The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Theaster Gates and Rebuild Foundation celebrated the opening of Carver Bank on March 29, 2013, with an overflowing and diverse crowd. The fully renovated space will serve as a hub for artists and creative life in North Omaha, Nebraska. The celebration featured performances by artists-in-residence Portia Love, Shannon Marie and Dereck Higgins and opening remarks by Mayor Jim Suttle, Councilman Ben Gray and Theaster Gates.
Carver Bank, at 2416 Lake St., joins other place-based initiatives launched by Gates and Rebuild Foundation in Chicago and St. Louis. The 2,600-square-foot facility now offers exhibition and performance space, artist studios and Big Mama’s Sandwich Shop. Managed and programmed by the Bemis Center, Carver Bank will host exhibitions, events and workshops driven by artists and community partners.
Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle said, “I am excited by Carver Bank’s potential to reinvigorate North 24th Street and transform it into an arts and cultural hub. By fostering local talent and bringing unique programming into an underserved area, I am confident that Carver Bank will have a positive impact on North Omaha and the city as a whole.”
The Bemis Center and Gates are excited for Carver Bank to join the resurgence of cultural and economic activity in the Near North Side alongside organizations including Love’s Jazz and Arts Center, Great Plains Black History Museum, the Union for Contemporary Arts, Malcolm X Foundation, Omaha Economic Development Corporation, Seventy Five North Revitalization Corp., and others.
In Gates’s unique practice, the building is a sculpture, which emerged from listening to, and imagining the needs of artists and residents in North Omaha. “I want to create a place and find a group of people who can create solutions for North Omaha internally,” said Gates at the onset of the project.
By inviting diverse individuals to work together, Gates proposes to create an urban anomaly that highlights existing gems of knowledge within North Omaha. Carver Bank is the site of the first African American-owned bank in Omaha. The project’s goal is for the site to become a space of public participation and cultural adventure, and catalyze artistic activity in its neighborhood and community.
The year-long Carver Bank Artists-in-Residence (AIR) program provides exceptional North Omaha-minded artists with a dedicated work studio and a $500 monthly stipend. Following an open call this winter, Bemis Center and Theaster Gates announced the selection of the 2013-14 residents.
“Being accepted as an artist in residence has had a surprising effect,” said Dereck Higgins. “I tend to be dismissive of a lot of institutional things such as awards and acts of public recognition. I have always inherently known that I am an artist — but being recognized as such through this opportunity is eye opening.”
Dereck Higgins of Omaha is a self-taught musician and multi-instrumentalist, recognized as a bassist in prominent Omaha-based bands. Portia Vivienne Love of Omaha is a writer, poet and singer, who has taught writing workshops throughout Omaha. Shannon Marie of Omaha is a hip-hop and R&B artist who has gained thousands of fans from her live performances, music videos, features, mixtape and EP. Bart Vargas has explored the artistic potential of trash and recyclable materials to build playful and thought-provoking paintings, sculptures and installations.
The Carver Bank renovation and program has been made possible by broad community partnerships and philanthropic support. Major funding has been provided by Annette and Paul Smith, Sherwood Foundation, City of Omaha, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation’s Artistic Innovation and Collaboration Program, a National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grant received in partnership with the City of Omaha and Love’s Jazz and Arts Center, Joyce Foundation, Carol Gendler | Marathon Realty and the Harpo Foundation.