Culture: The Local Arts Community is Thriving

Talking about the roar of the crowd in Nebraska usually means something to do with fall weekends at Memorial Stadium. But there’s another fan favorite in The Cornhusker State – arts and culture – and it’s getting rave reviews from both local and visiting patrons.

“I think arts and culture, in our case performing arts, are a key part of a vibrant community,” said Joan Squires, president of Omaha Performing Arts. “The arts and culture that we have here in Omaha really represent meaningful activities that bring people together. I think that’s what it takes to make a great city.”

First-class Venues

The largest arts institution in the state of Nebraska, Omaha Performing Arts is responsible for three venues: the Orpheum Theater, the Holland Performing Arts Center and most recently, Steelhouse Omaha. These venues house performances for a wide range of entertainment as well as community engagement and education programs. All of which represent a major piece of Omaha’s quality of place.

“I think the role of arts and culture as it contributes to the quality of life is important for people to remember,” Squires said. “When you think of great cities, you think about their arts and culture scene as well as parks and rec, the zoo, and sports. All those things add to the vibrancy and the position of the city to take that next step.”

A vibrant and varied arts scene is also a powerful economic engine. Jasmyn Goodwin, vice president of marketing and communications for Visit Omaha, said few marketable amenities compare with the city’s cultural offerings.

“The city sees about 12.7 million visitors annually spending over $1.2 billion,” she said, noting that dining, shopping and entertainment top that spending list. “Fifteen percent of that $1.2 billion goes towards arts, recreation and entertainment. That equates to $191 million.”

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Diverse Offerings

Goodwin said much of the city’s appeal in the arts scene stems from the many venues by which to view performances and cultural events. When asked what the city lacked in facilities, Goodwin drew a blank.

“I really can’t say we’re necessarily missing anything, even in our public spaces,” she said. “With the beautiful Gene Leahy Mall and what’s going on at the RiverFront, they’re making room for public art. They’ve got pavilions, they’ve got amphitheaters. The arts are everywhere, it’s surrounding us. It just keeps getting stronger and I’m just enjoying watching where it goes next.” 

Kristyna Engdahl, director of communications for the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, seconded that, saying accessibility is key to a thriving arts community and Omaha has it in spades. MECA manages Charles Schwab Field Omaha and CHI Health Center Omaha.

“Accessibility is a huge key to that component, and in Omaha, it’s getting stronger,” she said. “Maha, Omaha’s music festival, is moving down to the RiverFront in 2024 because we have more space. The park has been redesigned with accessibility in mind with plenty of parking nearby. Because of that, the space has a greater reach and is more known to people.”

Steelhouse Omaha. (Courtesy of Omaha Performing Arts, photo by Tom Kessler)
Steelhouse Omaha.
(Courtesy of Omaha Performing Arts, photo by Tom Kessler)

Crowds Come Back

Engdahl said the best proof of the city’s approach lies in what’s happened following COVID-19 restrictions. The city has seen a return of national touring acts and with them, standing-room-only crowds to see them.

“It just goes to show that there is a diverse audience in Omaha, which gives us the ability to attract nationally renowned acts who appeal to all different kinds of audiences,” she said. “We’ve found that people are happy to be back together and continue to sell out our arenas.”