As a native Omahan and lover of arts and culture, I’ve come to realize that both memorable and authentic experiences within the arts do not always lie in white-walled art institutions or alongside historical landmarks. Experiencing a new creative perspective that is genuine actually arises in places you don’t expect, and Omaha honestly has plenty of new-found gems waiting for us to dive in to. In the past few years, new venues and hot spots have surfaced proving to be unique platforms for experiencing visual and performing arts. Let’s take a look at the best nooks, crannies and happenings of Omaha that you may never have explored before:
BANCROFT STREET MARKET
Located on the corner of South 10th Street and Bancroft, the Bancroft Street Market is a venue that prides itself in helping artists and cultural producers by providing a platform for pop-up events and community programming. I’ve personally been to this venue for a mixture of happenings including a visual art exhibition, a graffitti street art competition and a block party-styled food truck and music festival. Each event was hosted by a local organization and included work and production from local emerging artists and creatives. What I like most about this venue however, is its flexibility with the ability to offer every inch of the space toward jumping off the career of an artist. Even their exterior walls are divided up for mural artists and repainted with new works on a seasonal basis. Meanwhile, the parking lot serves as a concrete sculpture garden displaying the winning slabs from the annual “Abstract Concrete” contest held every summer.
BENSON BUSINESS DISTRICT
The Benson Business District is constantly throbbing with residents having fun especially on “First Fridays.” But even if you can’t find the time to explore the district on First Fridays, the strip offers plenty of venues with music and arts just about every day of the week. To start, you can swing by Barley Street Tavern on Monday nights for their Open Mic & Songwriter Showcase. Or you can skip down to the 402 Arts Collective for Open Mic sessions as well, every Monday without fail. Reverb Lounge is another worthy visit with their open stage for local producers and performers. Here you can catch events like The Lyricist Lounge or the Mic Check Showcase hosted by Delreece. If you’re a vinyl music lover, stop by the Reverb Lounge when they feature Benson Soul Society or just check their website for upcoming sets of local bands and artists. Finally, make time to stop by the Petshop Gallery where they are always open for Frist Fridays and otherwise hosting cool workshops like the recently hosted DIY Makers Series featuring experts teaching various creative projects to the public.
Every Third Thursday at the Omaha Rockets Kanteen (formerly at the House of Loom) you can tap into the lyrical talents of our city through one of the most diverse open-mic series in Omaha. Hosted by two women committed to full-time creative lifestyles, Felicia Webster and Michelle Troxclair have hosted Verbal Gumbo, a monthly gathering for 5 years straight, and counting. Together, they offer a space for artists to express themselves through poetry, song, dance, readings, and music in a safe space while advocating for community residents to respond to and heal from social injustice issues. Staying true to the enticing title of the event, this platform also guarantees you don’t leave without being fed, often featuring local food vendors fit with a main dish and dessert. By the time you leave, you will have had a full serving of healthy perspectives from people with varying lifestyles and certainly an appetite for seconds.
If you find yourself curious about what’s unique in the arts in Omaha, any of these functions are sure to lead you in the right direction. Hopefully you can meet a new friend, experience the awesome underground pockets of this city and find ways to contribute to the momentum of what’s worth bragging about for the arts and cultural scenes of Omaha.