Tag Archives: Maple Street

Ben Lueders

August 4, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The afternoon sun shines through the window, illuminating an armada of Lego creations. Large pirate ships defend one side of the room while, a few feet away, an opposing counter displays Star Wars vessels and such action figures as Anakin and Luke Skywalker manning their battle stations.
Ben Lueders, owner of Fruitful Design, is sitting at a rustic wooden table discussing upcoming projects with intern Nicholas Jones.

Lueders spent most of his childhood in Hawaii, during which time he was trained in classical piano and enjoyed creating things with Legos. Though he started off studying music in college, he often spent time in the library between classes drawing caricatures of his friends. After hearing about a job opening with the Hawaii Coral Reef initiative, Lueders headed downtown on whim. He surprised even himself by becoming their art director, a position he held for eight years before moving to Omaha in 2006.

He had never imagined that he could make a living drawing sharks, and music soon took a backseat to his newest creative outlet.

Lueders went on to work at local creative firm Eleven19 after winning, of all things, a coloring contest for Big Omaha. It was there that yet another light bulb went off. “I realized my love for working for a small local shop with awesome long-term clients and being able to do very creative work,” he says.

With that vision in mind, Fruitful Design was born. His business offers such services as branding, illustration, print media, and web design. His body of work also includes the background typography seen on the Best of Omaha™ cover of the January-February issue of this magazine.
All that was missing was the perfect space. As with so many young professionals, the thriving scene in Benson beckoned. A client would later morph into a landlord.

Lueders learned of the ambitious mission behind the 402 Arts Collective and director Ben Schafer’s ideas for the old Foundry building on Maple Street in Benson. Schafer planned to turn the space into a coffee shop, recording studio, live performance venue, and more. Lueders began by creating their new logo and branding. The 402 Arts collective became one of his first regular clients, and now is the location of Fruitful Design’s offices.

“I love Benson, it is such a magical place,” he adds.

Now with a space of his own, Lueders’ imagination moves far above and beyond a sketchpad and pencil. A room next to his office is where he teaches lessons on Wednesday nights. And, rekindling a once dormant passion, he is known to write his own music. The 402 Arts Collective’s recording studio shares a wall with Fruitful Design, and Lueders has some studio time saved up that he’s dying to use.

As business grows, the Legos continue to multiply, and musical notes waft back and forth through the walls, just like the innovative thoughts bouncing around in Lueders’ head.

There is still one question left unanswered. Why the “Fruitful” brand?

“I don’t measure my [design] successes by how much cooler they look,” he says, “but what I love to see is that my clients become more fruitful because of them.”

The Benson Theatre

May 4, 2014 by
Photography by Keith Binder

It’s frigid and windy as Amy Ryan works the lock of the Benson Theatre’s glass doors. The theater, which has been closed for decades, sits in the heart of Benson’s Maple Street corridor, and when it’s cold, the old lock sticks. Ryan thrusts the doors open finally, and we step inside. The space is vast and empty—our voices bounce along open-faced brick walls and bare steel trusses—and we can still see our breath. “I’m going to take you down below,” Ryan says, as she leads me past the main stage and down a dark staircase. We step gingerly on the old wooden slats, and the air turns humid and musty.

“It’s kind of built like the hull of a ship,” Ryan says, pointing to a small stage buried 16 feet below the main floor. Splashes of teal, burgundy, and gold paint are still visible on the old proscenium arch: remnants of the building’s original days as a vaudeville playhouse.

“Vaudeville, in French, means ‘voice of the city,’” Ryan says. Vaudeville often served as a platform for civic conversation—and that’s one reason Ryan says she feels so drawn to the building. When it went up for sale a couple years ago, she jumped at the chance to buy it—not only to restore it to its grand beginnings but to build a community anchor.

“One thing I’ve learned from 19 years of hustling pizza,” says Ryan, who owns the Pizza Shoppe next door, “is that when you have a physical space, you can help anyone.” Ryan currently supports a growing number of artists in Benson’s now-bustling entertainment district through her adjoining P.S. Collective—a venue for poets and musicians. “You have all these artists who are incredible—the genius of the people in this town in music, in writing, in film and theater,” she says. “But they work three jobs. They’re waiting tables, and they’re struggling.”

Ryan says she wants to provide performance and artistic space in the Benson Theatre—by hosting such a sky’s-the-limit slate of events as opera, chamber and symphonic music, theater productions, independent films, spoken word, and performance art.

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But like its vaudeville roots, the mission of the new Benson Theatre will be more than a vehicle for the arts. Ryan, who was a social worker before she inherited the Pizza Shoppe, plans to host educational workshops for artists, entrepreneurs and Benson’s underserved—seniors, people with special needs and the impoverished. The connection: self-sustainability. “We live within social systems that don’t work for people,” Ryan says. “We can change those by just practicing something differently. To me, it’s teaching people how to generate their own revenue because really—all of us just want to be self-sustaining in life.”

The workshops will focus on financial lessons—from basic job interviewing to writing business proposals. “As writers, as artists, as social workers and caregivers of others, we can learn how to be successful in those things that we do,” Ryan says.