Carver Bank: A North Omaha Town Hall

Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts

Funding Received: 2013
Omaha, NE
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
December 12, 2013

Art Instructor Gabrielle Liwaru teaches middle school students, November 2013, Omaha, Nebraska; photo courtesy of Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts and Theaster Gates/Rebuild Foundation

Building cultural awareness in and improved perceptions of North Omaha are at the forefront of Carver Bank’s recent programming this fall. As the neighborhood slowly transforms back into an arts and culture hub as it once was in the early 1920s, a sense of pride has been revived among residents through collaborative programming. These efforts have allowed Carver Bank to realign itself with the goals of the neighborhood and the local culture-centric narrative that is bubbling citywide. The leadership of Carver Bank has initiated conversations about trust, sustainable partnerships, and changing perceptions of the neighborhood through organizational outreach and community programming, and considering ways that it can push the artistic community closer together.

Recent Wins
Collaboration between public organizations to showcase young talent
Collaboration was essential in hosting a satellite workshop at Carver Bank in partnership with the Omaha Public Library’s Community Outreach programs this month. Fifth and sixth grade students spent two days after school working with an experienced art instructor to create mixed media pieces in honor of young adult book author Walter Dean Myers. This partnership’s goal was to expose neighborhood students to a new art form in a new environment. Working with established art instructor Gabrielle Liwaru offered an open exchange about Carver Bank’s mission between the program leaders and students. The students will display their final pieces Myers during a public ceremony in December, which may inspire future partnerships between the Omaha Public Library, public schools, and Carver Bank.

Resident artist exposes new audiences to new art forms through music
Carver Bank Artist-in-Resident Dereck Higgins recently hosted “Sound Currency,” an event featuring local and international musicians and welcomed new audiences to Carver Bank. The intention of this event was to reveal new ways of experiencing sound with musicians James Borchers, Luke Polipnick, and James Cuato Ballavin. Despite the intimate seating, the standing-room-only crowd proved that a need exists for unique programming. After a presentation from Higgins, original compositions across genres and representing different regions including Classical and New Wave were shared, again proving that collaboration can lead to a significant cultural experience. Borchers composes an array of soundscapes infused with the influence of a chamber orchestra. Minneapolis native Polipnick performed tunes recalling the style of a jazz ensemble, and Omaha native Ballavin provided a live soundtrack to a short comedy film using a saxophone. As a resident artist, Higgins provided the audience with a memorable experience in creative placemaking through the transformation of space and sound.

Sound Currency

Musicians play an ensemble for audience, November 2013, Omaha, Nebraska; photo courtesy of Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts and Theaster Gates/Rebuild Foundation

Bridging ambiguous and generational communication gaps
Wendel White: Manifest (Nebraska) Exhibition
Cross-regional partnerships between New Jersey-based artist Wendel White and the Great Plains Black History Museum were highlighted during the gallery talk held this month at the exhibit opening reception. “Manifest (Nebraska)” served as a memorial to the past while simultaneously inviting the audience to be thoughtful about the present. The exhibition features White’s enlarged photos of artifacts once housed in the museum using a film-based camera. White shared the gallery talk with museum board president Jim Beatty, who lead a genuine dialogue about the importance of remembering black cultural history in Nebraska. Presenting this type of cultural programming on a regular basis can spark relationship building between audiences otherwise unexposed to this exhibition.

Wendel White

Caption: White and Beatty during exhibition, November 2013, Omaha, Nebraska; photo courtesy of Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts and Theaster Gates/Rebuild Foundation

Building coalitions makes a strong case for effective programming
Partnerships allow an organization to build a communal net worth that also increases the human and cultural capital of the neighborhood. Collaboration between neighborhood organizations creates space for trust building. Without this ongoing dialogue through cultural programming and outreach, programs such as Carver Bank would lose neighborhood support. When new events and satellite programming reveal other options for creative expression, artists continue to view the space as a learning environment focused on challenging the audience to see the space and neighborhood in a new light.