Tag Archives: Sweatshop Gallery

Kim Darling

December 27, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Omaha-based artist Kim Darling (also known as Kim Reid Kuhn) is relishing a moment of “when one door closes, another opens.”

Darling, a prominent Benson First Friday contributor known for curating provocative exhibitions and performances at Sweatshop Gallery—and arguably one of the reasons why Benson’s aura is what it is today—is now applying her passion for community arts advocacy in new ways.

“Sweatshop Gallery was always a launching point for larger social ideas,” she says.

Since the gallery’s closing in October 2015, Darling has accepted four artist residencies at four different Omaha schools. She has collaborated on two projects, Swale and Wetland, with former Bemis Center artist Mary Mattingly. Those “socially engaged projects” were both featured in The New York Times, Art Forum, and ART 21.

Darling is many things to many people: community activist, curator, mother, teacher, advocate, tastemaker, and artist. It is within their nexus that she has found new momentum—namely, public and socially engaged projects that define and build community through art with artists.

Recent iterations include exhibitions and subsequent public programming at both The Union for Contemporary Art and the Michael Phipps Gallery at the Omaha Public Library. Darling presented her paintings and photographs in a gallery setting that later set the backdrop for public conversations around topics of police brutality, definitions of “public-ness,” and how race, gender, and socio-economic realities frame perceptions of place.

Yet despite a very public persona, her zeal for her own private painting practice is on fire.

Darling’s iconography is distinct. With a distilled color pallet of coal black, turquoise, dirty white, and cotton candy pink, her canvases are peppered with oddly familiar shapes and punk references.

Her aptly named “Rat’s Nest Studio” is nearly at capacity with in-progress paintings and sketches of future projects—each influencing the other. It is in her studio where the visible traces of a focused artist are on display. In the duality of social engagement and private studio making, inspiration is constant. For Darling, “these different perspectives feed me, helping keep my marks and ideas raw.”

There is no mistaking Darling’s passion. Navigating a newly trodden path of community building through arts advocacy can be complicated, but for Darling, “there is a simple power in art making and storytelling.” This is where her art and life meet—an intersection of public discourse and art with an emphasis on communal and social concerns.

With Darling’s ongoing efforts, this new chapter will continue to be a revolving door for opportunity, inspiration, and evolution.

Visit kimdarling.net for more information.

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Kim Reid Kuhn

May 3, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Artist, teacher, promoter, curator, mom. Kim Reid Kuhn wears many hats.

Between painting in her studio, teaching art lessons, running the Sweatshop Gallery in Benson, showing her work, and raising three children, Kuhn has become a master of time management.

And she always finds time to put her children first.

“I love my work,” Kuhn says. “I love what I do. I love advocating for artists. I like promoting people. I like booking shows. I like doing all of that, but my family comes first above everything else. I make sure that family is the first priority.”

Until two years ago Kuhn “unschooled” her daughter Zoe, 18, and sons, Ian, 13, and Ollie, 10. Kuhn believes in “life learning” vs. “institutional programming.” This approach provides more flexibility and allows children to develop a passion for “learning as a lifestyle,” she explains.

Kuhn went to work after she separated from her ex-husband and the kids went to school. Zoe graduated from Duchesne Academy and is now a freshman at the University of San Francisco. Ian and Ollie attend Montessori schools in Omaha. However, that hasn’t affected her ability to spend time instilling in them a sense of curiosity about the world, Kuhn says. “We try to really experience and enjoy life together.

“Kids need to be excited—not afraid—to explore the world,” she passionately exclaims. That’s not to say they should be left to completely fend for themselves. “My kids are very, very supported. We continually have dialogues and there are boundaries.”

Kuhn doesn’t see her role as the ‘authoritarian.’ “My job as a parent is to make a safe place for my children to be who they are and help them explore and encourage that,” Kuhn says.  “We have a really fluid and easygoing home. Especially as a single parent, you have to be flexible and juggle things, like having to do this interview at the tattoo shop,” she says with a smile while her oldest son, Ian, waits to get his ears pieced.

Having an artist mother is definitely a unique experience, Ian says. “We can do art a lot more. We can just go downstairs and make something. It’s pretty special because we get to experience a lot of stuff other people don’t.”

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“We don’t really buy toys,” Kuhn says. “We buy art objects or things for making. All of that’s been really important in their development.” Kuhn started buying her children sketchpads to use as “artistic journals” when they were young, and all three still use them. “Zoe has gone through book after book after book,” Kuhn says. “It’s so cool to look back. It’s like a visual diary.

“Whether these guys choose to go into the arts or not, I think growing up creative and having a lot of life experience is invaluable,” Kuhn says. “I think it’ll give them a different perspective on life and we really need to value that part of children. Creativity needs to be completely encouraged.”

Kuhn’s daughter seems to be following in her mother’s footsteps. Over Christmas break, she had a pop-up art show at Sweatshop Gallery that was well attended, Kuhn says. “The Omaha arts community is so supportive.”

Ian and Ollie like to create as well. Ian says his hobby is “just making stuff.” He recently combined two of his favorite pastimes when he deconstructed a skateboard and turned it into a chair at Bench, a collaborative workspace in Benson. “I like putting parts together.”

Younger brother Ollie says his latest masterpiece is a collection of clay animals filled with clay organs ready for dissection. He also likes to build with Legos, but he’d rather make his own designs than follow the instructions. “I like making it up myself more. I like being creative”.

Kuhn describes her process as an artist as “very intuitive” and driven by her interests. “I’m really adaptable, which is good for my work,” Kuhn explains. “But it’s also a great lesson for parenting. You just never know what’s going to come up.

“Being a parent has been the most difficult, most challenging thing,” Kuhn says. “But I mean, I would not be who I am without it.” It’s shaped her character more than anything else in her life, she says.

“What I’m working on now is balancing my own personal needs and not overdoing it with work,” Kuhn says. “For years I would go to the studio at 9 o’clock at night after I put the kids to bed and work until 2 a.m. and then get up at 7 a.m. Now I’ve learned to be really careful and protective of my time,” she explains. “Which is hard to do as an artist because you want to do everything and live your life to the fullest.

“There have to be things that fall away.” Kuhn says her priorities are clearer than ever. “Kids first, then work, and now I’m really trying to take care of myself and make sure I don’t burn out.”

The Church of Tomorrow

August 30, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Dillon Gitano

Nicholas Wasserberger and Mark Steffan are almost, well, In Real Life meme generators. “We really feel that immersing people in an artificial environment, in a bubble, in a world, is amazing,” Wasserberger says. “We want to immerse them in a certain genre, a theme, so that everyone can have this experience, this nostalgia.”

Together, Wasserberger and Steffan are the Church of Tomorrow, an avant-garde party-planning duo responsible for themed events in Benson galleries and Downtown Omaha nightclubs. They’ve also collaborated with local band Icky Blossoms and North Sea Films for video styling, as well as local dance-party group GOO.

The Church specializes in themes of music and fashion from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. “With events at, like, [House of] Loom, we come up with the ideas and concepts and themes,” Steffan says. “We promote it. We decorate it. We set the theme, the mood. And then we discuss with the DJs what the music genre should be. We set up the environment.”

“There’s a lot of history and education that goes into it,” Wasserberger says of their event prep. For example, their inaugural David Bowie tribute party last October at House of Loom was a study in glam rock. “Other cities around the nation throw David Bowie parties,” Steffan points out, “which just brings Omaha to a greater connectivity with other cities’ night-life culture.”

“Nobody’s trying to be too cool. We can see how people find the humor in what we do. It looks completely outrageous, and we’re completely outrageous, and we can laugh about that.” – Mark Steffan

“Our New Romantic Party was based off of one club that ran in London for, like, six months,” Wasserberger says. Such ’80s London nightclubs started a trend of evenings dedicated to specific themes. “Boy George came from there,” Steffan says. “Duran Duran. Spandau Ballet. Changed music forever.”

Wasserberger and Steffan encourage party-goers to dress to the theme. “It’s Halloween all year-round,” Steffan says. Realizing that not everyone is up on the movements or music they select, they try to educate the masses ahead of time. In the weeks leading up to a party, they post links on Facebook Event pages to documentaries such as Paris Is Burning or songs like “All Tomorrow’s Parties” by The Velvet Underground.

“We want to let people in Omaha experience where the roots of music and youth movements and nightclubbing came from,” Wasserberger says.

Last January, the Sweatshop Gallery in Benson asked Church of Tomorrow to create “a full-on art installation” for their Afterbirth show during the neighborhood’s First Friday art crawl. “We went thrifting for about three or four weeks just picking up the ugliest stuff. Kids’ bed sheets, after-Christmas-sale tinsel,” Wasserberger says. “We put the sheets on the walls and spray-painted them with political symbols, grabbed every disco light we could find in Omaha.”

“They both have a very distinct style,” says Caitlin Little of Sweatshop Gallery, “and they were able in this instance to transform thought into feeling and experience. The events they put on are meant to challenge the normal, beat the boring, and provide an all-inclusive, full-force fun time.”

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“We wanted to present what our physical chapel would look like,” Steffan says. “This is basically our religion, these are things we like to do, and they’re sometimes a little more progressive.” They both are advocates of women’s and transgender rights and radical homosexuality.

To fully immerse people in their passions and ideals, the pair burned incense and filled the gallery with flashing lights, projections, and obscure disco music. “It was a sensory overload,” Wasserberger says.

Little agrees. “Afterbirth in particular was like going to a sleepover in their brains!”

About 200 people came, they estimate. “That’s probably an average crowd,” Steffan says. “We get more at Loom,” Wasserberger counters.

“Everybody that comes to our events, they’re the nicest people,” Steffan says. “Nobody’s trying to be too cool. We can see how people find the humor in what we do. It looks completely outrageous, and we’re completely outrageous, and we can laugh about that.”

If there’s money involved, the two split the profit 50-50. Their one-of-a-kind buttons help fund their parties, too. Steffan and Wasserberger wear them out on the town, and if someone admires one, “Oh, they’re $2,” Steffan says, “take one.” They also design the buttons that Icky Blossoms takes on tour. The pair splits cover charges among themselves and an event’s DJs. “We’re pretty savvy about thrifting,” Steffan says.

House of Loom co-owner Brent Crampton agrees. “Their DIY method of throwing a party is raw yet fabulously tacky,” he says. “Meaning, I’ll give them $100 for decorations, and they’ll make the place look like a thousand bucks.” He adds that, quite simply, the Church of Tomorrow is his favorite promoter to work with. “They come up with some of the off-the-wall, almost forgotten corners of culture to celebrate.”

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Crampton points out that the pair not only designs and decorates an event, they clean up after it as well. “At the end of the night when everyone just wants to get paid and go home, they’ll stick around and help the staff clean. It’s quite amazing.”

“Everything we do, we do sober,” Wasserberger says. “Which surprises a lot of people. If we were sloppy at a party, come 1:30 in the morning, we would not still be on the dance floor keeping everyone there.”

Steffan has been clean and sober for two and a half years. “And in the last two and a half years, I’ve been the most creative I’ve ever been.”

Wasserberger will occasionally have a drink. “Never when I’m working,” he clarifies, “because you don’t need it. The true freaks are always sober. Like Boy George. Sober now.”

Steffan has plans to promote Church of Tomorrow events in New York after he settles in from his move in May to be with partner Joey Koneko. “And then when he comes back for visits, we’ll do more together here,” Wasserberger says, such as the second David Bowie Tribute this Oct. 5 at House of Loom. He also hints that he already has things set up to do on his own with Sweatshop Gallery and Loom.

Party Animal Style

Style is (obviously) a huge part of life for Wasserberger and Steffan. Their inspirations include such flamboyant names as Boy George, David Bowie, Vivienne Westwood, Isabella Blow, Leigh Bowery, and Anna Biaggi. “Otherwise, our style is just wear what you want,” Wasserberger says. He points to his shirt that he bought for a dollar, but his pants are Versace, no matter that he found them at Goodwill. “As long as you feel good, you’re going to look it.”

“I think that’s what it all basically comes down to,” Steffan says. “Our bodies are the medium for our art.”

“Sometimes we look really shallow, but there’s philosophy behind this,” Wasserberger says. “We know fashion history. If you make fun of us for wearing skirts, we’ll tell you that skirts were invented by men for men.”

Steffan and Wassberger at their David Bowie tribute party

Steffan and Wassberger at their David Bowie tribute party

Fortunately, Omaha has amazing thrifting, and Steffan and Wasserberger know where to find it all: The Salvation Army, Second Chance, Shop Around the Corner. “I don’t invest in fine art or other collectibles,” Steffan says. “Purchasing clothes, that’s my collection. There’s only a few things I’d pay a lot of money for, but it has to be really special.”

“If we pay $3 for most of our wardrobe,” Wasserberger explains, “then we can afford that one special item.”

Their experiments extend to hair as well. Wasserberger’s lavender hair is a result of Steffan’s experimentation with toner and fabric dyes. “Constant evolution is key,” Steffan says. “When you get stuck in the same old routine, that’s when you start feeling trapped.”

“It blows our minds when other people are like, that’s so foreign,” Wasserberger says. “Why should it be? Everyone should be constantly changing. It’s a really positive thing.”