Barber, nominated this year for Outstanding Solo Show. Photo by Catherine Bosley

Tune in Sunday Feb. 28 at 5:45 p.m. to watch the OEAA awards show on Facebook Live

After 15 years, the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards (OEAAs) has become an institution. A chance for Omaha to celebrate its artists and their works, praise those artists with a lifetime of work behind them and give a boost to new artists who might need one.

Sebastian Lane, featured performer at this year’s show

The celebration of people in our community and their accomplishments can instill a sense of pride in the city. And for those artists who thrive on competition, nothing gets them motivated like being labeled the “best of” something. The OEAAs give us the opportunity to dress up, hit the red carpet and be around the artists we admire.  It means parties, fanfare and a general loosening of our social interactions for a night. Unfortunately, those social interactions will be limited this year due to … well, you already know. However, on the plus side, the event, which will take place virtually on Feb. 28, will be free this year.

Three in one

OEAAs have deepened their voice in the areas of social justice, arts and public health with acknowledgements and presentations on these subjects. The Union for Contemporary Art and the Culxr House will be recognized for their work at the intersection of social justice and the arts, and Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, will speak on public health. There will be performances by R&B band Enjoli & Timeless and blues artist Sebastian Lane. This will no doubt be a very entertaining live-streamed event. The Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards are unique in that they combine several arts categories in one show. It’s like the Grammys, the Tonys and the Art Directors Guild awards wrapped into one, which is a reflection of the size of the artist community here.

The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin (2019, UCA) won multiple OEAA awards including Outstanding Musical and Outstanding Director (Musical)

The importance of the “Best New…” category is huge, and it’s usually the most popular category of the night. The reason awards shows are important to a city’s arts and entertainment scene is they provide much-needed exposure for artists, placing their work before curators of the scene who judge what is worthy of accolades.  

Last year’s winner for Best Costume Design, BlueBarn’s product ion of The Woodsman

As with any awards show, especially those held in smaller communities, there is always a question about whether or not the process to pick winners is fair. The Omaha Entertainment and Arts awards are no exception. It is a tricky thing to get a community to trust the fairness of an awards show. Even harder in a close-knit community like we have here in Omaha. “Everybody knowing everybody” is part of the reason some distrust the process. To some, it seems that each year the same artists get nominated, and some of those same artists always win. The process comes into question and the politics of the scene will sometimes have the public and individuals who vote in the winners at odds.

It all starts with the public.

Knowing how important a local awards show can be to a thriving arts community, it becomes imperative to understand the OEAA’s process to be able to trust it. Writer Chris Bowling, in an article for Omaha Magazine in 2020, broke down the process.

In a nutshell, it starts with us, the public. We nominate our favorite local artists in each category, which are determined by the OEAA’s board of directors. The board takes those nominations and puts together voting ballots based on their total number. Those ballots go to the OEAA Committee, a group of established artists, journalists and industry pros, which votes on the winners.

Speaking with a member of the OEAA Committee who wished to remain anonymous, I learned there are struggles in the process relating to how familiar the committee is with the artists nominated by the public. It can be a lot of work to research the artists and then decide on how to vote. The member I spoke to stressed that the whole process is a very big job that has no malicious intent behind it whatsoever. The board and the committee refine the process every year.

Implementation of the “Lifetime Achievement Award,” which rotates across categories, highlights and celebrates whole bodies of work over the lifespan of an artist, and is a helpful category for those “familiar names” that have been showing up in the nominations every year.

Jocelyn, one of this year’s nominees for Outstanding Pop Artist

A peek behind the scenes

I was invited to sit in on one of the music nomination sessions this year. As we went through the list of nominees, I was impressed by the knowledge of those involved and the diligence displayed when making sure the work of deserving artists did not go unnoticed for extemporaneous reasons. I got a clearer understanding on how we can maintain fairness the way the process is set up now. Nominating artists is how we, the public, can help ensure fairness and diversity and spotlight the artists who we think deserve to have their names included.

Clarence Tilton, nominated for Outstanding Country Award

And after the arduous process is finally complete, we all get to dress up and experience the awards with all of its celebratory grandeur. Even if we have to sit at home in our tux or gown this year. The OEAAs are a crucial piece to a thriving music, stage and arts scene in Omaha, and it is worth our participation and attention.

The OEAA Visual Arts Showcase will be on view at the Roberta and Bob Rogers Gallery, 1806 Vinton St, Feb. 19 – March 6. Keep watching The Reader for more details!

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