UNO hosts panel discussing the importance of the arts

photo courtesy UNO Communications

Will Patterson

The University of Nebraska at Omaha hosted a panel of professionals that discussed local arts and their importance to the community.

Panelists included OPS Visual Arts Director Angie Fischer, former Opera Omaha Artistic Director Hal France, 1516 Gallery Owner Patrick Drickey, Omaha Performing Arts President Joan Squires, Omaha Community Playhouse Artistic Director Kimberly Faith Hickman and Omaha Symphony Conductor Ernest Richardson. (Founder and director of the Union for Contemporary Arts, Brigette McQueen, was scheduled to come but was prevented by unforeseen circumstances.)

The discussion fostered by the panel was a spiraling, evolving conversation that touched on a variety of subjects concerning Omaha artists.

One of the early topics discussed was how art is changing in the modern world. Technology has completely changed how people are creating and sharing art.

“One question is how are arts going to change and adapt to the unprecedented, vast accessibility of arts through devices,” France said. “It definitely changes the game.”

This topic tied into the discussion of artists staying relevant—an issue several panelists believed was increasingly relevant in the world. Local arts are competing with more options than ever before and the panelists expressed how they’d seen it.

A concern expressed by one student at the panel was that Omaha might be a difficult place to make a living as an artist. Hickman, who lived in New York for eight years, discussed the difficulties that artists can face when seeking opportunities and budgeting.

“I work for a theater that does not pay their actors. That’s something—I’m going to be honest—I really struggle with,” Hickman said. “I do think artists should be valued and sometimes a ‘thank you’ is not enough.”

Hickman said that while the theater has been operating on a primarily volunteer basis for over 90 years, she believes it is time to have the conversation about compensating actors and crew. She also said that sometimes art is seen as hobby in Omaha rather than a career and time commitment.

One vocal community member shifted the conversation to some of her concerns for local arts in terms of diversity and education. As a parent of two teachers, she was concerned that the local school districts weren’t doing enough in their curriculums to promote the arts.

Fisher said that while she can only speak for programs at Omaha Public Schools, she does believe that progress has been made to include arts in curriculum, but there is certainly room for improvement.

The panel’s conclusion left the audience with several things to consider about the Omaha arts scene. All the panelists expressed the need to keep the conversation about arts alive and to remind community members how important arts are.

The panel was the first of four that are scheduled in the future—all of which emphasize and discuss the importance of various art mediums. Following panels will be held on Sept. 22, Oct. 27 and Dec. 1.