North Omaha to form arts alliance

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August 1st, 2012

Omaha, NE – A new effort to boost the arts community of North Omaha is underway.

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In the 1930s through 50s, North Omaha attracted some of the biggest names in jazz music. The Nat King Cole Trio stopped by the historic Dreamland Ballroom on N. 24th Street, along with Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Louis Armstrong among many others. “For several years, it was a stop between Chicago and Kansas City for many of the big jazz artists,” said Deborah Bunting, Heritage Arts Manager for the Nebraska Arts Council.

Nat King Cole was one of many jazz greats who performed in North Omaha’s Dreamland Ballroom. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

“Many of the greats have performed here. The Dreamland Ballroom, the Carnation Ballroom, Allen’s Showcase were all very important venues during that time.”

But North Omaha, or the Near North Side as it was known then, lost many of its venues and galleries over the years, particularly after a tumultuous period in the 1960s, and as it struggled to regain its financial footing in the ensuing years.

Today, Bunting is working with several community groups to revitalize the artistic scene in the neighborhood. One of the first steps: set up the North Omaha Arts Alliance.

“We consider this to be a big move,” Bunting said. “So we want to move cautiously, but we want to establish a good, firm foundation to make sure that this is an organization that will have long lasting impact.”

Bunting said the alliance is part of an overall strategic plan for North Omaha to create a cultural arts district. That plan is driven by the community advocacy group the Empowerment Network, which is working to build partnerships to target the area for social and economic improvement. Bunting said the vision for the alliance is to support professional and emerging artists and provide an economic boost by creating spaces for those artists to live and work.

The Dreamland Ballroom was housed in the historic Jewell Building, which now serves as headquarters for several community groups. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

“Most of all, it would envision success,” Bunting said. “It would change the face of North Omaha, which would change the face of Omaha because without success in North Omaha, Omaha is missing a link.”

“This is a great city and we want to make that connection,” she said.

Bunting said the alliance should be formalized by the end of this year. Later this month, KVNO News will be taking a closer look at some of the other artistic projects planned for North Omaha. They include an expansion of The Union for Contemporary Art into the historic Fair Deal Café and plans by the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts to build new studios and gallery space in the area. Stay tuned.

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