Artist Ang Bennett’s path to Omaha was through service. Specifically, it was a tour with AmeriCorps that brought them here, working with Omaha’s Lutheran Family Services. When the term was up and it was time to head home, Bennett opted to stay in Omaha.
“There’s a lot of good going on,” Bennett observes. “Being here over the last few years has really pushed me to start taking my art more seriously because Omaha really has a scene for self-taught artists and people who don’t fit into traditional gallery settings.”
Working primarily in paint and ink drawing, Bennett’s art is most often figurative. “I’m very much a history buff, so I love telling historical stories through what I create.” In particular, it is history’s queer icons and advocates that Bennett is most interested in bringing to the attention of the public eye.
“For me, it’s about understanding and the power that representation has to build a more honest picture of the communities we live in. You don’t have to necessarily agree with everyone’s political standpoint or how they live their lives, but art can help us come to a better place of understanding of identities different from your own.”
Bennett is certainly not alone among Omaha’s art scene in advocating for broader representation. The Nasty Artist Collective, of which Bennett is a part, is one example of a local effort to bring greater diversity and social awareness to Omaha’s gallery scene. Comprised of a half-dozen core artists and several more affiliated collaborators, the mission of Nasty Artist Collective is to create space for artists of all backgrounds to “share personal truths, art, and causes they care about.”
“Social change through art is really central to what we’re trying to do,” Bennett explains, “and a big part of pushing for change is pushing for greater visibility, getting people to recognize what their community really looks like outside whatever bubbles we’re all living in.”
This commitment to continually opening awareness to new perspectives is echoed in many areas of Bennett’s life. A recent Habitat for Humanity service trip to Brazil (a self-given 29th birthday gift) exposed Bennett to ways and rhythms of life far removed from the Omaha scene.
“I’m one of those people who has a hard time just traveling for fun,” Bennett says. “I knew that I wanted to go to Brazil, but I didn’t just want to sit around all day. The Habitat build was perfect. We built cisterns in a small village, collecting clean rainwater for cooking and bathing.”
Back in Omaha, Bennett works as a teaching artist with The Union for Contemporary Art’s youth program and served as the Youth Engagement Coordinator with Benson First Friday (BFF).
“We love having Ang on the BFF Crew,” says Alex Jochim, co-founder and executive director of BFF. “[Bennett] began volunteering with BFF regularly in 2017, and then took on more work in 2018 by planting the seeds of our Youth Engagement program, including monthly youth activities.”
Bennett also helped formulate the beginning of a youth-centric art gallery and a budding youth scholarship program. “[Bennett is] passionate and progressive about spreading culture and all things positive, and that energy shines through into our current Youth Engagement activities,” Jochim adds.
As an advocate, Bennett serves on the board for GLSEN (formerly the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network), and for the last four years has worked as a CASA (court appointed special advocate for abused or neglected children).
“I’m passionate about being an advocate for teenagers, because I feel like once children reach a certain age there just aren’t enough resources for them and we don’t have enough love for them,” Bennett says.
Of course, advocating for youth who have experienced real trauma is almost always challenging, but rewarding work. “It feels essential,” Bennett says. “Representation really matters, and if I’m not putting myself out there with my own identity, especially in Omaha where things are so segregated, you’re not showing kids that it’s okay to be yourself. I am a black, queer person, and that’s how I enter every space that I go into, whether I’m with my CASA kids or at an art event. Those are the identities that I hold. How could I shy away from them?”
You can view Bennett’s art at artistangbennett.com.
This article was printed in the September 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.