Benson artists set up on the street
July 9th, 2012
Omaha, NE – A place for young artists, of every genre, to show off their work is now open on the streets of Benson.
â€œThis is where most of the activityâ€™s going to be happening.â€
Alex Jochim is a bartender, local artist and organizer of Benson First Friday. On a sweltering afternoon this past Friday, he opened the door, sweat dripping into his mop of curly hair, to what was a vacant storefront just off Maple St. in downtown Benson.
The room is dusty and smells a bit likeâ€¦ dogs. Which makes sense, the store used to be a pet shop.
â€œIt definitely needs a facelift a little bit,â€ Jochim said with a laugh. â€œBut we see it.â€
Jochim leased the building so that he and a group of fellow artists could turn it into gallery space. Next door, he and co-organizer Jamie Hardy have already cleaned up a second space and turned it into, as a namesake, the â€œPet Shop Gallery.â€ The gallery (2725 N. 62nd St.) is the starting point for the First Friday art walk.
â€œA lot of cities have a First Friday walk,â€ Jochim said. â€œItâ€™s just something you can depend on; you donâ€™t have to remember a date. Itâ€™s just First Friday, itâ€™s happening. After a while, hopefully, the promo will go down. It just naturally feeds itself.â€
Bensonâ€™s first First Friday kicked off in June. Itâ€™ll be a year-round event designed to showcase local artists of all kinds. While Omahaâ€™s Old Market already has a First Friday of its own, Hardy said Bensonâ€™s will be a little more â€œcutting edge,â€ one that shows off the neighborhood as a burgeoning creative hotspot.
â€œWe have such a good, young art community,â€ Hardy said. â€œWe knew that we could do this here. And we have the support of the community.â€
â€œBensonâ€™s our neighborhood,â€ Jochim said.
Later that night, the Benson neighborhood did come out. The heat continued well after the sun went down, but dozens of people walked through make-shift galleries, while DJs spun records on street corners and fashion designers turned walkways into catwalks. A few blocks down, Jill Bunnimit manned an Artists Market, set up in another soon-to-be-restored Benson space: the Benson Theater.
â€œWe pour our free time into making things that we just enjoy making,â€ Bunnimit said. â€œFor me, itâ€™s like they sit around in my house not doing anything.â€ Bunnimit referred to Etsy.com, an online marketplace for handmade goods, but said itâ€™s too saturated to make an impact. â€œSo itâ€™s really hard to make sales because youâ€™re not connecting with people,â€ she said. â€œAnd here, we have a unique thing, weâ€™re all from Omaha. We all make things in Omaha.â€
“Benson’s our neighborhood”
The Artists Market featured clothes from a vintage clothing store a few blocks west, Lionâ€™s Mane Vintage (6607 Maple St.), along with jewelry and paintings from artists around town. Bunnimit said open settings like this encourage less established artists to showcase their work – with a little more freedom.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t have to be perfect; it doesnâ€™t have to be fine art,â€ she said. â€œThat I think attracts a lot of younger artists, who maybe arenâ€™t even formally trained, that just want to get involved with something.â€
â€œItâ€™s a little more freedom of speech here,â€ she said.
For now at least, that freedom of speech also involves a lot of kissing on the streets. Back at the Pet Shop Gallery, Alex Jochim donned an appropriately campy leather vest at a makeshift kissing booth. Along with selling t-shirts, itâ€™s one of the few fundraisers the group has to keep the art walk going. So far, he said, the money was rolling in.
â€œLook at this stack,â€ he said, flashing a wad of dollar bills. â€œThis is for a new floor.â€
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