the early 1980s, the duo launched Anderson O’Brien Gallery in Countryside Village. They started out slow by representing a few artists, building clients, and upgrading their art collection. By the early ‘90s, O’Brien had gone on to pursue other ventures, leaving Anderson as sole owner.

As gallery owner, she has a variety of responsibilities. She meets with artists to discuss details of current and future exhibits, including determining how many pieces to feature and choosing an image for the event invitation. Other duties include handling bookwork, waiting on customers, and scheduling delivery and pick-up of artwork.

The gallery sells artwork to a mix of customers, from businesses to private collectors. It offers shipping, framing, hanging, appraisals, and other services. Anderson also works with interior designers and architects to place art in homes, offices, and other spaces.

“Every day is different,” she says. “It’s very rewarding. It’s just a great life.”

For more information on the gallery, its artists, and upcoming shows, visit aobfineart.com.