“Punks” open “Sweatshop” in growing Benson

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August 8th, 2012

Omaha, NE-There is little doubt downtown Benson is booming with fresh faces and fresh spaces. One of its newest additions is an unconventional art space whose owners consider themselves the “punks” of the neighborhood.

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The first Friday of every month is show and tell for Benson’s popular business district. Patrons weave in and out of bars, restaurants and other new additions.

Five dollars got patrons beer and ample choices among beer and wine bottles and other dishes to smash in a designated area. (Photo by Lindsey Peterson)

Kim Reid-Kuhn, or “Kim Darling” as she’s known, is one of seven co-owners of Sweatshop, a new co-operative art space tucked in an alleyway just off 62nd and Maple, steps away from Benson’s busiest street. Darling said an art gallery was needed for the booming downtown Benson area. “There’s a lot of music, you know, a lot of drinking, food’s coming in, but there hasn’t been any arts presence and there’s a desire for it, so here we are.”

Last Friday night, Sweatshop proudly brandished its unconventionality. The space looks much like a garage or unfinished basement full of dust and plywood. For many of its supporters, it’s reminiscent of what some call a “punk” house, not only because of its grungy look but also in the gallery’s philosophy. It’s a a “do-it-yourself,” alternative, “anything goes” mentality–and that’s just the way they like it.

Patrons enjoyed breaking glass for a fundraiser. (Photo by Lindsey Peterson)

Rachel Tomlinson-Dick was helping with the night’s events. She said Benson and Sweatshop are perfect for the area. “It’s like a really cool, kind of DIY, very open, accessible community,” she said. “If you want to do something…it’s open to you to do something.”

“Which definitely, kind of fits into that like punk ethos…and is super near and dear to my heart,” she added.

Currently, Sweatshop houses no neatly hung canvases or stately sculptures. Though the gallery will ultimately host national artists in hopes of show swapping artists from Omaha, on this night, only an inflatable phallus sat in front of a green screen ready for patron photo-ops. And there was definitely no quiet, contemplative art lovers milling about the space.

Patrons write messages on bottles and plates before throwing them at targets. (Photo by Lindsey Peterson)

Many, however, cheered and laughed over the sounds of shattering glass. A glass-breaking fundraiser was underway to help the victim of last month’s alleged hate crime in Lincoln and also to help renovate the space before their October deadline. Five dollars for beer also got patrons a choice of bottles and dishes to smash into concrete cinder blocks. One of those targets had the word “hate” crossed out in spray paint. Many people first scribbled messages of angst onto their glass before chucking it at the targets.

Darcy Covert was in attendance to help supervise the night’s event. She first decided to take a shot at throwing a bottle. Her grandmother passed away two hours ago, she said, and she felt like taking out some sadness on a wine bottle. After four tries, it finally broke.

Covert said alternative and unusual spaces like Sweatshop are a better artistic reflection of the thoughts and emotions of her twenty-something generation. She said the simple symbolism of breaking glass on concrete that said “no hate” is a message that would get lost in a bigger gallery.

“The only way that you’re really going to get it is if you pay attention to it,” Covert said. “The bigger art museums that just do the people that are almost all dead…they don’t show the local artists, [and are] losing local color.”

For Sweatshop co-owner Kim Darling, chaos and self-expression are definitely in the business plan.

“My goal in having a gallery is to do more subversive art,” Darling said. “Where we’re showing people that maybe aren’t as user-friendly. That bring a sh**show with them; that bring performance and bring like, a whole energy with them.”

“We love that energy, we just want to bring that.”

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