The Omaha Entertainment & Arts Awards celebrate the stars of Omaha’s artistic communities.
The awards are carefully cultivated and judged. The OEAA organization strives to recognize the wide variety of local visionaries in music, performing arts, and visual arts working to make Omaha’s arts community vibrant and worthwhile.
The process starts with the categories. The OEAA Board of Directors annually evaluates the award categories to take into account new genres or artistic mediums to better suit the current face of Omaha’s ever-changing art scene. Any changes to voting categories must be finalized prior to the voting period—18 months in advance of the awards.
Then come public nominations, in which the public can write-in their choices for the best in each category. Public nominations open Sept. 1 on the OEAA website, and close on Aug. 31 the following year. (The February 2020 event will present awards to those people for work done between Sept. 1, 2018, and Aug. 31, 2019.) Eligible nominees need to live within 100 miles of the Omaha metro area and have exhibited or performed their work in the same timeframe as nominations (Sept. 1, 2018, and Aug. 31, 2019, for the 2020 awards).
After online nominations have closed, the OEAA board of directors, with assistance from Jeremiah R. Woltemath at Dickinson & Clark CPAs, assembles voting ballots based on the total number of nominations. The ballots are then sent to the OEAA Academy—a group of more than 175 established artists, industry professionals, and cultural journalists separated by spheres of influence (i.e., music, performing arts, or visual arts).
Members of the OEAA Academy vote on the year’s awardees. Winners are announced at the OEAA red-carpet event held each winter.
Below, three leaders in their respective fields gave Omaha Magazine their opinions for who should be nominated in the three categories recognized by OEAAs.
Dereck Higgins’ Observations of 2019 Music Scene
Omaha musician Dereck Higgins says, “Omaha music continues to thrive and show diversity. The city has developed a vibrant music hub in Benson. Local artists are regularly hitting the road with tours and holding their own against acts from around the world. Omaha music is still growing.”
Higgins is a fixture in the Omaha music scene. In the 1980s, he played bass for two area punk bands—RAF and Digital Sex—but over the years recorded and played under a variety of genres. He is scheduled to be inducted into the Nebraska Music Association Hall of Fame in late June and has won multiple OEAA awards, including “Best Punk Band” in 2019 for his band RAF, “Best Progressive/Experimental/EDM in 2017 for his band Chemicals, and “Best Progressive/Experimental/EDM” in 2016 for solo work. Higgins’ tenure in Omaha means he has seen many people come and go. Here are his thoughts as to who should be nominated for the 2020 OEAA music category:
Best Rock: Skuddur
Best Hard Rock: Saints of Lust
Best Alternative/Indie: Thick Paint
Best Metal: Stronghold
Best DJ: Kethro
Best Americana/Folk: Scott Severin
Best Country: Clarence Tilton
Best R&B: Wakanda
Best Soul: Mesonjixx
Best Hip Hop/Rap: Marcey Yates
Best Blues: Grover Lipkins
Best Jazz: Curly Martin
Best Pop: Glow In The Dark
Best Progressive Rock/Experimental/EDM: Plack Blague
Best Punk: R.A.F.
Best World Music: 3gypt
Best Cover Band: That 70’s Band
Local Album of the Year: The Faint, Egowerk
Best New Artist: 3gypt
Best Recording Studio: ARC (Another Recording Company)
Best Live Music Sound Engineer: Dan Brennan
Stephanie Kidd’s Thoughts on Local Theater
Omaha thespian Stephanie Kidd says, “This theater season in Omaha was an interesting one. With the loss of the permanent space for SNAP! and Shelterbelt, the community felt a loss in both opportunities for new works and in the type of cutting-edge stories those theaters provided. There is plenty of room in Omaha for new stories to be told and for more representation so that everyone can have a seat at the table.”
Kidd grew up in Overland Park, Kansas, and earned a bachelor’s degree in theater from Creighton University, then a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She has worked at The Rose Theater as a teaching artist and appeared in several productions there.
She is currently a board member of the Theatre Arts Guild and Anastasis Theatre, and she works for the Great Plains Theatre Conference. Here are her nominations for the OEAAs in theater.
Best Director (Play): Amy Lane and Beth Thompson for The Flora and The Fauna, a #METOO Event
Best Director (Musical): Eric Salonis for Assassins at Brigit St. Brigit
Best Actor (Play): Jonathan Purcell for Indecent at Bluebarn Theatre
Best Actor (Musical): Dan Chevalier for Elf: The Musical at The Rose; David Ebke for Assassins at Brigit St. Brigit; Torisa Walker for Legally Blonde at Creighton University
Best Supporting Actor (Play): Catie Zaleski for The Flora and the Fauna
Best Supporting Actor (Musical): Jordan Smith for Shrek at Omaha Community Playhouse
Best Youth Performer: Chloe Irwin for She Kills Monsters at Omaha Community Playhouse
Best Dramatic Play: The Flora and the Fauna; Incident at Vichy at Brigit St. Brigit
Best Comedic Play: One Man, Two Guvnors at Omaha Community Playhouse
Best Premier of a New, Original, Local Script: Blues of Knowing Why by Christopher Maly at The Union for Contemporary Art; EPIC by Ellen Struve part of GPTC; The Doll Maker’s Gift by EllaRose Chary and Fran Sillau at The Rose
Best Musical: Elf: The Musical at The Rose; Little Women the Musical at The Chanticleer Community Theater
Best Dance Production: tbd. dance collective’s mode of being and UNO’s Moving Company’s Spring Showcase
Best Performance Poet: Greg Harries
Best Comedian: Stephanie Finklea and Angi Sada
Best Comedy Ensemble: Less Mis/Zip-Zopera at The Backline
Outstanding Lighting Design: Indecent at Bluebarn Theatre
Outstanding Prop Design: Amy Reiner for Indecent at Bluebarn Theatre
Outstanding Scenic Design: Adam Rowe for Elf: The Musical at The Rose
Outstanding Costume Design: She Kills Monsters at Omaha Community Playhouse
Outstanding Sound Design: She Kills Monsters at Omaha Community Playhouse
Outstanding Choreographer: Melanie Walters for Indecent at Bluebarn Theatre
Outstanding Music Direction: Jerry Brabec for Elf: The Musical at The Rose
Bart Vargas’ Views on the Visual Arts
Visual artist Bart Vargas says, “There is a place for everyone in Omaha’s visual arts scene, from high school students organizing their first shows to artificers managing international careers from our fair city. In fact, 2018-2019 was such an amazing year for the ever-expanding Omaha visual arts scene that I’m not sure where to even begin.”
Vargas grew up in Bellevue, served in the Air National Guard, and worked a string of odd jobs before enrolling in the University of Nebraska at Omaha to study art. He then earned a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Minnesota. Vargas works in painting, ceramics, and sculpture, and his art varies from skulls made of dismembered keyboards to giant pills composed of plastic bottles. He previously won OEAAs for “Best 3-D Artist” in 2019, “Best Visual Artist” in 2013, and “Best Emerging Artist” in 2007. Here are his ideas for the 2020 OEAAs.
Best Visual Artist: Angie Seykora
Best Emerging Visual Artist: Shawnequa Linder
Best 2-D Artist: Ella Weber
Best 3-D Artist: Sarah Kolar
Best New Media Artist: Reagan D Pufall
Best Group Show: Dementia Americana by Cannupa Hanska Luger, Marty Two Bulls Jr., and Micheal Two Bulls at the LUX Center for the Arts
Best Solo Show: Angie Seykora: Emergent Structures at APMA ARTS (Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture)
Best 2-Person Show: KATHY by Angie Seykora and Peter Fankhauser at Maple Street Construct
Best Public Art: “The Ancestor, The Identity, and The Seed,” mural by Reggie LeFlore II.
Best Presentation in a Non-Traditional Format: Loophole at Project Project by Rachel Buse.
*Editor’s Note: Writer Chris Bowling interviewed these industry experts regarding their suggestions for the OEAAs, which are nominated by the public and voted by the board. While these three artists were asked for their opinions because they are tuned-in to the Omaha arts scene, anyone in the area can nominate candidates for the OEAAs now through Aug. 31.
Lifetime Achievement Award in Visual Arts
In this essay, OEAA Board Member Tim Guthrie suggests his nominees for the annual “Lifetime Achievement” award, which is exclusively chosen by the board.
At a time when “30 under 30” and other awards celebrating youth are all the rage, I would like to tip my hat to some Omaha artists who have persevered.
These visual artists are all deserving of the “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Omaha Entertainment & Arts Awards: Jun Kaneko, Mary Zicafoose, Therman Statom, Catherine Ferguson, Susan Knight, and Rob Gilmer.
The “Lifetime Achievement Award” rotates every three years across performing arts, music, and visual arts. Houston Alexander won the honor in 2019 for music. In my first year on the OEAA board, I am recommending this handful of nominees from Omaha’s visual arts community:
Kaneko is the most famous on this list. Yes, I know, he dominates the local scene, but that shouldn’t disqualify him, right? If I were to list all of the museum collections, national and international exhibitions, set designs, public commissions, and awards, I wouldn’t have any room left to write about anyone else. When you add founder of the KANEKO and co-founder of Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, his biography would run for pages.
Zicafoose works as a tapestry weaver. You can see 12 of her long panels in a recent commissioned work at the Buffet Cancer Center. She received a 2015 Women’s Center for Advancement Tribute to Women Award. Her work is in public and private collections around the globe (including the “Art in Embassies” program on three continents). She’s been included in the highly juried Smithsonian Craft Show and similar shows. She’s moved a lot and exhibited internationally; lucky for us, she eventually landed in Omaha. She’s received Nebraska Arts Council (NAC) Individual Artist Fellowships three times, a Bemis residency, Craft Forms’ “Best of Show,” and was included in the 13th International Triennial of Tapestry in Lodz, Poland.
Statom’s work is unique and identifiable. His awards include “Outstanding Achievement” from UrbanGlass, “Distinguished Artist” from the James Renwick Alliance, and multiple grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Artists Fellowship. He studied at the Pilchuck Glass School, the Rhode Island School of Design, and the Pratt Institute School of Art. His work is in public and private collections around the globe.
Ferguson has also exhibited extensively, including a Joslyn installation in 1992 and another at the Sheldon Art Museum, where her “Arietta II” is in the permanent collection. She won a Leonard Theisen Governor’s Arts Award, and was selected to participate in the Bemis’s Artist-in-Industry Steel Collaboration Project. She also spent a half dozen years on the board of the NAC, and a decade on the board of the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. The Women’s Center for Advancement commissioned her work for its clinic room. She’s been in many Artist In The Schools programs for the NAC.
Knight was featured in Fine Arts Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, and Sculpture magazine. She’s received a NAC Individual Fellowship and exhibited at the Sheldon Art Museum, Museum of Nebraska Arts, and multiple international exhibitions (including China). Upcoming projects include Eureka Springs School of Art in Arkansas, and a 2020 solo show at the Evanston Art Center in Illinois. She was at the International School of Art Residency in Monte Castello di Vibio, Italy; the AS IF Center Residency in High Cove, North Carolina; and has completed several Ragdale Foundation Residency Fellowships.
My last choice might seem a bit out of left field, because he is the youngest name listed, and has more often worn a curator hat. However, when it comes to lifetime achievement and impact in the local arts scene—not to mention OEAA’s desire to recognize people before they leave us (in this case, before they leave Omaha, as Gilmer is leaving the Midwest for the East Coast), I think this dark horse needs a huge shoutout. Gilmer’s RNG Gallery opened on Leavenworth 2007, then moved to Council Bluffs in 2011. The gallery exhibited one show a month for about a decade. He created the exhibit This Monkey’s Gone to Heaven to honor his late spouse René Orduña, and Gilmer curated other memorable exhibitions over the years (including Dream House on Rye at the Bemis Underground in 2006). Wanda Ewing’s final show was at RNG. In fact, she passed away the day after the closing reception.
The aforementioned accomplished artists are titans of Omaha’s visual arts scene. But there are many others in the community who have dedicated their lives to their artistry. We should celebrate them all.
—an essay by Tim Guthrie
This is a web-only article and the suggestions and opinions expressed here are not necessarily the views of Omaha Magazine.
To learn more about the OEAAs, click here for a related article originally published in the July/August issue of Omaha Magazine.