Tag Archives: New York City

Out-of-State Camps

April 27, 2017 by and

The time is swiftly approaching when parents will have to sit down and have “the talk” with their children. This heart-to-heart shouldn’t be taken lightly as the child’s response could have a serious impact on their future.

The subject matter? What summer camp should they attend? This is a right of passage and tradition for some; for others, it is an introduction to what will become a career or lifelong passion. While campfires, canoes, and “Kumbaya” are associated with traditional summer camp programs, other organizations across the country have transformed the annual break into something truly extraordinary.

When choosing an experience as unique as your child, consider a camp catered to their imagination. Whether they dream of becoming an astronaut, fashion designer, marine biologist, or musician, there is a platform available to them. While groups of boys and girls are roasting marshmallows and crafting in commons areas, the youngsters at these one-of-a-kind camps are fostering special skills, pursuing their passions, and opening their minds to a world where life is lived outside the box.

1. Pali  Adventures—Near Los Angeles, California
($2,000-plus for one week*)

Kids who love to play cops and robbers, or dream of being the next Carmen Sandiego, find plenty of options at Secret Agent Camp (SAC) run by Pali Adventures. Other unique camps include Hollywood stunts, flying trapeze, and LARP (live action role playing). This is a true imagination station for kids 8-16 years old.

2. Global Expeditions Group—Multiple locations
($5,800-plus for three weeks)

Send students around the world. Global Expeditions Group runs Action Quest and GoBeyond Student Travel. Action Quest involves living on, and helping to sail, a boat for three weeks while learning diving, sailing, marine biology, and more. GoBeyond takes students to places from Peru to the Galapagos to Asia and farther while participating in service learning.

3. ThrillCoasters Tour—Multiple locations
($2,000-plus for one week)

Although the word “camp” is not in the name, this adventure is for the kid who lives for amusement parks. One trip includes two days at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, which boasts 16 roller coasters, another includes two days at Six Flags Magic Mountain, which has 19 roller coasters, more than any other amusement park in the U.S.

4. Camp Winnarainbow—Berkley, California

($1,845 for two weeks)

Camp Winnarainbow, created by 1960s activist/icon Hugh Romney, better known as Wavy Gravy, focuses on circus and performing arts, from clowning to juggling to trapeze. Parents needing a week away can attend the adults-only version. Ben & Jerry’s now-retired ice cream bearing Romney’s nom de circus helped fund the camp from sales of their brazil-nut caramel confection.

5. Long Lake Camp for the Arts—Dobbs Ferry, New York
($5,950 for two weeks)

Long Lake allows youngsters to focus on their individual artistic specialties, as it offers a self-choice schedule. This schedule allows kids to combine activities in an unlimited number of ways. The biggest lessons they will learn here are commitment, confidence, and dedication, all while pursing their passion.

6. Fashion Camp NYC—New York, New York
($1,200 for one week)

This is not a sleep-away camp, but kids who are serious about joining the fashion industry will benefit from this experience. Three successive programs are offered that teach kids everything from what careers are available in the fashion industry to gaining internships. Along the way, they complete individual and team projects and meet with top executives from the industry.

7. Space Camp—Huntsville, Alabama
($1,000 for one week)

Founded more than 30 years ago by rocket scientist Dr. Wernher von Braun, this camp is the stuff of legends, or at least TV show mentions. Campers will gain hands-on training, experience high-fidelity simulations, and develop impactful skills for a future among the stars. Alumni of Space Camp have gone on to become astronauts and engineers for NASA and ESA.

8. Camp Jam—Multiple locations ($1,500-plus for one week)

Camp Jam is available in 10 cities across the United States (Chicago and St. Louis are the closest to Omaha), offering a vast curriculum for campers including music business, stage performance, songwriting, and recording. One highlight of this camp is the master classes, which are taught by noted artists such as Rolling Stones bassist Darryl Jones or Matchbox 20 keyboardist Joey Huffman.

9. Camp Woodward, Pennsylvania; Truckee, California; Tehachapi, California; Copper Mountain, Colorado
($1,800-plus for one week)

Camp Woodward has pruned and produced some of the world’s best skateboarders, snowboarders, BMX-ers, and more. The camp is specifically designed for professional-level training, and has some of the best facilities in the world. No prior experience is needed, and kids will have the opportunity to practice in one-of-a-kind parks, take freestyle and private lessons, and participate in a variety of classes. 

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of Family Guide.

*Editor’s note: The article originally incorrectly listed Pali Adventures as $2000 for three weeks.

Roni Shelley Perez

October 13, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“I never told my parents about having a fake sex scene. I just let them watch the show.”

-Roni Shelley Perez

Roni Shelley Perez wonders whether she should have warned her Catholic parents about a certain scene in the recent Blue Barn Theatre production of Heathers: The Musical.

“I never told my parents about having a fake sex scene. I just let them watch the show,” she says with a laugh.

Her parents, Ranilo and Selena Perez, never mentioned that scene to her, but Roni says they liked the play. They weren’t the only ones. Heathers received rave reviews and a lot of local recognition, including award nominations for Perez. It’s an impressive achievement for a 20-year-old who entered college only a few years ago with limited musical theater experience.

Perez is now a junior at UNO studying music with a theater minor. She burst onto the Omaha theater scene in 2015 when she played Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Omaha Community Playhouse. That debut earned her the Elaine Jabenis Cameo Award and a nomination for an Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award.

roni-shelley-perez2However, performing the lead role of Veronica in Heathers was the watershed moment in her
budding career.

“I wanted it so bad. So bad. That was definitely a breakthrough role for me,” she says. “I ran here (to UNO) every morning and sang just to get that role down.”

Perez says that working in the Blue Barn’s new space on 10th Street was “inspirational” and that she was determined to live up to her artistic surroundings. “Well, the venue was going to be beautiful. I felt like the performance should be, too,” she says.

A musician since she started studying guitar at the age of eight, Perez entered college planning to major in music composition or music technology. She was involved in theater at Marian High School, but thought it was a vocation better suited to others. Her parents, who own a physical therapy practice in Omaha, were skeptical about the viability of a music career and suggested actuarial science or engineering as practical occupations.

“Music scared them because they’re immigrants from the Philippines that had their mind on an American dream to get money, and now I’m going backwards,” says Perez with self-deprecating humor.

A Goodrich scholarship covers her tuition, and being free of student debt will certainly help Perez, who plans to eventually relocate to New York City to pursue a theater career.

In addition to her tour-de-force performance in Heathers, Perez thinks that her second-place finish in a national singing competition this summer went a long way toward convincing her parents that she is on the right path.

She is also not resting on her laurels. After studying at New York University in the summer of 2015, Perez returned to New York City this past summer for an intensive audition workshop with The Open Jar Institute. Upon returning to Omaha, she was rehearsing a play called Love and Information at Do Space, and she is slated to appear in Hand to God! at Shelterbelt Theatre, which runs Nov. 18 through Dec. 11. Oh, and she also has a part-time job.

Omaha has produced several notable Broadway performers in recent decades. With her buoyant personality, stellar voice, and work ethic, it is not hard to imagine that Perez could be the next.

Visit snapproductions.com for more information.

Encounter

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Emily Andersen & Geoff DeOld

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Emily Andersen and Geoff DeOld’s two-story storefront/residence on Vinton Street is an ongoing study in public and private space.

The husband and wife duo of DeOld Andersen Architecture began their courtship in Nebraska while studying architecture at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. They completed their postgraduate degrees in 2001 and moved to New York City that same year—a week before September 11.

deolds4While living in New York, they each worked at architecture firms, and in 2010, they began developing their own architectural practice. Their theoretical interests focused on ideas of suburbia, big box stores as civic centers, and the concept of “Walmart as a city.” New York City, while full of inspiration, was not an ideal location to study these topics.

“New York is a highly constructed place, a place where every block has been theorized and studied,” says DeOld.

In 2012, Andersen and DeOld began working with Emerging Terrain and its founder, Anne Trumble, on projects in Omaha. Seeing the progressive and critical dialogues fostered by Emerging Terrain made the idea of leaving New York an easier decision. For them, rogue conversations about urban relations could take place in Omaha. Additionally, Omaha provided a lower cost of living, making it possible to own a domestic space with a private outdoor area complete with a dog.

After deciding to relocate to Omaha in 2012, Andersen and DeOld began sharing a rented office space with Emerging Terrain on Vinton Street. One day, Trumble took her design fellows on a research trip, and the couple was able to be alone in the space in its totality. They thought, “This could be a great apartment!”

As it happened, their intuition became reality. The architects now fully occupy both floors of the storefront, their live-work architecture studio and private apartment with an exterior courtyard at 1717 Vinton St.

Willa, their spunky dog, acts as a doorbell, announcing visitors and clients. She is usually perched at the large bay windows on Vinton Street, sitting in the crisp northwest light. This same light blankets a curated selection of furniture and cascades upward to the original tin ceiling tiles. Andersen acknowledges, “The best thing (about the storefront) is the light.”

deolds5Immediately inside the voluminous white studio, large flat tables are stacked with the latest architecture periodicals and design paraphernalia. A well-stocked bookcase of architecture monographs separates this front entry space from the open office behind. Each workstation, for the couple and their intern architects, is decorated with an iMac, a tornado of tracing paper, physical architectural models, and their subsequent renderings and construction documents. The fervor of design-in-the-making is palpable. At the rear, more windows fill the functional office with warm southern light and views into an in-process patioscape.

There is an aspect of sustainability that they enjoy living above their office—the morning and evening commute is literally a flight of stairs. A cerulean stairwell ascends into their private apartment above the storefront’s 12-foot ceiling. The hike establishes mental and spatial distance between work and home. “Once we go upstairs for the evening, we usually do not go back down,” says DeOld.

Upon entering the 1,200-square-foot apartment, a sense of the couple’s studied aesthetic is at the forefront. Remnants of their lives punctuate the space. There’s a silver metallic curtain in an ultra-simplistic kitchen and an almost haphazard collection of modernist furniture. Space-defining arches give the apartment “a weird personality we would have never added,” says Andersen.

deolds2Populating the airy apartment is a long blonde wood table adjacent to a glossy white fireplace, which splits the kitchen from the living room. A set of graphic prints pulls the eye into the living room, where a complementary mustard-colored chair and merlot-colored sofa face a wraparound bookshelf. It is also from the living room that the angular nature of Vinton Street is most apparent. Two windows bounce northwestern light onto the wooden floors. As with the studio below, Andersen explains, “Watching the light daily and yearly is one of the joys of the apartment.”

Renovations have been ongoing throughout the entire structure, with Andersen and DeOld first focusing on the envelope of the building, then the workspace below, and now concentrating on the apartment and exterior courtyard.

At first, much of the apartment did not work. But after rapid construction and precise wall removal, the once-segmented apartment has been opened into one clean volume for public entertaining areas and compact private spaces.

“We can’t live in a typical house,” say Andersen and DeOld. Their nearly complete live-work space mixes ephemerality with distinct design features, a continuing investigation into their notions of hybrid domestic-work tranquility.

Visit d-aarch.com for more information. OmahaHome

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The Robo Wonder-Kid

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Collin Kauth-­Fisher believes that nerds will win in the end. The self-described nerd and recent Millard West grad is accustomed to winning, especially when it comes to robotics.

The 18-year-old has won national accolades for his ability to sink baskets with robotic hands. “That’s not a human doing that, it’s different,” he says, explaining his excitement for robotics. Meanwhile, the next phase of his robotics career is already shaping up to be a slam dunk.

A fascination with technology was one of the most consistent parts of his childhood, amid frequent relocations for his father’s military career. Kauth-Fisher built structures and tinkered with technology, but his interest in robotics really bloomed at Millard West. He pursued robotics classes and joined the school’s robotics team, the Cat Trons, during his senior year. He was the team’s lead programmer. 

Millard West participates in a variety of robotics competitions, principally those that use VEX Robotics Design System. VEX produces metal robotics with attached motors, which are driven by a combination of remote-controlled sensors. The bots often look like miniature forklifts made of perforated steel parts, and are programmed to make computer-controlled movements.

In VEX robotics, students use their knowledge of science, technology, engineering, and math to build structures. The competitions are games that test engineering acumen. Kauth-Fisher and the Cat Trons competed with other high schools throughout the fall and spring semesters. They battled it out in qualifying rounds. Matches consisted of two teams in a ring that looked like a geekish version of WWE Wrestlemania.

Kauth-Fisher, specifically, worked in the CREATE group, an advanced robotics challenge in which students are encouraged to test their engineering and design skills using any system they want, such as LEGO or VEX. This means that, while a standard VEX competition only allows the students to build a robot from kit supplies, students working with the CREATE group are allowed to enhance their inventions.

This creativity helped the Cat Trons succeed in their quest. They advanced from local and regional competitions to the CREATE U.S. Open Robotics Championship, a three-day event held April 7-9 at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs. They competed against approximately 200 teams, including teams from as far as New York and as nearby as Omaha North.

The Cat Trons excelled. The object of the game was for the robots to shoot foam balls into a net. Millard West was the only team to complete the mission. They were crowned the tournament champion of the open division and also won national honors.

Kauth-Fisher’s interest grew into a summer job. This past summer, during an internship at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, he helped graduate students build a portable location tracking system. “I don’t consider it work,” he says during the summer before his freshman year at Iowa State University, where he will study computer engineering.

Just as Kauth-Fisher created a robot with an arm that picks up foam balls, he hopes to create robotic arms for others (possibly in the form of prosthetics).

He believes that robots will play a crucial role in the future, especially in his future.

To learn more, visit nebraskarobotics.com. Omaha Magazine

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Girl on Fire

August 13, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Haunting melodies float on a summer breeze. Anna McClellan is practicing on the grand piano;  her melancholy lyrics and precise keystrokes are muffled by walls of her friend’s house in the Dundee neighborhood. Step inside the house and it becomes clear: the calm singer-songwriter with oversized eyeglasses is on fire.

AnnaMcClellan2McClellan, 23, is preparing for several shows scheduled across town in the coming days and weeks. She is also preparing for a two-week, cross-country tour to California. Her destination: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a free festival on the first weekend of October at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. She is booking her own gigs for the trip there and back.

The Omaha-born musician will take the stage with another famous local singer-songwriter, Conor Oberst. One of the festival’s seven stages is called “Conor Brings Friends.”

Oberst contributed vocals to McClellan’s most successful single, “Fire Flames,” also the title of her 2015 album (Fire Flames was a cassette tape released simultaneously in digital format by Majestic Litter).

McClellan has played several times at Oberst’s Pageturners Lounge in Dundee. “He’s very supportive of a lot of people around town,” she says. “It’s nice in Omaha, because it’s such a tight-knit community of people (making music). It’s really easy to get help.”

She wrote the song “Fire Flames” in a single sitting, which McClellan says is unusual for her. The lyrics exemplify a recurring theme in her music: “It is such a universal idea to want to be a part of what’s going on, and what the world is, and also being scared of it. But knowing that even though you’re scared of it, if you don’t jump in and try to be a part of it, you won’t be satisfied.”

In conversation, her demeanor is so chill. But she’s a hustler behind the scenes. She works two jobs (one at Joslyn Art Museum, another at The Blackstone Meatball) and plays shows around town by night. She’s speaking to Omaha Magazine on her day off.

AnnaMcClellan3McClellan began studying piano at age 8 through the Omaha Conservatory of Music. She credits the tutelage of Anne Madison for inspiring her passion for piano. Playing the saxophone in jazz band, concert band, and marching band (while a student at Central High School) helped her break out of her comfort zone: “I tend toward structure, where everything’s pre-planned and you know what you are going to do. To be taken out of that comfort zone, and then pushed into solos, made me better, more daring.”

Her mother, former KETV newscaster Carol Kloss, also provided crucial encouragement. They performed together in church musicals, and Kloss included McClellan—the younger of her two daughters—in several Omaha Press Club Show performances.

McClellan first began experimenting with songwriting while studying abroad in Denmark during her junior year of high school. She was in a band called Howard after returning to Omaha, then went solo in 2013. Last year she moved to New York City for three months, working and performing, eventually catching a break to go on tour as the opener for the band Frankie Cosmos. 

Now, she’s working on a new album with Ben Brodin (the Omaha producer of Fire Flames). “We recorded new demos last Sunday for the new record,” McClellan says in July. “It’s going to be a little different. All of the songs that were in Fire Flames were written over this long period (some dating back to high school) more like a collection, but this will be more cohesive.”

“A lot of it is about relationships of two people…and romantic relationships in general, and then, fear,” she says, laughing. “I think it’s easy to get worked up over being scared, so I tend to do that a lot, even for the sake of the song.”

Visit annamcclellan.bandcamp.com for more information. Omaha Magazine

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Stephanie Kurtzuba

August 8, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Stage and screen actress Stephanie Kurtzuba has graced Hollywood red carpets and Broadway billboards, but she is most comfortable at her family’s West Lanes Bowling Center in her hometown of Omaha.

The Central High School graduate’s maternal grandparents, Tony and Nellie Pirruccello, built the place at 151 N. 72nd St. Her late mother, Connie Pirruccello, had grown up there in the 1950s. Stephanie, a co-owner with her father, Ray Kurtzuba, spent countless hours at the bowling alley as a stage-struck kid. It’s now a favorite hangout for her two boys when they visit from New York City.

“I remember running up and down the concourse practicing cartwheels and using the dance floor in the lounge after school to rehearse my dance recital numbers,” recalls Stephanie, who displayed her cartwheel moves in the 2014 movie Annie. “It was a second home to me and now my children. My boys only get to visit about once a year, so when they do, they eat it up.”

Stephanie’s mom encouraged her to perform in Omaha Show Wagon. Her breakout came in Oliver at the Music Hall. She performed at the then-Emmy Gifford Children’s Theater (now The Rose) as well as the Firehouse and Upstairs dinner theaters. When the original Broadway Annie became a sensation, she sang its anthems around the house. Stephanie says, “It’s the ultimate irony” that three decades later she played Mrs. Kovacevic in the movie.

A local choreographer planted the seed that she had the chops to pursue a professional acting career. But talent only takes you so far. The rest is desire and discipline.

“It’s almost like what some people would call a calling. But it’s almost like there’s nothing else I can or want to do with my time and energies than pursue this, and that’s a real motivator.”

Her theater passion may not have gone far without tragedy befalling her biggest champion.

“If I had not lost my mother when I did, I don’t know that my choices would have been the same in terms of following my dream. We were so incredibly close, my mother and I. When everything went down with her health, it became very clear to me in a very short amount of time, tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone. Losing her rocked my foundation, my very being, but it taught me some really valuable lessons about carpe diem.”

Stephanie won a full-ride to Drake University but got cold feet being so far from home. She briefly attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. With her mom gone, she resolved it was now-or-never. She prepared an audition with help from The Rose’s James Larson and got accepted to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Off-Broadway and regional theater parts honed her craft.

“My goal has always been to be a working actor.”

Her credits include Broadway’s The Boy from Oz, Mary Poppins, and Billy Elliott; the feature films Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and The Wolf of Wall Street; and TV’s The Good Wife.

She hopes one day to perform again where it all started.

“The Emmy Gifford was so seminal in my development as a young artist. I loved it deeply. I still remember the smell of the place. It was home. It would be singularly fulfilling to be able to come back and rejoin the Omaha arts community. That would be some deeply felt, full-circle kinda stuff right there.”

Meanwhile, she’s found a new love: producing. She has several projects in the works. She’s also developing a TV series set in Omaha, which is loosely based on her life, for local Syncretic Entertainment. The pilot is due to shoot here in the fall. They look to put local talent to work. Paying it forward.

“It’s my passion project. I love it so much.” 

To learn more, visit stephaniekurtzuba.com. Omaha Magazine

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Matthew Hansen and Sarah Baker Hansen

August 1, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

All memorable stories, written or otherwise, are filled with turning points. Moments when the next step becomes unmistakably clear. Moments when life’s twists and turns, wins and losses, hopes and heartbreaks, serve up the next chapter.

A few moments for Sarah Baker Hansen and Matthew Hansen defined not only their life together, but also their life’s work. Today, they are a literary power couple, both writing prominent columns for the Omaha World-Herald.

Their pivotal moment together took a while, more than five years after their first date. The couple met in 2000 while working at The Daily Nebraskan, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s student newspaper. Although they acted friendly to each other, a relationship was far from their minds.   

Their first official date wouldn’t happen for another year. It was 2001. Sarah had since graduated from college and was living back home in Omaha following an internship at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Matthew was finishing up his studies at UNL. A 100-year reunion for The Daily Nebraskan was near, which meant Matthew might see Sarah soon.

“A fellow DN staffer said Sarah had a crush on me years earlier, so then I started emailing her,” Matthew recalls with a smile.

Emails were exchanged, and a little bit of flirting even took place. Sarah missed the reunion, but Matthew eventually asked her out.

Sarah chose the French Café, one of her favorite Old Market eateries. It would become the same spot where Matthew would propose to Sarah, and a venue that would emphasize their vastly different backgrounds.

“I was a dorky, small town sports guy,” says Matthew, a native of Red Cloud.

Matthew found Sarah’s Omaha roots, her affinity for food, and her love of art and culture attractive. But such interest was also met with some trepidation that evening. On their first date, Matthew recalls having a “very quiet, very polite panic attack around the idea of ordering a drink. We sat at the French Café bar. I never had a cocktail that was fancier than Jack and Coke.”

Sarah had already developed an adventurous palate: “I grew up with parents who were foodies before that was a thing. They had these really elaborate dinner parties in the 1980s, and it was a real treat for me to stay up and eat the pâté, watch my dad make the chocolate mousse. And the Cornish hens. And the bone-in pork rib roast with the booties.”

Sarah and Matthew’s first date at the French Café lumbered on somewhat awkwardly. A few days later, Matthew phoned Sarah for a second date. She passed, suggesting that the two remain just friends.

Fast forward five years. Sarah and her sister were in Lincoln at Duffy’s Tavern for a concert. She went for the live music—and to meet a new guy.

Matthew got there first.

The two chatted, catching up over the past five years. The new guy eventually showed up…with another girl in tow. Matthew, Sarah, and their mutual friends made their way to O’Rourke’s Tavern. They talked the whole night.

It was then that Sarah trusted her gut: she offered Matthew her phone number. “That night in Lincoln, there was definitely a connection,” Sarah says.

The following week, the two were practically inseparable. About a year later, they were living together in Omaha.

“We were just entirely comfortable with each other from that day forward,” Sarah explains.

They were engaged in 2008 and married in 2009. This fall marks 10 years since that fateful second date.

Matthew worked previously at the Lincoln Journal Star, while Sarah held public relations posts at the Nebraska Tourism Commission and the Sheldon Museum of Art. Years of freelancing for The Reader and writing her first book, The Insider’s Guide to Omaha and Lincoln, laid the groundwork for her position at the Omaha World-Herald. And traveling Nebraska for her tourism work yielded something else entirely unexpected.

“Working in PR at the state tourism office allowed me to understand Matthew a bit more,” Sarah says. “I didn’t know much about Nebraska. The first time I went to Red Cloud with Matthew was the first time I was ever on a farm. That changed me in a lot of ways.”

Matthew said he was changed not only by moving to Omaha, but by becoming immersed in local art and food alongside Sarah. He’s involved with Hear Nebraska, founded by Sarah’s UNL classmate Andrew Norman. And Red Cloud left its mark on Sarah; she now serves on the Willa Cather Foundation Board of Governors.

The couple can often be spotted at La Buvette, one of their most beloved Old Market establishments, talking about the newspaper industry, reality television, the Chicago Cubs, or their latest meal. As downtown Omaha residents for the past several years, they have found comfort in their urban neighborhood, walking to and from work together each day. They often explore of the greater metro area through restaurants that Sarah is assigned to cover. (Yes, in many cases, Matthew is her plus one.)

There was a time not too long ago when Matthew and Sarah found themselves at a bar in New York City. An opportunity presented itself that would have allowed the couple to pack their things, their roots, and their cat for new lives in the Big Apple.

“We could do this,” Sarah recalls, weighing their options. “We could do this and be happy and successful (in New York City). But we could do things that are meaningful in Omaha, that have a real impact.”

Together, they returned to Omaha. During the following year, Matthew was named an Omaha World-Herald columnist. Sarah was hired as the paper’s food critic.

“We said, let’s try to do something impactful to this place where we’re choosing to be, that we care so much about,” she says. “I feel that’s the path we chose to take.

Visit omaha.com to read their work.

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Jenny Kruger

July 22, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Midwestern farmland can be described in many ways. Paisley, however, is not a descriptor that normally comes to mind. Artist Jenny Kruger, however, often sees paisley on the farm—at least in paint.

Her art consists of colorful floral patterns serving as backdrops to barns or rural settings. Everyday landscapes become surreal. The brightly hued paintings are nostalgic, byproducts of Kruger’s nomadic youth.

Home has always been more of a feeling than a physical place for the artist. Her works are more about what she remembers than what a place actually looked like.

“I never really had a strong sense of home being tied to a location,” says Kruger. “It’s memories.”

Lately, her work has become bigger and grander. Kruger is currently working on a triptych that will measure 6 feet wide by the time she finishes the three panels. “I keep getting bigger because I think the landscapes need to breathe,” she says.

JennyKruger2She works on the weekends and whenever time allows in her life, in between raising two young boys and managing a career as dean of Communications, Education, and Fine Art at Iowa Western Community College. She also squeezes in time to occasionally illustrate for publications such as The New York Times.

Painting has taken a backseat in her life right now, but it hasn’t gone away.

“It’s important to me. If I stop painting, this job wouldn’t work for me,” admits Kruger of her position at the college.

It wasn’t always this way. For much of her life, art was everything to her.

Kruger spent her early years in Salt Lake City, with countless hours devoted to drawing pictures in her bedroom.  As the scenery started to change, the constant in her life was art.

Before she reached age 10, she spent a year learning Spanish in Monterey, Mexico, and then sailed the East Coast with her family.

Following a year at sea, her family settled down in Indiana. Kruger pursued art head on, encouraged by her parents, who enrolled her in advanced art classes. She painted in Florence, Italy, while a college student. A Fulbright scholarship sent her to Barcelona, where she could paint nonstop.

A favorite artist growing up was the American realist Andrew Wyeth, and while you can spot a hint of his realist influence in Kruger’s work, her own traveling has definitely flavored the trajectory and style of her painting.

“I saw many different sceneries, different ways of living, different kinds of people, and different ways of learning,” says Kruger.

While studying for her master’s degree in New York City, she dabbled in portraits, but also began painting images of water towers, adding a floral background. Eventually, she ended up in Nebraska, where her surroundings now inspire her frequently and at strange times, like while driving to work. She’ll see a striking wrapping paper pattern and save it to be her creative muse later.

After her boys are tucked in bed, Kruger is in her basement studio, revisiting her collection of muses and memories, and trying to build enough pieces for her next solo show.

Visit jennykruger.com for more information.

Engendering Identity

June 23, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann, video by Jared Kennedy

An often-marginalized demographic is finding its voice. Transgender people—estimated at one-fifth of one percent of the total U.S. population—have been thrust into the national spotlight amid the political firestorm following the introduction of North Carolina’s bathroom bill, HB2. Dr. Jay Irwin helps to explain LGBTQ community discourse.                                               — Executive Editor Doug Meigs

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In 2006, while wasting time on the Internet when I should have been writing a paper for graduate school, my whole world changed. I found an online diary of a young trans man—a person who identifies as male but was assigned female at birth—talking about his own process of self-discovery. His words and story made 100 percent sense to me, as I was struggling to figure out who I was as well. I had come out as a lesbian two years prior, but something about that term didn’t click. Reading his words about his own gender discovery and transition, I finally knew who I was and what it meant. With learning the words, I found the ability to finally understand myself.

Transgender and cisgender. The terms are hot topics in the news. They offer clarity to some and confusion to others. Approximately 700,000 transgender individuals are estimated to live in the U.S. (or 0.2 percent of the population). Although a relatively small portion of the nation’s populace, the demographic is making big strides culturally.

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The way we talk about people and gender identity has shifted. In the 1970s, the focus was on gay rights, with social movements like the Gay Liberation Front and the Stonewall Riots in New York CityIn the 1980s and 1990s, the language shifted to gay and lesbian, responding to calls to make these groups more inclusive of women and their experiences. But behind the scenes, conversation around language for diverse sexuality and gender identities was already pointing out the limiting nature of the common phrase “gay and lesbian.”

Currently, the most used phrase for this topic is LGBTQ—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. Occasionally you will see two Qs, highlighting both queer and individuals who are questioning, or still trying to figure out their sexuality and/or gender. You may also see LGBTQ+, pointing out that these 5 letters have left a lot of more specific identities out of the acronym. This shift can be seen in the name change of a major organization that advocates on the behalf of LGBTQ people—the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the organization that runs Creating Change, the largest LGBTQ social justice conference in the U.S., changed its name to the National LGBTQ Task Force in 2014. We can also see it locally, as the UNO student group for LGBTQ+ students just changed its name from Gender and Sexual Orientation Student Agency (GSO) to Queer and Trans Services Student Agency (QTS, pronounced “cuties”).

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For many, the fluid nature of language in this area is confusing. Even for myself, someone who teaches and researches gender and sexuality at UNO, keeping up with the changes in language takes a lot of work.

Take for example the word “queer,” a word steeped in a lot of negative connotations and usages for many folks, which is now a formal part of many acronyms currently in use. But what’s most important with the term queer is that many people in the community have reclaimed the word to embrace part of its original meaning: difference and diversity. Queer, as an identity, is a very open and wide-ranging term, often meaning non-heterosexual but with nuances for specific individuals who identify as queer. And for many young people, queer is a word that feels more comfortable to them than gay or lesbian. (It should be noted, for some individuals who identify as gay or lesbian—particularly individuals from earlier generations—the word queer can still have negative connotations, so use the word with care.)

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Today, we are witnessing a massive shift in the language used when we talk about gender. With recent media attention to transgender people, that is, people who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, more and more trans people are claiming their own language and their own words, all while highlighting that gender is much more than just male or female.

There are many other terms, far too many to define here. The website for Trans Student Educational Resources published an online glossary that includes: heteroflexible, cisgender, transgender, genderqueer, polysexual, pansexual, asexual, gender fluid, demisexual, and the list goes on. See the glossary at the bottom of this article for more information.

Jessi Hitchens, director of UNO’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, the official UNO office that oversees inclusion and programming for women as well as LGBTQ persons on campus, discusses her own discovery of the plethora of language options: “Growing up in a small, blue-collar, immigrant town in Illinois, I did not have language for what I was experiencing at the time. Once in college, my worldview shifted and the community language was never static or silenced for me again.”

14Hitchens, who identifies as a polysexual, cisgender woman, acutely understands the power in language. She describes her identities in the following way: “I have been sexually and romantically attracted to many different genders. I am currently in a 14-year monogamous relationship with a straight, cis man but that does not mean my polysexual identity is any less real.” She goes on to clarify what she means when she says “cis”—“I am a cis woman which for me means my gender assignment at birth and my gender identity and gender expression are all in alignment.”

Jeff Horger, associate artistic director at the Omaha Community Playhouse, identifies as a straight man. He states that perhaps we’ve put the cart before the horse. “I think that the acronym LGBTQ has been inappropriately mainstreamed.” In his view, while people inside the community may be aware of the meaning, a number of folks are unaware and thus unable to understand the complexity of it all. For Horger, without a wide public education first, the acronym isn’t as powerful as it could be.

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Despite Horger’s views on a wider usage of the term LGBTQ, he does appreciate the fact that the acronym is trying to highlight the complexity that is gender identity and sexual orientation. “People [used to be] homosexual or heterosexual. We were very comfortable looking at the world in a binary fashion, but once we started looking at ourselves, we realized that we’re a lot more complicated than that. A complicated world requires a complicated description and a complicated acronym.”

When asked about the potential confusion, Hitchens approaches the answer in an attempt to educate. “Well, if Shakespeare kept to only the currently imagined words, we would be missing such wonderful, beautiful, and influential texts. Language is an art and culture. As we evolve, we need to encourage people to use words that make sense to them in an effort to better connect to each other.”

For many in the LGBTQ community, the words that we put to our identities are an attempt at gaining power of our identities, our lives, and a way to speak out loud our truths. We want others to understand this. We want people to ask, “I don’t understand that term. Can you tell me more about what you mean by that?”

What people learn and how they interact can build bridges.

Visit transstudent.org for more information.

Glossary

LGBTQ gender identity terms excerpted from the website of Trans Student Educational Resources (TSER):

AFAB/AMAB: Acronym for “assigned (female/male) at birth.” A term preferred to biological female/male, born female/male, and other terms considered defamatory and inaccurate.

Agender: An umbrella term encompassing many different genders of people who commonly describe themselves as gender-neutral.

Aromantic: A lack of romantic attraction towards others, and someone identifying with this orientation.

Asexual: The lack of sexual attraction, and someone identifying with this orientation.

Bigender: Those who identify as two genders.

Bisexual: An umbrella term for people who experience sexual and/or emotional attraction to more than one gender.

Cisgender/cis: Someone who exclusively identifies as their sex assigned at birth.

Demisexual: A sexual orientation in which one does not feel sexual attraction without a strong emotional bond. As an umbrella term, sometimes associated with “aromantic” and “asexual.”

Gender Expression/Presentation: The physical manifestation of one’s gender identity through clothing, hairstyle, voice, body shape, etc.

Gender Fluid: A changing or “fluid” gender identity.

Gender Identity: One’s internal sense of being male, female, neither, or both.

Genderqueer: A person who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions but identifies with neither, both, or a combination of male and female genders.

Heteroflexible: Sexual orientation or situational behavior characterized by minimal homosexual activity in an otherwise primarily heterosexual orientation.

LGBTQQIAPP+: Short for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, aromantic, pansexual, polysexual” (sometimes abbreviated to LGBT or LGBTQ+).

Monosexual: An umbrella term for orientations directed towards one gender.

Multisexual: An umbrella term for orientations directed towards multiple genders.

Nonbinary: Preferred umbrella term for all genders other than female/male or woman/man. Not all binary people identify as trans and not all trans people identify as nonbinary.

Pansexual: Capable of being attracted to many/any genders. This term is being used more and more frequently.

Polysexual: Sexual attraction to more than one gender. Bisexuality and pansexuality are forms of polysexuality.

Queer: A term for people of marginalized gender identities and sexual orientations. The term has a complicated history as a reclaimed slur.

Sexual Orientation: A person’s physical romantic, emotional aesthetic and/or other form of attraction to others.

Transgender/trans: A term encompassing many gender identities for those who do not identify with their sex assigned at birth.

Transition: A person’s process of developing and assuming a gender expression to match their gender identity. This includes coming out to one’s family, friends, and/or coworkers; changing one’s name and/or gender on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly surgery.

Transsexual: A depreciated term (often pejorative) similar to transgender in that it indicates a difference between one’s gender identity and sex assigned at birth.

Two Spirit: An umbrella term indexing various indigenous gender identities in North America.

*Correction: The July/August 2016 print edition incorrectly identified QTS as Queer and Trans Spectrum Student Agency.

To read more about the recent transgender bathroom controversy, see the current issue of Omaha Magazinehttp://omahamagazine.com/2016/06/tracking-the-controversy/

To read more about Dr. Jay Irwin, see his profile in Omaha Magazine‘s January/February issue: http://omahamagazine.com/2016/01/trans-logic/

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Neil Griess

May 13, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Neil Griess felt like an alien. He immersed himself so deeply into his art that coming out of it felt unnatural. This feeling of being otherworldly, detached and yet painting reality, lasted for about three years. Later, driving home from the Union for Contemporary Art after opening night, he broke down in tears.

“It was a big sigh,” Griess says.

His exhibit, “Pleated Field,” came together with the help of his entire family, who “took over the Union” back on November 14, 2015, when his exhibit began in the Wanda D. Ewing Gallery.

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Griess, 27, learned he won Best Solo Exhibition at the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards in January. But he doesn’t paint for the awards.

He wasn’t always serious about his art, as his late uncle, award-winning realist painter Kent Bellows, often reminded him. Griess found being in his shadow difficult.

“He was the ultimate cool uncle, but I was intimidated by him growing up,” Griess admits. “I wanted his acceptance and affirmation.”

While Griess was a student at Westside High School, his uncle passed away in his sleep. It was a trigger for Griess, who felt like he had something to prove; perhaps to make up for the grief and loss of Bellows in his life.

As Griess says, natural talent doesn’t mean anything without hard work. Soon, he developed a portfolio of acrylic on wood. Griess’ realism is so evident, his father Jim jokes he should take the painting of him into his doctor’s office because even the vein popping out on his leg is shown with such great detail.

Griess’ art led to a Gold Medal by Scholastic Art, a $10,000 prize, and a visit to Carnegie Hall in New York City when he was only 18.

“He’s just wonderful,” says his mother, Robin, prompting Griess to run out of the room in his worn black socks. Always the shy son, Greiss clearly becomes uncomfortable when his mother discusses him.

His mother is an artist, like his grandfather and uncle. Griess’ brothers are also creative. One is a game developer while the other is a sculptor. Jim laughs, saying he brings the frugality, common sense, and work ethic.

While he was pursing his Bachelor of Arts in the fall of 2011, Griess began developing his solo project. He thought about the potential of spaces and how people could alter them on their own terms rather than the norm. Griess combined different objects he saw, then put them into believable spaces. It was an “exploration of possibility.”

Griess designed miniatures of models, construction scenes. Sometimes, he would take the model out and experiment with different lighting like at dusk.  After taking photographs, Griess used acrylic to paint on wood panels.

Griess now divides his time between being a guard at the Joslyn Art Museum and tutoring children at the Kent Bellows Mentoring Center.

Will he do another exhibit?

Griess thoughtfully looks to the side, weighing his answer, slouching all in black on his mother’s white couch. Art is a challenge, a sacrifice.

“I’m playing, that’s all I will say,” Griess says with a sly smile. Encounter

Visit neilgriess.com for more info.

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