Theaster Gates and Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts have applied Harpo’s support toward the planning and early development phases of the Town Hall project, an expansive effort to develop a new cultural infrastructure in North Omaha, Nebraska.
Omaha is a segregated city that houses extreme disparities between class and opportunity. Omaha claims the greatest number of millionaires per capita, yet is also home to the highest percentage of black children living in poverty of any city in the country. These demographic conditions are starkly present in North Omaha, the poorest and most concentrated African-American community in the city. Although a contemporary art organization is unlikely to provide a cure-all to these conditions, the Bemis Center supports artists who bring us boldly to its frayed edge.
Theaster Gates’ Town Hall project is an effort to develop a new cultural space for North Omaha, Nebraska. The process and project aspires to form unforeseen models and possibilities for our city. The Town Hall project includes multiple parts. Town Hall began in late 2010 with a series of dialogues and dinners with artists, stakeholders and potential partners, and this listening process continued throughout 2011. Gates and the Bemis Center are hosting a series of free public events in North Omaha, ranging from informal dinners to public forums that ask the questions:
• What are the needs of the black creative community in Omaha?
• How can new public spaces in North Omaha be creatively cultivated?
• Can Gates and the Bemis Center help?
Gates intends to launch the Town Hall project in 2012 by renovating existing property, whose restoration and subsequent programming will positively impact the surrounding urban and social fabric of North Omaha.
Gates approaches the Town Hall process with the hybrid perspective of an urban planner, artist, developer and community organizer. Gates is interested in the sculpture that continues to produce: in this case, the building, or neighborhood is the sculpture, which emerges from listening and imagining the needs of creative people in North Omaha. Gates said, “I want to create a place and find the group of people that can create solutions for North Omaha internally.” By inviting diverse individuals to work together, Gates proposes to create an urban anomaly that highlights existing gems of knowledge within North Omaha.