Omaha’s Top “Hidden Gem” Art Destination


Grant Rohan

When Omaha resident’s think about art, the usual suspects that come to mind include the often-visited destinations like downtown’s Joslyn Art Museum and Elmwood Park’s “Shakespeare on the Green.” This series will highlight some of the lesser-known local art destinations that make the Omaha art community stand out. Each article will focus on the background of the establishment, what makes them unique, what they mean to the community and what activities or events they host. The first installment focuses on Hot Shops Art Center.

Located in an area known for hosting the College World Series resides a creative and collaborative environment where artists can showcase their work and their process. Hot Shops Art Center has distinguished itself as one of the most diverse art establishments in the metro, breaking the mold of your conventional art gallery, or co-op.

Hot Shops was established in 1999 when a group of local artists and investors purchased the building which once housed the Serta Mattress Factory north of Omaha’s Old Market. Their idea was to create an environment where artists could share molten materials as well as provide studio space for local artists to both work and collaborate on.

Not your average art gallery

The Art Center is comprised of four core studios that work in tandem with the 58 artist studios and three art galleries. The core studios share common areas for molten resoruces, tools, and other functions such as sandblasting or paint spraying. Since both the core and artist studios are connected, the artists may utilize the resources in the creative area, or the expertise of their neighbors on a project.

The four anchor shops reside in the south building. Crystal Forge focuses on glass blowing and crafting stanied glass. Bruning Sculpture focuses on their foundry for casting bronze and iron for unique art and architecture. Hot Shops Pottery features a massive, walk-in kiln used to craft a variety of ceramics, and C.K. Fabrication is a blacksmith shop. These four core creative shops work alongside painters, sculptors, photographers, jewelers, and printmakers who work in the adjoined building.

Paula Wallace, a printmaker and illustrator said that Hot Shops is not a non-profit co-op, but rather a way to start a business.

“I think it teaches artists by example, and by creating a place to start a business,” Wallace said. “It’s art as a small business; 50 different small businesses under one roof.”

Not a co-op, but a community

With a multitude of disciplines all under one organization, there is an outstanding sense of community between both the studio artists and the hot shop studios. Utilizing the wealth of knowledge downstairs or right next door promotes artists to communicate with each other to learn, solve problems and draw inspiration from an artist who may not have the same practice.

Walking through the doors, you are greeted by walls alive with colors and creations by local artists and rustic wood floors that creak and echo down the gallery halls. The real fun comes from wandering any of the three building levels and walking from one artist’s studio to another. The studios all take on the persona of the art and artist, as some are dimly lit and cluttered with works in progress, and others feature vibrant-colored wall murals and natural light.

Since Hot Shops is built on the unique experience of openness and sense of community, visitors are encouraged to talk to the artists and learn. The feeling of hospitality is alive from studio to studio, with each artist warmly inviting visitors to view their creations.

Lori Elliott-Bartle, a painter and printmaker, highlighted what makes Hot Shops valuable to the Omaha arts community, particularly what visitors can gain from the personal connection of talking with an artist in their studio.

“I think a great benefit is that visitors can come see artists making art,” Elliot-Bartle said. “They can ask about materials and tools, they can see what it takes to make something from start to finish.”

Bartle, a former UNO adjunct professor, has been a full-time artist since 2008. She has been involved with Hot Shops and its founding group since the studios were purchased.

Visitng the studios as a way to learn is a valuable personal connection that many might not get to experience. A majority of the time, all we see is the finished product in a museum.

Giving back to the community

Visitors can also talk to individual artists about the classes and workshops that they offer. Lessons and classes are offered for students and groups in disciplines such as glassblowing, painting, photography, and chainmaille. In 2018, Hot Shops offered an eight-week drawing program for those who desire an extensive hands-on program.

Other events include their annual spring and winter open houses, and monthly art exhibitions which highlight local artists. February’s featured exhibition focuses on select pieces from the shop’s instructional class, Drawing From Life. The arts center celebrated 20 Years of Art in 2018 with a fundraiser for the Josie Harper Hospice House as a way to give back to a community that has allowed Hot Shops to thrive.

For all lovers of the arts, Hot Shops is in a league of its own, becoming a role model for what creative art centers should be. It is not a gallery, or a co-op, but it centers around the creative journey and less about the finished product, and that is what makes Hot Shops Art Center so special.

For more information on events and artists, visit