This weekend, Omaha will celebrate its 49th annual Summer Arts Festival in Aksarben Village. With major arts projects underway across the city, the future of the metro’s thriving arts scene is brighter than ever.
- Joslyn Art Museum is in the middle of a $100 million expansion that includes the addition of the 42,000-square-foot Rhonda &
- Howard Hawks Pavilion and the renovation of existing buildings.
- Omaha Performing Arts is building a $103 million Center for Arts Engagement next to the Holland Performing Arts Center downtown.
- Kaneko is adding a Collection Building that will house renowned artist Jun Kaneko’s work.
- The Union for Contemporary Art has nearly completed an $8.6 million theater across a parking lot from its main building at 24th and Lake Streets.
- The Bemis Center for Contemporary Art is improving its facilities in the Old Market and upgrading its signage and accessibility.
- The Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED) is supporting the Omaha community’s investment in the arts with millions of dollars through the state’s Shovel-Ready Capital Recovery and Investment Act. The Joslyn, Omaha Performing Arts, and Kaneko expansions each received $3.856 million shovel-ready project grants. DED awarded The Union for Contemporary Art $1.8 million for its theater construction. The Bemis project received $250,000.
Omaha Performing Arts is using its grant to help construct much-needed room to provide programming. Joan Squires, the organization’s president, said the need for growth was reinforced when Omaha Performing Arts recently hosted theater students from across Nebraska for workshops and training sessions at the Holland Center. “We had 500 students in every nook and cranny of the Holland, in lobbies and under stairwells and everywhere. So we’re out of space.”
The 100,000-square-foot building will allow the group to offer performing arts, education, and engagement activities such as workshops and master classes led by both touring and local artists.
“We’re excited about the new building,” said Squires. “It’s going to be another important venue downtown to invest in the community and activate everything going on down here.”
As Nebraska’s largest institution for the arts, Omaha Performing Arts currently reaches more than 100,000 students each year through its education and engagement programs. The new building will help it serve an additional 50,000, Squires said. She expressed gratitude for both the private donations and shovel-ready funds that have made it possible to build the new Center for Arts Engagement. “The state support is a really important message to be behind this project for our young people.”
“To grow Nebraska, we’re helping communities build beautiful spaces where people can enjoy the arts and exercise their creativity,” said DED Interim Director Joe Fox. “In today’s labor market, every state is competing for top talent. Omaha is sparing no expense to ensure its quality of life is second to none—with impressive investments in parks, museums, and art venues. Taken together, these projects are a powerful recruiting tool to help attract new residents to Nebraska”.
The State of Nebraska’s shovel-ready grant program, overseen by DED, has awarded $115 million to support capital projects delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. The program is funded with $100 million through the federal American Rescue Plan Act and $15 million from the state’s general fund.