Tag Archives: Metropolitan Community College

Brewing with Bean

March 15, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Look, for me, coffee was never something I gave too much thought to. Apart from a standard pot and some ground-up beans, it wasn’t something I had a strong interest in.” What a difference a semester can make. Mitch Bean, retired business executive, became interested in coffee after perusing Metropolitan Community College’s online course catalogue.

Bean clicked “Enroll” out of curiosity, but as a self-described practical learner he wasn’t entirely sure what he’d get by attending Nick Tabor’s Extraction and Brewing Methods courses at the MCC North Express Highlander spot.

Bean spent 38 years at Eakes Office Solutions, as a sales trainer, sales manager, and then as managing partner/owner. Bean’s work required long hours. It was expected in his household that he wouldn’t be home for Christmas Eve. “The knowledge I gained there allowed me to do my job well; I studied the art of people and learned how to provide them with practical solutions for their business,” Bean says.

Retirement has allowed him to transition from working every Christmas Eve to enjoying the leisure of coffee-bean extraction methods.

Tabor says Bean was not the lone student professing to drink a daily cup of joe extracted from a drip maker in the class.

“In the classes, we cover everything from the unique journey coffee made out of Ethiopia to the rest of the world to how coffee is produced and processed, along with hands-on brewing skills and sensory development,” Tabor says.

In Tabor’s Roasting and Processing course, Bean explored the relationship between roast, region, and variety by trying coffee from various regions and learning how the supply chain of beans to coffee cup impacts the quality of one’s daily brew. The business twist and emphasis on different quality levels of coffee has officially converted Bean to a coffee snob. He awaits the best beans available at Hardy Coffee Co. (where Tabor is brewmaster) and firmly states he “can’t go back to the regular stuff” after what he’s learned.

During his Brewing Methods course, Bean began learning that not only is coffee a commodity, it is a skill and a science. The practicality of choosing a convenient and results-oriented brewing method made coffee no longer seem like a $3 waste and more like an art to be learned and passed on.

Two courses down and Bean is no longer innocent of the variety of morning beverages; in fact, the jewels he learned in his coffee college courses have enabled him to share his hobby with his out-of-state son.

He once dismissed a gift of a glass pour-over coffee maker from his son, but in learning how extracting flavor from beans is a chemical reaction, Bean realized the error of his ways. He wrote his son an apology letter, owning that he did not see the point of a single-cup coffee maker, but is now elated to discover the differences in flavors and richness of various brewing methods.

It did not stop there. Bean learned, via his course, about the superiority of the burr method of taking whole coffee beans and “shattering” the beans between two plates instead of the traditional method of grinding with one double-edged blade that spins.

Going from drip coffee addict to java evangelist, Bean can proudly say he’s passed on his knowledge as his son now makes coffee exclusively with a controlled-pour tea spout kettle, a burr grinder, and kitchen scale to ensure proper ratios of bean to water.

He plans to share the art of Turkish coffee with his wife, son, and his son’s significant other; and in spring 2019 Mitch will eagerly be taking notes in his Origins of Coffee course and developing his sensory development.


Visit the noncredit class site at mccneb.edu for more information.

This article was printed in the April/May 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Mitch Bean

Chef Patrick Micheels

January 3, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It’s not easy to stay humble when everyone keeps talking about how great you are. But Patrick Micheels manages to steer nearly every compliment right back to other people. “I have a team in the kitchen that crushes it every day,” Micheels says when asked about the success of Monarch Prime & Bar. “I am so lucky.”

Actually, Omaha is lucky to have Micheels. Anyone who has dined at Monarch Prime knows as much. “I want to let the rest of the country know that Omaha’s not messing around,” he says.

Nebraskan by birth, Micheels hails from Scottsbluff. He grew up unusually curious about food, partially thanks to a mother who was willing to run to the store to buy the ingredients Micheels requested after watching cooking shows.

“I wanted more,” he says. “I was never really satisfied. I had a real love of cooking.”

Hunting trips with his father and brother also had a profound effect on his burgeoning curiosity about food preparation. “I learned to appreciate the whole animal. Killing a large animal is a big deal. It’s sad but rewarding. A lot of chefs don’t know about that.”

In 2005, he moved to Omaha to attend Metropolitan Community College’s Institute for the Culinary Arts. He was a chef at Dario’s Brasserie before taking on executive chef duties for Hotel Deco, the home of Monarch Prime.

The meat served at the sumptuous  restaurant (on the lower level of the renovated hotel at 316 S. 15th St., built in 1930 and listed on the National Record of Historic Places) is only there because Micheels spent a great deal of time deciding if it’s worthy. Locally sourced meats come from farms that Micheels himself spent hours visiting to ensure the animals are well taken care of. “These are small farms trying to make it for their families,” he says.

The meat must be fresh, he says, and then aged to perfection on-site at the restaurant. He’s spent a great deal of time figuring out the ideal aging for each type of meat.

Locally, he’s considered a pioneer in dry-aging meats on-site at Monarch Prime—if one can be a pioneer of an age-old practice. As Micheels explains, “It’s one of the oldest processes. To dry-age meat is super old school. People used to hang meat at the base of the mountain; it’s the way meat should be eaten.”

“Society is so impatient,” he says. Dry-aging takes time, but the benefit is enormous. When meat ages, Micheels explains, “it’s losing water. Think about it like sauce reducing on a stove. The water evaporating out of the meat condenses the flavor.”

Chef Patrick Micheels

“It has to be the freshest product possible—never frozen. The humidity has to be right, the wind speed has to be right, and the temperature has to be right. After that, it’s easy. Just wait.”

Wait for what? “Bacteria and enzymes break down the meat and make it more tender,” Micheels says. He’s echoing what he studied extensively and learned through trial and error. “We have an approachable dry-aging program,” he says. “We’re taking meat, putting it in coolers, and making it taste better.”

His star is rising, though he doesn’t seem to have allowed his growing fame to inflate his ego much. Recently praised and quoted in a New York Times article titled “An Omaha Restaurant Redefining the Steakhouse Experience,” he also appeared in a commercial for MCC.

He is involved with community projects, such as the Big Muddy Urban Farm Gala and the popular Pinot, Pigs & Poets annual event. “Giving back is one of the foundations of being a chef—it’s so important,” he says. He occasionally returns to the high school he graduated from in Scottsbluff to do demos for students.

Though he likes returning home occasionally, he’s developed a real fondness for Omaha. “I love the Omaha dining scene,” he says. “It’s so aggressive. We’re always looking for what we can do next.”

Micheels speaks about other Omaha chefs with admiration and a sense of camaraderie. He says he has often called upon chef buddies from The Boiler Room or V. Mertz for an assist preparing a special event (like a birthday or wedding), and they’re always eager to help.

“All the chefs in Omaha make me want to work hard,” he says, crediting his network of fellow chefs for helping him advance his skills and knowledge.

Beyond enthusiastically praising his kitchen team at Monarch Prime, Micheels is quick to express gratitude to his parents for encouraging him to pursue cooking—and for not growing tired of his tireless culinary curiosity as a kid.

He’s also quick to point to his motivation nowadays: his wife and son. “The reason I work so hard is because of them,” he says.

And in case you’re wondering, his 2-year-old son hasn’t yet started demanding exotic cuisine. Dad will be ready when he does.


Visit monarchprimeandbar.com for more information.

This article was printed in the January/February 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Brenton Gomez

December 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Derek Joy

Local rapper Brenton Gomez—aka Conny Franko, Conchance, The Wooz, Daddy Woozbuckz, Conny Chrondracula, Chronny, or Econnyome depending on time, place, and project—is a wiry and reflective man of letters with deep roots in South O.

Gomez needs many names to represent the many aspects of his artistic identity. A 31-year-old with world-weary eyes, he carries himself with the quiet energy of stillness before the storm, like a flyweight boxer prior to a fight. Gomez’s best punches are thrown conversationally, philosophically, and intellectually. He can lay down a freestyle critique of commodified American culture and the individual’s role in it that would make C. Wright Mills glad he didn’t go into insurance.

His first real job came at age 10, shining shoes after prom for $5.25 an hour (off-the-books in a tuxedo shop). This character-building experience informed his worldview, education, and artistic messages by awakening his sense of working-class consciousness.

The Millard West and Metropolitan Community College alumnus graduated with honors from UNO with a bachelor’s degree in international studies and a focus on Latin America and business. While business now seems a less-than-perfect fit given his ideology, his side excursions into the social sciences and philosophy seem to have paid off in wise dividends. Art, after all, requires experience, knowledge, culture, and community to thrive.

“If you don’t have something to say, you’re just pissing in the wind,” says Gomez about what makes art meaningful. “If you don’t have a historical context for how things developed and how things were colonized or industrialized then you really don’t have a f***ing clue about what’s going on now.”

A skilled rapper whose heart lies with the DIY community, Gomez thinks of himself principally as a writer with multiple projects going at any one time: zines, chapbooks, poetry, and essays as well as rap. Music has provided an outlet for his American experience since 2000. In 2007, he played the Slowdown.

“The first rap artist to play there was Redman, and then it was me. It just shows that I’ve been kicking rocks around in this city for a long time,” he says of his ascension in the Omaha music scene. “Sometimes people identify with what you’re doing—and sometimes you get stepped on—but I do art because I need to be doing it, not to get some kind of social capital from it, you know what I’m saying? The portfolio of your lifetime is your work.”

Gomez is glad to play any stage, as M34N STR33T (his group with Adam Robert Haug, aka Haunted Gauntlet) or rapping solo alongside local producers Keith “DJ Kethro” Rodger or Juan Manuel Chaparro, aka “DJ Dojorok.” Getting paid is its own reward, of course, but it is not the only reward, especially for a grounded artist like Gomez and his passel of identities.For the sake of his art, he returns to the DIY community to recharge on the culture that motivates his work. Making art and speaking for his community as best he can are personal as well as professional priorities.

“I’m glad to see people be successful, but I also like to see communities respected,” says Gomez of the changing face of neighborhoods like Benson and Blackstone. “It’s always nice to get a check. Money is a variable. I need to get it because I’m in a capitalistic society, so I might as well. But at the same time, there are other things that are important, too.”

For the most part, Gomez says he would rather play the DIY circuit. It is by and for the community (and the kids who consume the music), which in turn fosters the local music scene.

“You do it for the culture rather than for looks and likes and analytics. A lot of times, I just want to make noise about my community and about myself and do it with integrity to art rather than, you know, with some hype,” Gomez says. “I’d rather have something that makes people just listen to it and gain something from it. Sometimes that’s movement, sometimes that’s knowledge and perspective. It’s where I’m seeing my music career going.”

Gomez’s albums with M34N STR33T are available on digital platforms and sold locally at Homer’s and Almost Music. The group’s third and latest album, Don Quixote’s Lance, was released in April 2018.


Visit m34nstr33t.com and soundcloud.com/connyfranko for more information.

This article was printed in the January/February 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

The Conscientious Consciousness of Chikadibia Ebirim

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Chikadibia Ebirim greets me with a hug in the lobby of the Union for Contemporary Art. “Peace to you, queen,” he says, and we travel into his studio—one of the perks of being named to the Union’s 2018 Inside/Outside Fellowship Program.

His space is eclectic and decorated with a variety of records, art show fliers, equipment, and “CHI” cut in large blocky cardboard letters above his desk. CHI refers to his name and his start-up fashion label. His multidisciplinary resume jumps from passion project to passion project: music recording, video production, photography, modeling, clothing design, art curating, and more.

“[Omaha] is a hidden pocket that contains a special something you pull out real sly to give to someone,” Ebirim says. “We have these hot spots of compacted and condensed culture. My theory about Omaha is that we’re so unknown and want to be known that we have such big dreams and shoot higher than artists in mainstream cities. There are precious jewels here.”

Some precious jewels he names include Watie White, Jun Kaneko, Lady Scientist, and Jocelyn. 

The 24-year-old’s first foray into the arts came at nine months old, when he played baby Jesus in a church play. During his time at Buffett Middle School, he began exploring the potential of digital art while playing on his mom’s laptop.

Art is a welcome part of his family. His grandfather, Thomas Palmerton, crafted the gorilla sculptures zoo visitors often pose with on trips to the Henry Doorly Zoo. Until his death in 2015, Palmerton was a steadfast supporter of his grandson’s artistic endeavors.

The up-and-coming multimedia artist never enrolled in college, though Ebirim has sat in a variety of college classes throughout the years. In turn, he believes his work is based on his personal consciousness rather than predictable academic themes.

“Everything I perceive in this world comes through my mind,” Ebirim says. “Whatever my mind observes my body going through [is what] inspires me to create. And my body, being identified as a black man, goes through different things in this society. My identity has to do with the development and history of this world, and tapping into that moves me in different ways.”

 A few of Ebirim’s music videos—including his “Black Lives Matter”—won top honors from the 2017 Elkhorn Valley BEA D7 Film & Media Conference at Metropolitan Community College. However, his inspirations are not all social and political. He says his artwork is an examination of the beauty surrounding him, a craft he calls “tapping into my feminine energy.”

“Anything that is a minority sticks out to me,” Ebirim says. “Flowers in a big-ass field of grass, you know? Feminine energy and the black experience are always made smaller in this world, and I’m inspired to expand that.”

Ebirim says he hopes to bridge the gap between identities through music, aiming to appreciate the dualities of his experience as an African-American with recent lineage from Nigeria, born and raised in North Omaha with diverse European-American heritage from his mother’s side of the family.

“Being multiracial, I’m more understanding to the racial divides and racial ignorance that each of my ethnicities seem to face,” he says, adding that he still encounters racism on a daily basis.

He vividly recalls an early childhood experience with racism. It occurred when he was 6 years old and living in Auburn, Nebraska. “I was beat up with a branch by a teenager in the middle of my street on a summer day,” he says. The teen shouted racial profanities and death threats while beating the young Ebirim.

His cultural experiences inform his worldview and develop a signature approach to every piece of art he makes. He says his individuality is present in many different techniques: sound textures in recording, “multiplexes” in video production, and call-and-response in performance.

Most importantly, though, his swagger says it all.

“People might know me for my walk,” Ebirim says, easily towering over most of his peers. “I put a bounce in my walk. It’s a mixture of my pain as a black man—my gangsta lean—but also my grooviness, my happiness, and my beauty of life.”

He throws up two fingers in a peace sign and pats his heart. “Black lives matter,” he says. “It’s more than a hashtag.”


Visit chikadibiaebirim.com for more information, including details about his new EP (COMPOS MENTIS?), which debuted at a Union for Contemporary Art listening party Nov. 17.


This article was printed in the January/February 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Women Mentoring Women

November 21, 2018 by
Photography by Contributed

According to a 2016 study done by the Women’s Fund of Omaha, women make up only 19 percent of the board members at S&P 500 companies, and 25 percent of executive or senior level positions at those same companies.

That same study found that 42 percent of women in Nebraska work in management, a better figure yet. And one method of increasing those numbers may be for women to mentor other women in the workplace.

In this abridged roundtable discussion, B2B talks about mentorship with four businesswomen from Omaha—Anne Branigan, senior vice president of Innovative Services at Greater Omaha Chamber; Melissa Farris, marketing manager at Boystown; Sharon Robino-West, community employment coordinator at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Omaha; and Dr. Maria Vazquez, vice president for Student Affairs at Metropolitan Community College.

B2B: As a female mentor, what do you bring young women that benefits them as younger women in the workplace?

Vasquez: I am just in awe of the young women I mentor. They are dynamic, further along than I was at that age.

Farris: I’m open to being OK to saying “I don’t know.” I want you to be able to collaborate. I want you to find the answer to better the team.

Robino-West: To be able to say I am weak in this area and I need your help.

Branigan: The younger women have been able to adapt to technology so well. The acceptance of that new technology, to me, is something else.

Farris: We have grown up with technology. There is an expectation that this is going to work.

B2B: What do you gain from being a mentor to young women?

Vasquez: I like to see them having the confidence to do things, and if they make a mistake they own up to it. I want young women to be their authentic selves. Accepting who they are and what they can contribute to the workplace.

Robino-West: Last year, there was a Girl Scout who has risen through the ranks, and I asked her what she wanted to do after college. She looked right at Fran [Marshall, chief executive officer of Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska] and said, “I want your job.” That was so empowering.

Branigan: I really enjoy learning from them. You think of mentoring, and you think it’s one way. But I always appreciate someone making me think, or learn something, or showing me a new way to do something.

Farris: I’ve been on the receiving end. I’m still close to one of my mentors from college [Dr. Eileen Wirth of Creighton University]. One thing that always stuck out to me was her availability. The fact that I maintain that relationship 12 years later is a success.

B2B: Can you give us an example of a great experience with mentoring?

Robino-West: I did a TEDx Talk last year, and I partly did it to challenge myself. I didn’t think I’d get picked. It was about healing by writing. I got done, and I got in the elevator, and there was someone right there, wanting to know if I could speak to a different group. Rita [Paskowitz, a TEDx Omaha coach] “get ready, you’ll be asked to speak on a regular basis.” so I could see him paying it forward and spoke out. I thought “Wow—you just never know what kind of an impact you will make.”

Vasquez: About 10 years ago, I was contacted by someone [Amanda Ponce] to speak in a Latina sorority. We stay in contact, and now she works at MCC. Her growth has been quite dynamic. We’ve always collaborated informally, but now we can do so formally as colleagues. That has been rewarding.


This article was printed in the December 2018/January 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

From left: Dr. Maria Vasquez, Melissa Farris, Anne Branigan, Sharon Robino-West

Chill, Thrills, and Fulfillment

October 25, 2018 by

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Pick of the Week—Friday, Oct. 26: Costumes and Karaoke? That’s what’s in store for you at HallowQUEENS Karaoke at The B. Bar. Dress as your favorite queen, diva, or (memeber of) Queen, and spend your Friday night belting out your favorite power-princess songs (or power ballad). There is a costume contest, so flaunt your best look and you might win something. Wear something you can move in, because at midnight the bar will magically turn into one big dance floor. Show up and show out. Learn more here.

Thursday, Oct. 25: Yes, it’s that time again—Time Warp time. By now you’ve probably had a taste of this ‘70s classic and it’s left you wanting more. The Max is here to fulfill that need with the 15th Annual Rocky Horror Picture Show—an Interactive Movie Experience. Are you shivering with antici…pation yet? You should be. Five dollars gets you in, plus a prop bag, and popcorn. Don’t be afraid to come on up to the “lab” in your best drag. You don’t need a satanic mechanic in order to attend, but you can be one if you dream it. As you should, since there is a costume contest after the show. Just click here dammit, Janet.

Friday, Oct. 26 to Saturday, Oct. 27: Friday, Oct. 26 to Saturday, Oct. 27: Tired of all the marching? Mix it up by adding a little writing. Attend Writing Dangerously: The Art of Activism at the Fort Omaha Campus of Metropolitan Community College to learn how, or to improve on what you know. This two-day event promotes original and inspired writing, as well as aspiring and professional authors. Friday night’s opening session features a poetry slam (with prizes, for registrants only). The final session on Saturday is an interview and Q&A with keynote speaker, renowned poet and editor Morgan Parker. Register here now.

Saturday, Oct 27: What’s spookier than a little goblin looking for food in the forest? The answer is…a whole pack of the little monsters! Experience the horror for yourself when you attend Trick or Treat in the Forest at Fontenelle Forest. Be sure to bring your own little goblins along to join in the fun…I mean, frightfulness! Take to the woods and find some candy, but stay away from that gingerbread-looking house. S’mores, cocoa, crafts, and more will be available to help ward off the goosebumps. Face your fears by clicking here.

Sunday, Oct. 28: This one has it all, so don’t miss the Fall Market Festival in the Old Market. This fun, free, family, fall excursion includes activity booths, free books (while they last), a pet costume contest, and some spooky science. Besides all that and the normal costumed, trick-or-treating for candy, there will be interactive displays from the Omaha Police and Fire departments. This includes a police helicopter to check out! If all the excitement is getting to you, grab a chair massage or a carriage ride. Forgot your costume? Don’t fret. Stop by Victor/Victoria to get your face painted. Get the full lowdown here.

SPECIAL EVENTThursday, Nov. 8: There are only two weeks left to get tickets to the Best of Omaha Soirée: A Night of the Best. This celebration of our Best of Omaha contest winners will be one for the books, so get it in your book now. VIP tickets are almost gone, but GA tix still get you in to see the circus-style entertainment. You’ll also get to sip on (two free!) cocktails, munch on tasty treats from some of our winners, and listen to sweet tunes spun by DJ Shor-T. Twist on over here for tickets.
Check out our sponsors below for a preview of what to expect. And if you don’t already follow us on Instagram, be sure to do so by Monday afternoon! (There may be a contest afoot.)

A Culinary Master in the Making

July 4, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The metal crank wouldn’t work. Witney Stanley had to think of a solution fast. The pressure heated up the kitchen at the Pinnacle Bank Expo Center in Grand Island. The clock ticked tauntingly.

Thirty minutes remaining. 

The SkillsUSA Culinary Arts Championship was on the line. Each participant had to present judges with an entrée from a fabricated whole chicken, a sauce, a vegetable, and a starch. Judges would be expecting a composed salad as well. Only items in the kitchen’s pantry were allowed to be used to create the dishes, and the dinner needed to be cooked in two hours and 30 minutes. Think Top Chef with high school students. 

But the crank was being…well…cranky. 

Witney, a senior at Omaha Central, wanted to win it all. Her competitive drive wouldn’t allow faulty equipment to squash her chances at a medal. After a frustrating five minutes, she grabbed a rolling pin instead to smooth out the dough for her tortellini. She cut it and filled it with spinach, garlic, tomato, and olive. 

Witney inserted the thin thermometer into her roasted chicken thighs. 

155 degrees. 

She rushed to the pantry for oil. The pastor’s daughter took a long deep breath and said a short prayer. Showtime. Only seven minutes, not nearly enough time to cook it completely in the oven. She finished off the chicken on the stovetop with a pan-fried sear. 

The white wine sauce created a challenge as well. Since Witney was only 18 and not legally old enough to drink, she needed to be creative. The young cook substituted white vinegar, onion, and homemade chicken stock. 

She sliced the (finally) cooked chicken, a technique she mastered in between school and tennis. She added Tuscan vegetables and tourné cut potatoes. 

Time.  

At the April 2018 competition, Witney came away with a bronze medal and a passion for competing. 

But her love of all things savory and sweet is deeply rooted in family heritage. When she was only 4 years old, as her sisters prepped for monthly church outreach banquets alongside their mother, Witney would stand on a stool washing cabbage or setting tables for guests. 

“My mom is a genius in the kitchen,” Witney explains. “She doesn’t trust anyone in there except her daughters.”

Her mother, Alyssa, enrolled all six of her children into cake-decorating classes at Michael’s. Witney, 10 years old at the time, started baking cakes whenever she could for birthdays or other special occasions. After a recommendation from a neighbor, the girls decided to sell their homemade yellow and devil’s food cupcakes with buttercream frosting at the Gifford Park Neighborhood Market. 

“I was hesitant at first,” Witney recalls. “Then I thought, what’s the worst that could happen? I could end up with a tray of cupcakes, and I could eat them.”

The money, though, wasn’t to buy more supplies, candy, or even toys. Instead, the sisters saved it for someone special. It took an entire year, and the older girls had to get side jobs, but it all went to purchase a bedroom set their mother had her eye on for a while. 

“From that point on, they were known for those cupcakes,” Alyssa says. “All just to surprise me with a Mother’s Day gift.” 

It turned into a business, Stanley Southern Sweeties. Each sister plays a role—whether creating roses, borders, or letters. 

Their mother saw something special in Witney and pushed her to cook for the family. She started experimenting even if it meant getting dinner to the table later than usual. 

In order to play tennis, Witney made the move from home-school to Central High School. Introverted and painfully shy, the teenager couldn’t fathom it all. So her sister Justine, who was taking online classes at Metropolitan Community College, went to every single class to watch out for Witney that first year. After taking the No. 1 spot in tennis, Witney soon made friends and discovered culinary classes. Entering her senior year, she started taking classes at the Omaha Public Schools Career Center for college credit. She continued practicing in the kitchen at every opportunity, soaking up knowledge like a sponge cake.

“She’s an example of what we should be seeing in every student,” says chef Perthedia Berry, a culinary instructor at Metro. 

Berry, sometimes referred to as the “female Gordon Ramsay,” can intimidate students. Witney prefers the tough love as it reminds her of her own upbringing. 

“I love the intensity. She [Berry] wants her students to do well. She’s preparing me for the future. If you can get through her, you can get through anything,” Witney says. 

The main issue for the aspiring cook is speaking up. Berry yells at her to stop worrying about offending people. Chefs should be concerned with getting dinner to hungry guests; save the politeness for later. 

With each class, Witney gained confidence. She earned the Best Beef Award at her first invitational (the Metropolitan Community College Institute for Culinary Arts High School Invitational in February 2017). In another competition, two teammates dropped out, but Witney took it upon herself to take all the responsibility. 

“Witney pushes forward, and she’ll be someone you know in this community,” Berry says. 

Her mother, originally from New Orleans, was a mentor for last year’s Metro invitational. So Witney simmered a New Orleans gumbo on the stove and, along with Omaha North’s Ajana Jones, took home the silver medal. 

Witney plans to open a restaurant or a bakery someday, maybe with her sisters. After she takes the accelerated Culinary Arts program at Metro, she plans to enroll at Creighton University for a business degree. The pitfalls are well-known, but that doesn’t stop her. 

“She’s fearless,” her mother says. 

For now, Witney is carefully measuring each step, weighing the consequences, and stirring in a pinch of prayer that her dream will become a reality.


Visit ccenter.ops.org for more information about culinary classes at the OPS Career Center and mccneb.edu for details on Metropolitan Community College’s Institute for the Culinary Arts.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. 

July/August 2018 Calendar of Events

June 22, 2018 by and

Art & Museum Exhibits

Patriotic Perches
Through July 15 at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft St. This collection of 51 handcrafted birdhouses by Richard Yost will educate visitors about state birds and flowers. Admission: $10 adults, $5 ages 6-12, free for children under 6 and members. 402-346-4002.
lauritzengardens.org

Fighting for the Right to Fight: African-American Experiences in World War II
Through July 15 at Durham Museum, 801 S. 10th St. This exhibit highlights some of the extraordinary achievements and challenges of African-Americans during World War II. Also showing at this time is American Adventure, which closes July 29. Admission: $11 adults, $8 seniors (62+), $7 children (3-12), free to children age 2 and under and members. 402-444-5071.
durhammuseum.org

Amy Haney
Through July 17 at Fred Simon Gallery, 1004 Farnam St. An Omaha native, Haney is sharing her printmaking pieces. Admission: free. 402-595-2122.
artscouncil.nebraska.gov

Another Bloomin’ Exhibit by Omaha Artists, Inc.
Through July 23 at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft St. The botanical artwork of many local artists will depict flowers, landscapes and more through a variety of media. Admission: $10 adults, $5 ages 6-12, free for children under 6 and members. 402-346-4002.
lauritzengardens.org

Our Body: The Universe Within
Through July 31 at The Capitol District, 225 N. 12th St., Suite 120. Guests will be able to connect with human artifacts on a personal level. Admission: $15 adults, $10 children (5-14), $12 seniors (65+), active military members, and students (15+ with ID). 531-444-0423.
ourbodyomaha.com

Marcela Diaz: Contemporary Textiles
Through Aug. 18 at El Museo Latino, 4701 S. 25th St. This exhibit represents the traditional textile fiber art of the Yucatán region. Admission: $5 adults, $4 college students with ID, $3.50 students K-12 and seniors (55+), and free to children under 5, military members with ID, and museum members. 402-731-1137.
elmuseolatino.org

Sincerely, Mark Teague
Through Aug. 19 at Joslyn Art Museum, 2200 Dodge St. A showcase of original art from author and illustrator Mark Teague and his How Do Dinosaurs series, the LaRue stories, and more. Admission: free. 402-342-3300.
joslyn.org

Children’s China: Celebrating Culture, Character, and Confucius
Through Aug. 19 at Omaha Children’s Museum, 500 S. 20th St. Become a researcher at a panda reserve, cook a traditional Chinese meal, play games, explore the language, and become a dragon in a festival parade. Another exhibit on display at this time is Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Secrets of the Sewer. Admission: $13 adults and kids, $12 seniors (60+), free for children under 2 and members. 402-342-6164.
ocm.org

A Night at the Dreamland Ballroom
Through Sept. 1 at Great Plains Black History Museum, 2221 N. 24th St. Dreamland Ballroom held some of the greatest jazz acts from its heydays in the 1930s until it closed in 1965. This exhibit will highlight photos and artifacts from this era. Admission: free. 402-932-7077.
gpblackhistorymuseum.org

Treasures of British Art 1400-2000: The Berger Collection
Through Sept. 9 at Joslyn Art Museum, 2200 Dodge St. Take a look at 50 masterworks from one of the most private collections of British painting in the U.S. Tickets: $10 general public ($5 on Thursday 4-8 p.m.), $5 college students, free for Joslyn members and ages 17 and younger. 402-342-3300.
joslyn.org   

Treasures of British Art 1400-2000: The Berger Collection. Through Sept. 9

Sheila Pepe: Hot Mess Formalism
Through Sept. 15 at Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, 724 S. 12th St. This exhibit examines how Pepe often plays with feminist and craft traditions to counter patriarchal notions of art. Admission: free. 402-341-7130.
bemiscenter.org

Reality
Through Sept. 26 at KANEKO, 1111 Jones St. This exhibit investigates art, science, and technology that creates, alters, and reflects upon the sense of what’s real. Admission: free. 402-341-3800.
thekaneko.org

Mike Godek, Susan Woodford, Kayley Slack, and Amelia Koneck
July 1 through July 22 at Hot Shops Art Center, 1301 Nicholas St. Sculptors Godek and Woodford, and painters Slack and Koneck, will display their art during July at Hot Shops. 402-342-6452.
hotshopsartcenter.com

Agneta Gaines, Joan Fetter, and Jenna Johnson
July 6-28 at the Artists’ Cooperative Gallery, 405 S. 11th St. Textile artist Gaines and painters Fetter and Johnson display their colorful works. Admission: free. 402-342-9617.
artistscoopomaha.com

Ella Weber: Sounds Good
July 20-Aug. 25 at The Union for Contemporary Arts, 2423 N. 24th St. This Omaha artist examines the connections between consumerism, sexuality, spirituality, and the mundane through her suburban Midwestern ethos. Admission: free. 402-933-3161.
u-ca.org

Taking Root
Starting July 26 at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft St. Artist Kristine Allphin shows art that is full of color, texture, and the beauty of nature. Admission: $10 adults, $5 ages 6-12, free for children under 6 and members. 402-346-4002.
lauritzengardens.com

Betni Kalk
Starting July 27 at Fred Simon Gallery, 1004 Farnam St. Encaustic painter and muralist Betni Kalk will show her works at the gallery. Encaustic painting is also known as hot wax painting, using heated beeswax to which colored pigments are added. Admission: free. 402-595-2122.
artscouncil.nebraska.gov

Nicki Byrum, Margie Schementi, Inna Kulagina, and Charleen Potter
Aug. 3-31 at the Artists Cooperative Gallery, 405 S. 11th St. The Co-op’s August show features something for everyone, with paintings, mixed-media works, textiles, and ceramics. Admission: free. 402-342-9617.
artistscoopomaha.com

Fighting for the Good Life: Nebraskans’ Memories of World War I.
Starting Aug. 18 at Durham Museum, 801 S. 10th St. This exhibit commemorates the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I by highlighting its impact on those in Omaha and the surrounding region. Admission: $11 adults, $8 seniors (62+), $7 children (3-12), and free to children age 2 and under and members. 402-444-5071.
durhammuseum.org 

Stage Performances

Once on This Island
Through July 1 at SNAP! Productions, 3225 California St. A collaboration with Omaha South High School, Once on This Island is the story of a peasant girl who falls in love with a “grand homme.” Ti Moune and Daniel Beauxhomme must find a way to make their love work in a land ruled by four gods, social inequality, and racial problems. 2 p.m. Tickets: $20 general, $15 for students, seniors, and military. 402-341-2757.
snapproductions.com

Shakespeare On the Green: King John
July 1, 6, 8 at Elmwood Park, 411-1/2 N. Elmwood Road. In this history show, King John finds a way to fight his family, the French, and the Pope in order to keep his throne. The outdoor event includes pre-show entertainment, and be sure to bring a blanket or chair to sit on. 8 p.m. Admission: free. 402-280-2391.
nebraskashakespeare.com

Shakespeare on the Green: July 1-8

Shakespeare On the Green: Much Ado About Nothing
July 2, 5, 7 at Elmwood Park, 411-1/2 N. Elmwood Road. Misunderstandings, love, and deception make this Shakespearean comedy a classic. The outdoor event includes the pre-show entertainment, and be sure to bring a blanket or chair to sit on. 8 p.m. (10 p.m. on July 2). Admission: free. 402-280-2391.
nebraskashakespeare.com

James Johann
July 6-8 at Omaha Funny Bone, 17305 Davenport St. Johann’s boyish appearance, self-deprecating sense of humor, and high energy all come together to create a unique onstage persona. Times vary. Tickets: $18 Friday and Saturday, $16 Sunday. 402-493-8036.
omaha.funnybone.com

Juno’s Swans: A reading of Julius Caesar
July 7-8 at BlueBarn Theatre, 1106 S. 10th St. Juno Swans, a part of the Connect with Shakespeare Series, explores gender perspectives of Shakespeare’s tragedy and characters with an all-female ensemble. When Rome announces Julius Caesar as the emperor of the free world, a rebellion quickly sparks as people wonder about the effects of Caesar’s tyranny. 2 p.m. Admission: free. 402-280-2391.
nebraskashakespeare.com

The Dairy Maid-Right
July 13-Aug. 5 at Shelterbelt Theatre, 3225 California St. It’s summer at the Dairy Maid-Right when co-workers and recent Pioneer High graduates Courtney and David encounter a child migrant. 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays; 6 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $20 adults; $15 students, seniors (65+), and TAG members; $12 on Thursdays. 402-341-2757.
shelterbelt.org

Dance Chance Event
July 14, Aug. 11 at Bancroft Street Market, 2702 S. 10th St. Be mesmerized as dancers perform a variety of dances with impressive choreography and style. 7-9 p.m. Admission: $2. 402-651-2327.
bancroftstreetmarket.com

Shake, Rattle and Roll Comedy Show with Honky Tonk Man and Greg “The Hammer” Valentine
July 16 at Omaha Funny Bone, 17305 Davenport St. WWE legends “The Honky Tonk Man” and Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, also known as “Rhythm & Blues,” reunite for a once in lifetime tour in which these superstars give the audience the inside scoop on the whirlwind life of pro wrestling. 7 p.m. Tickets: $20-$40. 402-493-8036.
omaha.funnybone.com

All-Star Comedy Jam
July 20 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. Lil Duval lives a single, happy life filled with signature catch phrases. Kountry Wayne (Wayne Colley) uses short funny clips to captivate his audiences, and DC Young Fly combines his in-your-face personality with a raw comedic style. 8 p.m. Tickets: $42-$58. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Omaha Under the Radar
July 25-28, various locations. This four-day engagement showcases performances from local and national dance companies, theater collectives, open art discussions, and workshops. Times vary. Tickets: $40 pass or $75 VIP pass.
undertheradaromaha.com

You Had To Be There
July 25 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. Ryan de la Garza hosts a live comedy show including a myriad of stand-up comedians and improv performers who will interact with random strangers via online webcam. 8 p.m. Admission: free. 18+ only. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

Spunk
July 27-29 at The Union for Contemporary Art, 2423 N. 24th St. Spunk is three short stories by Zora Neale Hurston adapted for the stage by George C. Wolf that feature music by Chic Street Man. 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission: free. 402-933-3161.
u-ca.org

Gabriel Iglesias
July 28 at Ralston Arena, 7300 Q St. Known comically as “Fluffy,” Iglesias is an American comedian, actor, writer, producer, and voice actor. 8 p.m. Tickets: $45-$70. 402-934-9966.
ralstonarena.com 

Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist
Aug. 1-12 at Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St. This show features McGuigan with an all-star lineup of musicians, backed by a four-piece horn section. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $42. 402-553-0800.
omahaplayhouse.com

Brad Williams
Aug. 2-5 at Omaha Funny Bone, 17305 Davenport St. Williams’ ability to make humorous observations is winning over audiences and proving that anyone can overcome their shortcomings. Times vary. Tickets: TBA. 402-493-8036.
omaha.funnybone.com

Miranda Sings Live…No Offense
Aug. 8 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. Miranda Sings is the fictional character developed on the internet, created and portrayed by American comedian, actress, and YouTube personality Colleen Ballinger. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $39.50. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

The Greatest Love of All: The Whitney Houston Show
Aug. 9 at the Orpheum Theatre, 409 S. 16th St. Houston’s musical legacy is brought to life for this once-in-a-lifetime concert starring Belinda Davids. 8 p.m. Tickets: $29.25-$79.25. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Fun Home
Starting Aug. 17 at Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St. When Alison’s father dies unexpectedly, she explores her past to tell the story of their tumultuous relationship. Times vary. Tickets: $42+. 402-553-0800.
omahaplayhouse.com

Paula Poundstone
Aug. 24 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. Poundstone is known for smart, observational humor and spontaneous interaction with the crowd. 8 p.m. Tickets: $39.25-$49.25. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Paula Poundstone: Aug. 24

David Cross: Oh Come On
Aug. 26 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. Emmy Award winner and Grammy Award nominee David Cross is an inventive performer, writer, and producer on stage and screens big and small. 8 p.m. Tickets: $40 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

David Cross: “Oh, Come On.” Aug. 26

A Man a Fish
Aug. 28 at The Union for Contemporary Art, 2423 N. 24th St. Prosper is a fisherman trying to get by in the face of everyday problems when a slippery eel salesman arrives in town peddling progress to the rural community. 7 p.m. Tickets: $20 advanced, or inquire at the box office day of show to reserve one to two “radical hospitality” tickets. 402-933-3161.
u-ca.org

Concerts

Free Concerts

Enjoy an eclectic array of live music, including rock, R&B, blues, jazz, and country from local and national musicians. Located in some of Omaha’s most vibrant areas, these summer concert series are sure to get the whole family grooving.

• Bridge Beats (The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge Plaza, 705 Riverfront Drive): 6 p.m. Fridays (June 29-Aug. 17).

• Jazz on the Green (Turner Park in Midtown Crossing, 3110 Farnam St.): 7:30 p.m. Thursdays (July 5-Aug. 9).

• La Vista Concerts and Movies (La Vista Public Library, 9110 Giles Road): 7 p.m. Fridays (July 13 and Aug. 17).

• Music in the Park (Bayliss Park, 100 Pearl St., Council Bluffs, IA): 6 p.m. Wednesdays (through July 18).

• Music in the Park (Washington Park, 20th & Franklin Streets, Bellevue): 7 p.m. Thursdays (July 5 and 12).

• Playing with Fire Festival (Turner Park in Midtown Crossing, 3110 Farnam St.): 4:30 p.m. July 14 and Aug. 25.

• Rockbrook Village (2800 S. 110th Court): 7 p.m. Fridays (through Aug. 31).

• Sounds of Summer: (Nebraska Medicine Amphitheater, Shadow Lake Towne Center, 72nd St. and Highway 370): 6:30 p.m. Fridays (June 1-Aug. 10).

• Stinson Park (Aksarben Village, 2285 S. 67th St.): 7 p.m. Saturdays (July 7, 21, and 28)

• Summer Concert Series (Narrows River Park, 2500 N. 25th St.): 4 p.m. Sundays July 1 and Aug. 5. (Note: $3 park entry fee is required)

• Vibes (Village Pointe, 17305 Davenport St.): 6:30 p.m. Thursdays (through Aug. 9).

Jeremy Enigk
July 3 at The Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St. This ’90s indie-rock icon who recorded Return of the Frog Queen is coming to Omaha. Enigk is an American singer, songwriter, guitarist, and multi-instrumentalist. 8 p.m. Tickets: $15 advance, $18 day of show. 402-345-7569.
theslowdown.com

Tempo of Twilight
July 3, 10, 17, 24 at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft St. This outdoor concert series brings local entertainment to the garden. Bring chairs, food, and the family. 6 p.m. Admission: $10 adults, $5 ages 6-12, free for children under 6 and members. 402-346-4002.
lauritzengardens.org

Elevate: Ben Jones and Lowercase Tres
July 6 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. DJs Ben Jones and Lowercase Tres host a rave of underground house music with a rotation of guest DJs. 9 p.m. Tickets: free. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

The Guhmball
July 6 at The Waiting Room Lounge, 6212 Maple St. Guhmi (Roscoe Whyte & Sozen) produces a variety of music—from house to dubstep to future bass. 9 p.m. Tickets: $5 advance, $8 day of show. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

*Ballyhoo!
July 8 at The Waiting Room Lounge, 6212 Maple St. This Baltimore group comes to Omaha with Bumpin Uglies and Tropidelic. All three groups are described as a mix of reggae and punk rock. 8 p.m. Tickets: $15 advance, $18 day of show. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

Electric Six
July 10 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. The six-member American band brings rock music infused with garage, disco, punk rock, and metal to Omaha. 8 p.m. Tickets: $15. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

YOB and Bell Witch
July 11 at Lookout Lounge, 320 S. 72nd St. These two American doom metal bands originate from the Pacific Northwest and bring their eclectic style and many albums of work to Omaha. 8 p.m. Tickets: $15. 402-391-2554.
lookoutomaha.com

moe.
July 13 at The Waiting Room Outdoors, 6212 Maple St. This progressive rock band has headlined music festivals from Lollapalooza to Bonnaroo and shared the stage with the Allmans, The Who, and Robert Plant. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $30 advance, $35 day of show. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

A$AP Ferg
July 14 at Sokol Auditorium, 2234 S. 13th St. Building on the success of Trap Lord, A$AP Ferg continues to captivate fans with each new album and song release. 8 p.m. Tickets: $29.50 advance, $35 day of show. 402-346-9802.
sokolauditorium.com

Kimberly Dunn
July 14 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. Country artist Kimberly Dunn is ready to ignite. Her new album, New Smoke Show, offers lots of high-energy songs. 9 p.m. Tickets: $10 advance, $12 day of show. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

Chris Robinson Brotherhood
July 17 at The Waiting Room Lounge, 6212 Maple St. CRB’s latest studio album, Barefoot In The Head, showcases stunning musicianship and infectious energy. 8 p.m. Tickets: $25. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

Quintron & Miss Pussycat
July 17 at O’Leavers, 1322 S. Saddle Creek Road. This live show is one of barely controlled chaos full of dance beat, explosions, and puppet stories. 9 p.m. Admission: $8 advance, $10 day of show. 402-556-1238.
facebook.com/oleavers

Daryl Hall & John Oates With Train
July 18 at CenturyLink Center, 455 N. 10th St. Hall and Oates are an American duo with a blues-infused rock ’n’ roll style. Train is an American rock band. 7 p.m. Tickets: $46.50-$129.50. 402-341-1500.
centurylinkcenteromaha.com

Hullabaloo Music Festival
July 19-21 at Falconwood Park, 905 Allied Road, Bellevue. A celebration featuring live music from regional and national bands and DJs. Guests can camp throughout the weekend in tents or campers. Times vary. Tickets: $30 day pass, or $80 weekend pass. 402-210-4747.
hullabaloomusicfestival.com

Pomeroy & Friends
July 19 at The Waiting Room Lounge, 6212 Maple St. Pop-rock band Pomeroy focuses on fighting the mainstream sound to create a vibe and presence unique to them. 9 p.m. Tickets: $20. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

Chase Rice
July 20 at The Waiting Room Outdoors, 6212 Maple St. This country music maverick performs energetic live shows with an edgy, eclectic sound. 6:30 p.m. $35 advance, $40 day of show. 402-884-5353.
reverblounge.com

Metalachi
July 21 at The Waiting Room Lounge, 6212 Maple St. A surprising blend of metal and Mariachi, Metalchi is a family affair, comprised of five siblings with a mythic origin story. 9 p.m. Tickets: $15. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

Citizen
July 23 at The Waiting Room Lounge, 6212 Maple St. This breathy pop band is known for their latest single, “Fever Days.” Also performing is Oso Oso, Teenage Wrist, and Queen of Jeans. 8 p.m. Tickets: $16 advance, $19 day of show. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

Har Mar Superstar Sings Sam Cooke
July 24 at The Waiting Room Lounge, 6212 Maple St. Sean Tillmann—better known as Har Mar Superstar—specializes in R&B, soul, and pop tunes. This show will highlight songs by Sam Cooke. 8 p.m. Tickets: $15. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

Weedeater
July 25 at The Waiting Room Lounge, 6212 Maple St. The North Carolina-originated punk band will perform a heavy and impudent set. The show opens with Zeke, Freakabout, and Bonghammer. 8 p.m. Tickets: $20 advance, $25 day of show. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

Drive By Truckers
July 27 at The Waiting Room Lounge, 6212 Maple St. This alternative-country-rock band tells a distinctly American story via craft, character, and concept, all backed by sonic ambition and social conscience. 9 p.m. Tickets: $30. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

Jamey Johnson
July 27 at SumTur Amphitheater, 11691 S. 108th St., Papillion. American country singer and songwriter Jamey Johnson has been nominated for 11 Grammys and noted as a top performer in the genre. 8 p.m. Tickets: $39.50-$89. Children 2 and under admitted free with paid adult ticket. 402-597-2065.
sumtur.org

FishFest Omaha
July 28 at Falconwood Park, 905 Allied Road, Bellevue. Nebraska’s largest Christian music festival features performances by For King & Country, Sidewalk Prophets, Zach Williams, and local artists; a bonfire worship service; a drive-in movie; and camping. 11 a.m. Tickets: $40-$175, $10 each for Q&A sessions with headlining performers. 402-422-1600.
fishfestomaha.com

Guster
July 28 at The Slowdown, 729 N. 14 St. This alt-rock group has been together for more than 20 years and is touring the U.S. 8:30 p.m. Tickets: $28 advance, $30 day of show. 402-345-7569.
theslowdown.com

Walk the Moon
July 30 at the SumTur Amphitheater, 11691 S. 108th St., Papillion. This pop group and radio favorite will likely encourage concert-goers to Shut Up and Dance. 7 p.m. Tickets: $35-$75. Children 2 and under admitted free with paid adult ticket. 402-597-2065.
sumtur.org

Luke Bryan
Aug. 2 at CenturyLink Center, 455 N. 10th St. This American country singer and songwriter consistently finds himself on top in the country charts. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $39.75-$89.75. 402-341-1500.
centurylinkcenter.com

Billy Currington
Aug. 3 at Stir Concert Cove, 1 Harrah’s Blvd., Council Bluffs. An American county music singer and songwriter, Currington has released such hits as “Get Directions” and “Hey Girl.” 8 p.m. Tickets: $43-$178. 712-329-6000.
caesars.com

Billy Currington: Aug 3

Chvrches
Aug. 4 at The Waiting Room Outdoors, 6212 Maple St. This Scottish synth-pop band from Glasgow is bringing their latest hits to Omaha. 7:30 p.m. $28 advance, $32 day of show. 402-884-5353.
reverblounge.com

Portugal. the man
Aug. 6 at Stir Concert Cove, 1 Harrah’s Blvd., Council Bluffs. The American rock band known for “Feel it Still” and other hits are coming to Council Bluffs. 8 p.m. Tickets: $35-$93. 712-329-6000.
caesars.com

Joe Bonamassa
Aug. 7 at the Orpheum Theatre, 409 S. 16th St. The award-winning blues artist performs a tribute to old country music with songs by Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, George Jones, and Hank Williams. 8 p.m. Tickets: $83.50-$183.50. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Melvins
Aug. 8 at The Waiting Room Lounge, 6212 Maple St. This 35-year-old rock band has taken on a new musical approach, including the use of two bass players. 8 p.m. Tickets: $20. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

Boy George & Culture Club
Aug. 11 at Stir Concert Cove, 1 Harrah’s Blvd., Council Bluffs. The English legend is known for “Karma Chameleon,” “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” and others new-wave hits. Also performing is Tom Bailey of the Thompson Twins. 8 p.m. Tickets: $48-$161. 712-329-6000.
caesars.com

SMOD Fest
Aug. 11-12 at The Waiting Room Lounge, 6212 Maple St. The Stoned Meadow of Doom Fest is an annual get-together of stoner rock and doom metal bands. 4 p.m. Tickets: $25-$40. 402-884-5353
waitingroomlounge.com

Maha Music Festival
Aug. 17-18 at Stinson Park, 2285 S. 67th St. This summer music festival showcases a vibrant, eclectic mix of amazing national and local music. This year’s line up includes Weezer, TV on the Radio, Father John Misty, The Kills, ZZ Ward, and more. 5 p.m. Aug. 17, noon Aug. 18. Tickets: $40-$290. 402-496-1616.
mahamusicfestival.com

Maha Music Festival: Aug. 17-18

The Smashing Pumpkins
Aug. 20 at CenturyLink Center, 455 N. 10th St. The Grammy award-winning alternative rock group is going on tour to celebrate their first five albums. 7 p.m. Tickets: $32-$128. 402-341-1500.
centurylinkcenteromaha.com

Pedro the Lion
Aug. 21 at The Waiting Room Lounge, 6212 Maple St. This indie-rock band dissolved in 2006. In 2017, the band got back together to perform their classic first-person narrative lyrics and political songs. 8 p.m. Tickets: $20. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

Gov’t Mule
Aug. 29 at SumTur Ampitheater, 11691 S. 108th St., Papillion. Heavily influenced by the Allman Brothers Band, this jam band has been a summer festival staple for over 20 years. 7 p.m. Tickets: $35-$69.50. 402-597-2065.
sumtur.org

O.A.R. and Matt Nathanson
Aug. 31 at Stir Concert Cove, 1 Harrah’s Blvd., Council Bluffs. O.A.R. has created and maintained a musical parallel universe for over 20 years. Their “Just Like Paradise” tour with folk-rock artist Matt Nathanson is sure to delight fans new and old. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $39.50-$112. 712-328-6000.
caesars.com

O.A.R. and Matt Nathanson: Aug 31

Family & More

Farmers Markets

Gardening season is open in Omaha, and those desiring fresh produce will find plenty of options in the area, along with artisan cheeses, farm-raised meats, freshly baked breads, assorted treats, and craft items.

• Aksarben Village (67th and Center streets) 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays.

• Council Bluffs (Bayliss Park) 4:30-7:30 p.m. Thursdays.

• Gifford Park (33rd and California streets) 5-8 p.m. Fridays.

• Florence Mill (9102 N. 30th St.) 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays.

• Old Market (11th and Jackson streets) 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays. 

• Papillion (84th and Lincoln streets) 5-8 p.m. Wednesdays.

• Rockbrook Village (2800 S. 110th Court) 4-7 p.m. Thursdays.

• Village Pointe (168th and Dodge streets) 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays.

Free Movies

Laugh, cry and relax with classic movies under the stars this summer. Bring a blanket or chair, and enjoy the show. All movies begin at dusk.

• Flix at the Chef (Behind Dairy Chef in Elkhorn, 3223 N. 204th St.): July 14, Aug. 11.

• Midtown Crossing (Turner Park, 3110 Farnam St.): Mondays through July 30.

• Movies in the Park (Bayliss Park, 100 Pearl St., Council Bluffs, IA): Fridays through Aug. 10.

• SumTur Starlight Movies (SumTur Amphitheater, 11691 S. 108th St., Papillion). Aug. 3, 10.

Midtown Crossing Monday Night Movies: through July 30

The Great American Lobster Fest
Through July 1 at Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park, 4200 Ave. B, Council Bluffs. The Midwest’s largest lobster and seafood festival comes to Council Bluffs. Enjoy live lobster, live music, family-friendly games, activities, shopping, and more. Noon. Admission: $5 adults, free for children 12 and under. 773-754-7105.
americanlobsterfest.com

Get Fit in the Park
Sundays through Oct. 14 in Stinson Park, 2285 S. 67th St. Enjoy the sunshine and direction of professional fitness instructors with yoga and Zumba classes. 10 a.m. Admission: free. 402-496-1616.
aksarbenvillage.com

Kids Funfare
Thursdays through July 26 at Center Court, 120 Regency Parkway. Kids will enjoy a variety of local, family-friendly entertainment Each week is something different. 10 a.m. Admission: free. 402-506-4376.
regencycourtomaha.com

Midwest Paranormal History/Ghost Tour
Fridays and Saturdays through October at various locations in Omaha. Learn of the macabre legends, lore, and haunted history of Omaha through stories of the sites and reports of paranormal activity. Time based on sunset. Admission: $10-$20. 402-953-9670.
mphtours.com

Leashes at Lauritzen
July 2,9; Aug. 6, 13 at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft St. Dogs are welcome to explore the grounds and enjoy the outdoors. Heel for family photos, learn about local dog-related non-profits, and enjoy treats/samples. 5-8 p.m. Admission: $10 adults, $5 for children or dogs, free for garden members. 402-346-4002.
lauritzengardens.org

Ralston Fourth of July Festival
July 3-4 at Independence Square, 77th and Main streets. One of the biggest Fourth of July celebrations in the Metro area features a fun walk/run, a quilt show, children’s parade, live music, a full-scale parade and fire department water fights. Event times vary. Admission: free (entry fees required for some activities). 402-339-7737.
ralstonareachamber.org

Red, White and Zoo!
July 4 at Henry Doorly Zoo, 3701 S. 10th St. This special event includes bounce houses, music, and special animal encounters. The first 800 people will receive a free patriotic gift. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $21.95 adults 12+, $15.95 children 3-11, free to children 2 and under. $1 discount for seniors, active-duty military, and children of active-duty military. 402-733-8400.
omahazoo.com

Yoga in the Garden
Every Thursday in July and August at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft St. Come to the gardens and practice yoga with a trained instructor. People of all abilities are welcome to participate. Times vary. Admission: $15 for non-members; $10 for members. 402-346-4002.
lauritzengardens.org

Omaha Beer Fest
July 6-7 at Horsemen’s Park, 6303 Q St. Enjoy unlimited 2-oz. samples of craft beers, ciders, and meads from 60 participating breweries, along with Beer Academy Sessions and live music. 6-9 p.m. Tickets: $35 advanced, $40 at the door, $75 VIP. 402-731-2900.
omahabeerfest.com

RiverFest
July 6-7 at Haworth Park, 2502 Payne Dr., Bellevue. This regional festival has live music, a beer garden, a kids zone, fireworks, helicopter rides, and a state champion barbecue competition. 3 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-12:30 a.m. Saturday. Admission: $1. 402-898-3000.
bellevuenebraska.com

Douglas County Fair
July 10-15 at multiple locations: Village Pointe Shopping Center (17305 Davenport St.), Chance Ridge Event Center (506 Skyline Road, Elkhorn), Metropolitan Community College (10407 State St.). Enjoy food, displays, and attractions at the Douglas County Fair’s new multi-location venues. Organizers are creating an event focused on education and community to blend urban and rural family fun. Parking is not available at Chance Ridge. Shuttles will transport the public from Village Pointe and MCC. Times vary. Admission: free. 402-516-5826.
douglascountyfair.org

American Solar Challenge Kickoff Event
July 13-14 at Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Visitor Center, 601 Riverfront Drive. Teams in the American Solar Challenge will start their 1,700+ mile journey to Oregon in Omaha. Food, music, historical re-enactors, and cultural demonstrations will be a part of the event, along with displays of the vehicles making the trek. 3-7 p.m. Friday; 8-10 a.m. Saturday. Admission: free. 402-661-1804.
americansolarchallenge.org

O Comic Con
July 13-15 at Mid-America Center, 1 Arena Way, Council Bluffs. Fans can meet actors, artists, and writers. Panels, merchandise and crowds of people dressed as favorite characters will be in attendance at this event. Noon-8 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $30-$35, or $55 for a three-day pass. 712-323-0536.
ocomiccon.com

O Comic Con: July 13-15

Rhythm Weekend: Omaha Jazz and Tap Dance Festival
July 12-15 at Fraternal Order of Eagles No. 38, 201 S. 24th St. Enjoy a weekend full of workshops, dance battles, showcases, history, and more. Master tap and jazz dancers from around the world will share their passion. Times vary. Tickets: $30-$250. 402-208-3006.
jitterbugs.org

Brew at the Zoo
July 14 at the Henry Doorly Zoo, 3701 S. 10th St. Patrons (21+ only) can sample four limited-edition beers, and enjoy food, animal encounters, and live music. 8-11 p.m. Admission: $70 members, $80 non-members, $120 VIP. 402-733-8400.
omahazoo.com

The Color Run 5K
July 14 at CenturyLink Center, 455 N. 10th St. The popular traveling 5K comes back to Omaha. Participants run the route, while paint powder colors the streets—and the runners. 8-11 a.m. Runner tickets: $14.99 children 5 and under, $24.99-$49.99 adults. No charge to watch the race. 402-341-1500.
thecolorrun.com

Railroad Days
July 14-15, various locations. This family-friendly festival celebrates all things trains and tracks. Locations include The Durham Museum, Lauritzen Gardens, Union Pacific Railroad Museum, RailsWest Railroad Museum, and General Dodge House. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $15 pass for two adults and two children. 402-444-5071.
omaharailroaddays.com

LGBT Wedding Expo
July 15 at Sheraton Omaha Hotel, 655 N. 108th Ave. Browse, mingle, and connect with local wedding professionals and leave with plenty of ideas. 12:30-3:30 p.m. Admission: free. 402-496-0850.
rainbowweddingnetwork.com

Pinnacle Bank Golf Championship
July 16-22 at The Club at Indian Creek, 3825 N. 202 St. The PGA tour is back with the Web.com Tour, featuring 156 golfers and 72 holes. The top 25 money winners will advance to the PGA tour. Times vary. Admission: $10-$40. 402-991-2525.
thepinnaclebankchampionship.com

Turner Park Night Market
July 27, Aug. 31 at Turner Park in Midtown Crossing, 3110 Farnam St. Omaha Farmer’s Market teams up with Turner Park to feature local artisans, vendors, activities, food, and more. Local nonprofits will also engage in the festivities to showcase their service opportunities. 6-10 p.m. Admission: free. 402-351-5954.
midtowncrossing.com

Benson Days
July 28-29 in Benson, Maple St. between 58th and 63rd streets. This family-friendly event celebrates Benson’s creative culture. Activities include a pancake breakfast, a parade, artists, vendors, food trucks, live music, and more. 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: free.
bensondays.com

Benson Days: July 28-29

Nebraska Asian Festival
July 28 at Lewis and Clark Landing, 345 Riverfront Drive. Enjoy food, activities, and cultural performances at this family-oriented event about Asian heritage. 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Admission: $5; free for children under 12. 402-216-9081.
nebraskaasianfestival.com

New American Arts Festival
Aug. 3 in Benson, Military Ave. and Maple St. Celebrate the arts, ideas, and cultures of Omaha’s refugee and immigrant communities with workshops, performances, art, food, and music. 4-11 p.m. Admission: free. 402-203-5488.
bensonfirstfriday.com

Canvas and Chocolates
Aug. 4 at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft St. Participants can paint under the direction of a trained artist while snacking on themed chocolates. Art supplies and treats are provided. Noon-2 p.m. Tickets: $49. 402-346-4002.
lauritzengardens.org

River’s Edge Taco Fest
Aug. 4 at Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park, 4200 Ave. B, Council Bluffs. This festival will showcase 20 of the metro’s best taco-centric restaurants, local and national music artists, and a Chihuahua race. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tickets: $20 advance, $25 day of event, $100 VIP.
riversedgetacofest.com

Riverfront ribFest
Aug. 9-12 at Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park, 4200 Ave. B, Council Bluffs. Barbecue, games, and rides are featured in this event, which includes six award-winning barbecue teams bringing ribs to the riverfront and music by Travis Tritt, Uncle Kracker, the Spin Doctors, and more. Sunday activities include a church service and horse show. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $5 adults (until 3 p.m.), $10 after 3 p.m.; $5 kids (age 16 and under).
riverfrontribfest.com

Defenders of Freedom Open House and Air and Space Show
Aug. 10-12 at Offutt Air Force Base, 205 Looking Glass Ave. F-22 Raptor and F-35A Lightning II demonstration teams will headline this show, which is back after a one-year hiatus. 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission: free. 402-294-8880.
offuttairshow.com

High Vibe Festival
Aug. 11 at Stinson Park, 2285 S. 67th St. Good vibes abound with activities such as a 5K run, live music, yoga all day, workshops, and plant-based food. 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Tickets: $10-$108. 402-496-1616.
aksarbenvillage.com

Nebraska Balloon and Wine Festival
Aug. 10-11 at Coventry Campus, 204th and Q streets. Sip Nebraska wines and enjoy hot air balloon launches. 5-11 p.m. Friday, 3-11 p.m. Saturday. Tickets: $14-$19 adults; $7 children under 12; free for children 5 and under. 402-346-8003.
new.showofficeonline.com

Omaha Comic Book Convention
Aug. 12 at Comfort Inn & Suites Central, 7007 Grover St. Comic book lovers from near and far are invited to present and purchase comic books and collectible items like action figures and trading cards. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission: free. 309-657-1599.
epguides.com/comics

Big Omaha
Aug. 16-17 at Omaha Design Center, 1502 Cuming St. The Big Omaha conference continues to promote innovation and entrepreneurship. In tandem with the Maha Music Festival, the conference will include keynote speakers, special guests, networking opportunities, and a notable opening party for the weekend. Party TBA Thursday, conference 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on Friday with music festival afterwards. Tickets: $250-$325.
mahamusicfestival.com

Omaha’s Original Greek Festival
Aug. 17-19 at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, 602 Park Ave. Live music, folk dancing, authentic Greek cuisine, a Greek boutique, and more. 5-11 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $3. 402-345-7103.
greekfestomaha.com

Terrain Racing: Omaha
Aug. 18 at the Bellevue Berry & Pumpkin Ranch, 11001 S. 48th St., Papillion. This 5K and obstacle course allows participants to embrace the mess and enjoy a fun,  hands-on workout. 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Tickets: $35-$100. 402-331-5500.
terrainracing.com

Omaha Fashion Week
Aug. 20-25 at Omaha Design Center, 1502 Cuming St. The country’s fifth largest fashion event features more than 40 designers, 400 models, and hundreds of creations. 6-10 p.m. Admission: $40-$80. 402-937-1061.
omahafashionweek.com

Millard Days
Aug. 21-26 at Andersen Park, 136th and Q streets. This full week of activities includes a parade, a carnival, a beer garden, horse shows, and live music. Times vary. Admission: free ($25 for carnival). 402-697-5258.
millarddays.com

Dundee Day
Aug. 25 in the Dundee neighborhood, 50th Street and Underwood Ave. The day includes the Rundee 5K, a pancake tent, parade, beer garden, vendors, a farmers market, and live music. 8:30 a.m. Admission: free. 678-873-4591.
dundee-memorialpark.org

SeptemberFest
Starting Aug. 31 at CenturyLink Center Omaha, 455 N. 10th St. Lot D. This “Salute to Labor” festival offers four days of entertainment, educational and artistic displays, a carnival, Omaha’s largest parade, a beer garden, a Kiddie Kingdom, and food. Times vary. Admission: $5 per person, per day. The parade is free to attend. 402-341-1500.
septemberfestomaha.org


Event times and details may change.
Check with venue or event organizer to confirm.

Mike Hagel

November 9, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Mike Hagel landed at Chicago O’Hare Airport back in 1970, he didn’t know what to expect.

“Get out and start life,” his mother Betty told her sons.

So Mike, then 20 years old, walked out into the Windy City with the gray Samsonite suitcases his mother had given him as a graduation gift, his art portfolio, and a dream.

“The YMCA,” Mike told the cab driver.

“North or South?” he asked.

“South,” Mike replied.

The cabby dropped him in a rough neighborhood. Every 15 minutes his room shook from the L train roaring past. That first night, there were two shootings with police officers showing up late into the night.

But this young man from the small Nebraska town of Columbus remained undeterred. The next day, he moved into a dingy apartment complex.

“I felt like I should have had a shotgun,” his brother Tom says. “It was such a tiny place I could almost reach out the window and touch the other building.”

It was freezing, so Mike slept with his clothes on and saw icy puffs of his own breath in the mornings. During the day, he hunted for illustrator jobs.

“I wasn’t going to accept no,” Mike says.

Mike had known what he wanted to do since his fresh- man year of high school. His brother, Tom, remembers Mike’s cartoon sketches were as “good as any in the newspaper and he was just this little kid.”

His art teacher at Columbus High encouraged Mike to further hone his craft. He spent countless hours creating, designing, and imagining projects under the basement stairs at his workbench. A block of wood transformed into an automobile with a quality paint job. And it earned him some scholarship money from General Motors.

Despite his love of cars, Mike was still drawn to the realistic Norman Rockwell ads. He attended the Colorado Institute of Art, taking classes during the summer to finish in two years. After Tom and his other brother Chuck returned from Vietnam, Mike knew it was time to draw his own history.

After about a week of searching, Mike landed an apprentice job for $50 a week with a graphic arts firm, Feldkamp-Malloy.

“I was just so pumped to get into the business,” Mike recalls. “It’s a very tough industry to get into for a young person.”

Accompanied by some smooth jazz and a cigarette, Mike would work late into the night. His bosses were akin to those in the show Mad Men, complete with liquid lunches.

Mike rarely bombed a job. His tenacity and creativity earned him a spot as staff illustrator for the board plus a pay increase of $100. By 1973, he was making $12,000 a year and thought he had the “world by the tail.”

He was soon landing bigger clients, such as Kellogg’s and Miller, and went on to work 47 years in the business (spending 24 years at ad agencies on Michigan Avenue in Chicago).

Now with a studio in Omaha, Mike points toward a lampshade purchased at an antique store. Mike told the owner he painted the Miller High Life Lady on the Moon, but she never believed him. He bought his own art for about $50.

He’s grown accustomed to seeing his work appear unexpectedly, for example: one of his portraits of lawyer Clarence Darrow on an episode of L.A. Law. His works have also been featured in the Strategic Air and Space Museum and the Pentagon. He is represented locally by the gallery Regency Parkway Art.

Mike works as an adjunct professor at Metropolitan Community College, where he teaches graphic design.

“Everyone can learn to draw if they have the desire to learn,” he believes. “The talent comes from the desire to learn.”

Mike calls himself an old dinosaur who still draws and paints without the assistance of CGI or computer tools commonly used today.

But Tom, a retired law professor from the University of Dayton School of Law, says Mike is uncommonly talented.

The younger Hagel brother is widely known for his aviation paintings, some of which hang in the Pentagon. His favorite is of a World War II battle titled Simpson Harbor. Mike knew the man who led the mission, and he calls Lieutenant General John Henebry “the finest man I ever knew.”

The painting depicts B-25 bombers in action over the blue waters of the South Pacific, attacking Japanese warships. Billows of smoke drift in blue skies and explosions are the backdrop. Henebry seems to fly out of the chillingly accurate portrayal, guns a-blazin’. He proudly shows off the signatures at the bottom of the painting, from the men who fought in the battle. Kathy, his wife of 10 years, calls his process “intense” and “inspired.” Mike did extensive research, read mission reports, and conducted interviews to ensure everything about the day was historically relevant right down to the altitude, atmosphere, and time of day.

Mike donated Simpson Harbor to the Air Force in 1990. It wasn’t his first artwork donation. In fact, he donated nearly a dozen aviation-themed paintings to the Air Force between 1977 and 1993.

Simpson Harbor used to hang in the office of Gen. Colin Powell at the Pentagon. Secretary of Defense James Mattis liked the painting so much that it now hangs in his office. And it hung outside the office when Chuck, the eldest Hagel brother, held the defense secretary position from 2013 to 2015. Mike jokes he was in the Pentagon years before Chuck.

Mike has spent years drawing caricatures of his brother Chuck, the former Republican senator from Nebraska, who finally asked for an official portrait.

Mike started the process by taking 76 photos from different angles and poses. From there, he drew a number of color and pencil sketches. Chuck picked the final one he liked the best.

“It’s extremely accurate and realistic,” Chuck says. “I’m a big fan.”

Mike noticed other portraits of former secretaries had something of their service incorporated in the background. Chuck thought what set his apart was the Combat Infantry Badge in the left-hand corner of the portrait.

The Department of Defense unveiled the portrait at the Pentagon in May 2017.

“It will be something around long after I’m gone, which is a nice feeling,” Mike says.

It was the first official portrait of a secretary not paid for by the United States government. Mike and Chuck worked out a price.

“Two cases of PBR [Pabst Blue Ribbon] and 12 frozen DiGiorno’s pizzas,” Mike says, joking.

Mike, 68, isn’t resting on his laurels. In his free time, he likes collecting motorcycles, drinking beer, and shooting pool. Or spending time with his wife and three grown children. As a commercial artist, he was given a problem to solve, but now he uses his imagination. He starts with a blank canvas, a cup of coffee, then heads down to his studio in the mornings.

The studio showcases a melting pot of styles. A huge life-like Henry Fonda from the Grapes of Wrath sits in the center of the room, while an abstract Highway 20 Revisited is reminiscent of an impressionist painting with cool blues, dark greens, and bright yellow and oranges streaking next to a hot red highway.

Mike reclines in his paint-spattered leather chair, having traded corporate business attire for the comfort of jeans and a polo shirt. Next to him is a combination of realistic and abstract works: a cow with long horns and a surreal background. Mike has been playing with mixing new mediums.

“Tom, Chuck, and I—all three of us—have left a mark that we were here,” Mike says. “I can’t ask for more than that.”

Visit regencyparkwayart.com for the Omaha gallery representing Mike Hagel.

This article was printed in the November/December edition of Omaha Magazine.

Mural Man

June 2, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Visual artist Mike Giron’s creative life spans studio practice, teaching, and working with A Midsummer’s Mural and South Omaha Mural Project teams.

“In my studio work, I have no idea what’s going to happen—I just go. I’m not forcing or insisting on anything. The work creates itself in some crazy way,” Giron says. “When it comes to murals, it’s a lot more deliberate. You have to propose a design before you begin. So, I live in these two different worlds, and I think it’s keeping me balanced.”

The New Orleans native came to Omaha in the early 1990s by way of Colorado, where he met his ex-wife, an Omaha native. After her father died, the couple moved here with the intent of restoring her family home, selling it, and returning to Colorado. But Omaha proved a good place to raise their two children, so they stayed.

Giron, 45, taught art at Bellevue University and ran the campus gallery. Today, he’s a Metropolitan Community College adjunct instructor.

Without knowing it, he prepared to be a muralist through his experience painting Mardi Gras floats in New Orleans. Walls are not so different from float structures—they’re big and imperfect. And just as he used cut-out panels on floats, he does the same with murals.

“The Polish mural is the clearest example,” he says. “There was a downspout, a chimney, and a fence around an air conditioning unit, and we used cut-outs to hide those things. It gave a 3D pop-up look effect. It also breaks the frame to extend beyond the box of the building.”

Patience is a virtue for a muralist.

“Murals take a long time—maybe two months,” he says. “Unless you really practice your Zen, you’ve got to make it enjoyable to keep on doing it every day.”

The social contract of public art and the collaborative nature of murals means you’d better like people. He does. You’d better like working big, too.

“Once you experience large-scale production, it’s hard to go back to small paintings,” he says. “Although I still consider myself a studio painter, there’s also something about doing large work. You can’t help but see a wall and go, ‘Oh, that would be perfect for this statement.’ And then the physicality of the work feels good. You’re carrying stuff all the time; you’re up and down ladders. The brush strokes are not just a flick of the wrist.”

But Giron says the real reason he and his fellow muralists do it is because “we’re channeling the voices of people who can’t do this, and we take pride in that.” He says, “We feel good about delivering something that people feel does express them.”

The process for the South Omaha murals involves deep community immersion.

“The more you immerse and personally connect with the people on a street level, the more you’re going to be trusted by that community, and the more they’ll open up and allow you in,” he says.

The South O murals feature diverse looks.

“Some fall into naturalism, and others go into some other place,” he says, “That’s interesting to me because it’s not the same. Rather than a signature style, I would prefer they look like they were done by different people.”

They are. Giron works with Richard Harrison, Rebecca Van Orman, and Hugo Zamorano. Neighbors contribute stories and ideas at community meetings. Residents and students participate in paint days and attend unveiling celebrations.

The works are an extension of the new South Omaha Museum, whose director, historian Gary Kastrick, conceived the murals project. Giron serves on the museum board. He enjoys digging through Kastrick’s artifact collection and preparing exhibits, including a replica of an Omaha Stockyards pen.

The idea is for the museum, the murals, and Kastrick’s history tours to spark a South O renaissance keying off the district’s rich heritage and culture. Muralists like Giron share a bigger goal to “make Omaha a destination for public art.” He says murals are a great way to enhance the city’s visual aesthetic and to engage the community. Besides, he says, murals “demonstrate to the public there is an arts community here” in a visible way galleries cannot.

Giron is impressed by the Omaha arts explosion. “There’s so much going on and so many young artists hitting the scene making a big impact,” he says.

Meanwhile, he continues to create studio art. His series On the Brighter Side of Post-Apocalyptic Minimalism employed fire-singed materials to make their satirical marks.

“With the process-oriented stuff I’m doing now, there’s a huge amount of variety, even though I’m just using grids,” he says, explaining that his personal artworks have moved away from rules of perspective and representational dictates of realism.

“When you don’t use any of that, all you have is the process and the visual reality of things—line, shape, value, color, texture, and space,” he says. “When you start playing in that area, where there’s no limits in terms of defining what things should be or should look like, you find it’s actually inexhaustible.”

He intends to follow “the course of my curiosity,” adding, “If you are really free as an artist, then you just follow whatever’s interesting to you.”

New murals keep beckoning, though. “I get pulled into all this work. You set yourself up for a fall, but the fall is where all the good stuff happens,” he says.

Having completed Czech, Lithuanian, Polish, Mexican, Metropolitan Community College, and Magic City murals for the South O project, Giron and company are now working on a Croatian mural. Irish, Italian, African-American, and Stockyards murals are still to come.

Visit amidsummersmural.com for more information.

This article was published in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.