The Union for Contemporary Art emphasizes creativity in North Omaha

Photo by Will Patterson

Will Patterson

The Union for Contemporary Art is helping bring out the cultural and artistic scene that has always existed in north Omaha, but hasn’t always had the resources.

Although the Union has only been at the current location on 2423 North St. for about a year, the organization has been operating since 2011. Since its foundation, the Union has been bringing artistic talent, community-oriented programs and social justice to the area.

“We’re helping artists learn how to use their medium and their practice to focus on social engagement and social justice,” said Dawaune Hayes, the Union’s communications manager.

The Union for Contemporary Arts was formerly located on 24th and Burdette Streets. The rapid growth experienced by the organization demanded a larger space, which resulted in last year’s move to the Union’s current residence.

“It was a good space for where we started,” Hayes said. “But after three years, we had outgrown the space.”

The last building had only 3,000 square feet compared to the new location which has over 16,000 square feet. Before, the Union would have to seek out satellite galleries to host events, but now exhibits are all hosted “ in house.”

The fellowship program is the foundation of the Union’s mis-sion. It aims to provide mutually beneficial opportunities for artists and community members, while fostering creativity at large.

“Our mission is to connect artists and communities to inspire social change.” Hayes said. “The Fellowship is just one of the many ways that we are able to work toward that mission.”

Current members of the pro-gram include Celeste Butler, Samone Davis, Slowed Soul (Noah Sterba and Jeff Sedrel), Edem Kegey and Jamie Hardy

In the past, the program ran for sixth months and didn’t provide studio space. Now, the Union gives fellows a full year and a studio to flesh out their projects and contributions to the organization.

“I think they felt that artists were finding by that sixth month point artists were getting a real good flow going, so they wanted to make that longer,” said Jamie Danielle Hardy, a current fellow at the Union.

Hardy is a University of Nebraska at Omaha art graduate who’s been able to continue practicing her craft locally due to the Union’s fellowship program. Most of Hardy’s recent work has featured the use of projections and mirrors. By manipulating the projector’s light with mirrors, she creates scenes of scattered lights.“I’m kind of dealing with moments in time,” Hardy said.

“I’m dealing with memory a lot and what that feels like.”

Hardy has collaborated with the other fellows to help create the Union’s current exhibition in their main gallery space. The fellowship art will be on display until Dec. 16.

A primary objective the of the Union has always been to include surrounding community members. The organization has been doing this through a variety of outreach programs and community group projects.

Currently on display is a quilt that was built by Celeste Butler, a current fellowship member, who invited community members to “quilting nights” where they would work on this group project.

“Celeste is our eldest fellow, and I think that really serves to her benefit in how she connects with people. She tends to have a matriarchal effect and appeal to her,” Hayes said.

Workshops are one way that the Union offers its services to the community. These are typically hosted by local artists or past fellows. No artistic experience is required or expected for people to attend.

“I’ll often hear people say, ‘I’m not really creative’ or ‘I’m not really the artistic type,’” Hayes said. “I’m quick to tell people that everyone is creative, every-one is an artist. Just not every-one has had the opportunity to explore and find their medium.”

Open studio events through-out the year give community members a chance to see how the Union’s fellows utilize their workspaces and talents. This in-cludes meeting the artists and seeing their work in progress.

The Union also hosts youth programs that meet every Tues-day through Saturday evening. Since moving into their new location, the organization has been able to employ dedicated program managers. This has produced a “dynamic curricu-lum” according to Hayes.

Hayes said that the after-school youth programs are coordinated with local schools, but the weekend ones are available to anyone. While enrollment is currently at capacity, Hayes advises that interested parents and guardians keep a watchful eye for openings.

Additionally, the Union isn’t just confining their efforts to artistic causes. To help combat the scarcity of nutritious food in north Omaha, they are currently securing funds to build a garden. Hayes said this will be operated by volunteers and help provide food for those in need.

Details about the Union for Contemporary Art’s upcoming programs, galleries and community projects can be found on their website, at