February 6, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A band takes the stage, awash in colorful lighting. Below them, an audience murmurs and sips their drinks, sitting tall or standing around various corners of the room. The first few notes of an opening song are strummed on the guitar and a cheer rises from the crowd.

This may sound like your traditional Omaha bar featuring your favorite band, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, all of the drinks were made next door to the venue at Aroma’s Coffee shop. Plus, one third of the audience is under 21. “We really think that there are a lot kids out there who are under 18 who need to be exposed to amazing talent and be inspired by greatness,” says Ben Shafer, executive director of the space.

The 402 Arts Collective in Benson is an all ages venue all the time. It’s a place to not only expose your children to music and culture, but also, it’s a chance to enjoy a night on the town even when parents can’t find a sitter.

The 402 isn’t just a musical venue. They offer music lessons, too. Artist Instructors are available to teach just about every popular musical instrument and, Shafer adds, some not so popular ones as well. While most students are under 18, Shafer says they welcome adults into The 402 as well. Granted, it is nice for mom to take a break while her child learns. “People come to Benson, and drop their student off while they just relax in the coffee shop and sip on a latte,” Shafer shares. Worried your kid is too young? Shafer adds that children can begin learning an instrument as early as six years old. Additional offerings, such as “Rock Academy” can be found online at 402artscollective.org.

Registration for programs can be done easily by going to their website and clicking “lessons.” Parents can see musical and artistic offerings, as well as bios for the individual Artist Instructor. The 402 also offers scholarships to in-need families.

Shafer says The 402 strives to offer two shows every weekend—Friday night and Saturday night.

Perhaps The 402’s most noticeable asset is its location. Parents not only have the opportunity to expose their child to music, but also to a variety of people. “The culture down here is a melting pot of so many tastes and flavors,” Shafer says. “I think some of Omaha’s greatest thinkers and artists can be found just walking the street on any given day.”

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