In fall 2017, panels of local arts experts held a lecture series that explored the personal and societal benefits of all forms of art, from opera to painting. The panelists used buzzwords like “golden age” to describe the current status of the arts in Omaha. Indeed, these are years of great prosperity for large legacy organizations, but many artists are not fortunate enough to be a part of those organizations.
Enter Philip Kolbo, Grace Manley, and Hannah Mayer—three artists who founded OutrSpaces. These three saw a need in Omaha for a more inclusive space that offered rehearsal facilities, developmental opportunities for artists’ careers, a performance space, and an outlet for engaging the surrounding community.
Kolbo graduated from the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 2016 with a degree in percussion performance. He quickly found that, out of academia, it is difficult for performing artists to find professional facilities in which to practice.
“I am a percussionist—we have a lot of gear, we make a lot of noise, and we take up a lot of space,” Kolbo says. “You could find a few places here and there that could work for a specific performer, but nothing that really fit needs exactly.”
He began working with other artists to form a co-op space with a shared lease so he could have the practice resources he needed, and that’s when a lightbulb went on for Kolbo.
“All the work that was going into that seemed like so much for it not to be a sustainable idea,” Kolbo says. “So that’s when it really took off as a project that’s a sustainable resource for artists in this city long into the future.”
OutrSpaces is a membership-based rehearsal and performance space. Members can pay $100 per month for unlimited access. Kolbo says the organization primarily hosts performances by any community member who wishes to use the facility, and artists are always paid.
“[Outside of contract musicians] there are very few people in this community who perform 100 percent as a form of income and make a living wage off of that,” Kolbo says. “For Omaha to have a robust nightlife and arts scene, we really need to start financially supporting our local arts community.”
Manley says at the core, helping artists earn a living wage is what OutrSpaces is about.
“Everything really goes back to it,” Manley says. “How are you supposed to have a product without a place to create that product?”
Mayer says there is also an element of social justice to the OutrSpaces mission. Growing up as a self-described white, middle-class child, she says there were things she had to overcome studying music that would have been even harder as someone with less privilege.
“I am passionate about breaking down these barriers that keep poor people, people of color, and other minorities from participating in something that has so beautifully shaped my life like classical music,” Mayer says.
Bach Mai is a musician who got involved with OutrSpaces early in its creation. Mai even used resources from the organization to start OutrSpaces’ Conspire Music and Art Festival. The event formed groups from 14 musicians, then gave the groups a week to create new music they performed at OutrSpaces on June 16. He says Omaha needs people like Kolbo, Manley, and Mayer.
“They’ve spent countless hours building the walls that house the many practice rooms and workspaces they offer to creatives,” Mai says. “I like to think of their space as something similar to a co-working space. A place where artists can go and work regular hours and separate their home from work.”
OutrSpaces closed its first location on 24th Street earlier this year when the lease expired and moved to a new space on South 13th Street. Happily settled into their new location, it seems the OutrSpaces crew is commencing countdown, and blasting off on an unremitting mission to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life for performing artists in Omaha, and—for this place—go where no one has gone before.
This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.