Tag Archives: Susan Thomas

Omaha Creative Institute

September 18, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Omaha Creative Institute (OCI) was founded in 2008, staff converted a used truck and horse trailer into a mobile art vehicle as a way to bring creativity to neighborhood festivals, parades, and other community events. Whether at Dundee Days or South Omaha’s Cinco de Mayo parade, OCI led workshops and provided sidewalk chalk to kids with the goal of making it possible for people from all walks of life to experience creativity firsthand.

Fast forward five years, and the organization moved far beyond the horse trailer. During summer 2013, OCI installed 10 pianos designed by local artists around town and invited people to play, listen to, or just view the musical instruments as interactive pieces of art. It also scheduled special events, including a performance by Ballet Nebraska and a sing-along organized by Joslyn Art Museum to bring added art experiences to the public. The project was such a success that Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards recognized OCI with its Best Public Art award for that year.

In March we caught up with Susan Thomas, who was in the last weeks of her tenure as executive director, and Emily Moody, just about to undertake hers, to gather insights into an organization that became an integral part of enriching communities throughout Omaha.

Thomas explains why there is a need for the institute, even in a city that already offers a fairly diverse selection of visual and performing arts. “There was a perceived gap in having art available to a broader community.

“Omaha Creative Institute was founded to make art more open and accessible to everyone,” she continues. “We are more about building an audience for the arts and getting people who don’t typically participate in the arts to support them. We connect with all kinds of people.”

One of the ways OCI links with the community is by collaborating with other organizations, especially those not typically associated with the arts. In 2012 it worked with Metro Transit for “Conversations on a Bus,” in which two photographers rode buses throughout the metro area, interviewing and photographing riders. It documented encounters and brought art directly to a community usually not involved with the city’s creative offerings. “It introduced art to a whole new population,” says Thomas.

Last year OCI introduced artists to a community with which they’re often not familiar: the business one. Artist INC Live Omaha provided professional development to 22 artists as a way to empower them to take control of their careers and earn a living from their art. “Even though this seems like a different mission, the program really comes full circle for Omaha Creative Institute,” observes Moody. “It builds a public arts audience by supporting the artists who create.”

As OCI moves forward, both women are excited with how the organization will continue bringing arts programming directly to the public. “We make wonderful connections in the community,” Thomas philosophized. “I think that’s one of our great strengths.”

Moody agrees. “Everyone can relate to the arts in some way. It’s so important. I’m very fortunate to play a part in that.”


Play Me, I’m Yours

August 23, 2013 by
Photography by Omaha Creative Institute

Rogue pianos.

Those are not two words one typically finds sharing space together. It’s Susan Thomas’ fault, really.

As executive director of Omaha Creative Institute, Thomas is thrilled that local businesses and creatives around town are jumping on the bandwagon (pun fully intended) of Play Me, I’m Yours. The public art exhibit consists of 10 pianos decorated and placed around the metro. The Omaha take on the international project encourages locals to play anything from Chopsticks to Beethoven’s 5th between now and Sun., Sep. 8, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.



There are more than 10 instruments now.

“There are three rogue pianos that I know of,” Thomas says. “People heard about the project and told me, ‘we want one in our area too!’” Already faced with the logistical challenge of finding 10 pianos, artists willing to decorate them, and locations to stage them, Thomas welcomed interested parties to find and decorate their own pianos to sort of piggy back on Play Me, I’m Yours.


So if playing on an “authorized” piano at 2 a.m. in a public space isn’t rebellious enough for you, feel free to seek out one of the following:

  • The Sweatshop Gallery in Benson. This piano is the brainchild of Sweatshop Gallery founder Kim Reid Kuhn and artist Stephen Walsh.
  • Modern Arts Midtown at Midtown Crossing. Owner Larry Roots has selected a piano that will be painted in stages while it’s out in the spotlight.
  • Bruning Sculture at Hot Shops. Les Bruning has made a miniature grand piano out of metal. He’s put an electronic keyboard inside it, and it’s portable. “If someone’s having an event, he’s more than happy to take it there,” Thomas says.

“The great thing about this,” she adds, “is that it’s so multidisciplinary. People will say, oh, isn’t it about the art, isn’t it about the music, isn’t it about the people. Well, actually, it’s about all of that.”

For a complete list of the 10 locations planned by Omaha Creative Institute, visit streetpianos.com/omaha2013.