North Omaha’s history drives arts “renaissance”


August 20th, 2012

Omaha, NE – There is growing momentum behind a burgeoning artistic scene in North Omaha, and as it continues to develop, the neighborhood is looking to the past to find its way forward.

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“Let’s do it! It’s time to get jazzed,” said Tim Clark, the energetic executive director of Love’s Jazz and Art Center, as he led me into the center’s adaptable gallery/music venue space in North Omaha.

Preston Love, Sr., pictured here at the 2002 Omaha Blues & Jazz Festival, was one of Omaha’s most famous jazz musicians.

As he maneuvered past reception and into the downstairs jazz hall, Clark pointed to a black and white photograph of a jazz great, and the center’s namesake, Preston Love. “So this guy, he was the real deal,” Clark said. “He was one of probably the most notable musicians that came from Omaha.”

Love’s Jazz was founded eight years ago, in honor of Preston Love, to be an anchor for an envisioned cultural and arts district in North Omaha. The center had a rocky start, but it came back swinging last year after a nine-month hiatus. That time was reportedly spent refocusing its mission and strategizing for a sustainable financial future.

Today, the center has renewed energy, with Clark at the helm. Last Friday night, the spot was bustling with people. “This is the Leland Mickles Trio,” Clark pointed out, as guests gathered around dimly-lit tables to hear the band perform its smooth jazz sound. “On the first and third Fridays, we have live jazz music as part of our commitment to keep jazz alive in the greater Omaha area,” Clark said.

Love’s Jazz and Art Center is at the heart of North Omaha on the corner of 24th and Lake Streets.

Love’s Jazz is right in the heart of downtown North Omaha. Here, a few decades ago, jazz legends performed regularly, often stopping in as they traveled from Chicago to Kansas City.

“You could easily just park your car and walk from club to club and ballroom to ballroom,” Clark said, standing outside the center on the corner of 24th and Lake Streets, “and just be stimulated all night with world class musicians and music.”

Tim Clark took the helm of Love’s Jazz as executive director in April, 2011. (Photo credit Herb Thompson via Love’s Jazz and Art Center)

Today, Love’s Jazz is one of the few venues available for local or traveling musicians in North Omaha. But Clark and a coalition of organizations and leaders are pushing for that to change. Clark said Love’s Jazz has been an anchor for arts development in North Omaha, but much more is en route. “It’s kinda like a great symphony, an unfinished symphony,” Clark said. “The components are starting to gather.”

“You have some incredible initiatives that’s taking place right here as far as art,” Clark said. “I think art will become a stimulus of the economic boom that you will see in the next 10 years in North Omaha.”

Those components include plans for new studio and gallery space from the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts and an expansion of the Union for Contemporary Art into the historic Fair Deal Café. They’re all in the early stages, and plans to revitalize North Omaha have struggled in the past. But as Clark looked around the block, taking in a neighborhood where jobs remain scarce and the threat of crime continues to hamper investment, he said he sees a “renaissance” in waiting.

“It will be an inside-out approach,” Clark said, “where we’ll build it from within so people from all over will see this as spot of brilliance, a spot of great creativity, of culture, entertainment.”

Our series on the burgeoning arts scene in North Omaha continues below:

Injecting art makes dollars and cents for North Omaha

North Omaha’s The Union seeks to unite

“Carver Bank” project finds potential in North Omaha “gems”

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