Anthony Peña and Watie White, “Hope,” 2020. Formerly located on the Disbrow Building, N. 13th and Nicholas Sts.

It’s a hackneyed expression: a picture is worth a thousand words. True enough, but for me the reverse is also accurate: a thousand words (even a hundred) can paint a picture. And that has been my experience and my reward in writing these many years for the Reader.

When art and art history first piqued my interest in college, I had no frame of reference for it. Instead, I found that those making modern and contemporary art were engaged in exciting and challenging forms of expression that disrupted the familiar. I became enamored with objets d’art, the methods and inspirations of their making, the contexts that underlay them as well as the importance of the direct visual experience. My career has been in curatorial work, first at Joslyn Art Museum and then for the Phillip Schrager Collection of Contemporary Art, and my pleasure has been to help visitors find their own connections.

In particular, I found that writing a bit about artworks could provide an important entry point into something otherwise unfamiliar. If I could crack the door open, to link the object to the eye of the beholder, I was helping to break barriers, providing at least one possible access to the often mystifying world of art. I was also passing on the same aid provided to me by artists, teachers and writers past and present.

Writing for the Reader has been a meaningful extension of my public-facing “institutional” work and allowed my fellow writers and me to shine a light on some of the wide-ranging offerings within the Metro arts community. The Reader recognized that every art scene benefits from voices outside of the studio to add perspective and context. It helps confer a kind of legitimacy to the efforts of artists, the choices made by venues, and helps identify the contours of the local art scene. Disinterested in providing personality-driven features, the Reader’s coverage provided a necessary forum in which to be insightful and critical.

This gig was not always easy. Not every venue provides timely information; not every show lives up to its promise. Getting information on a deadline from artists and organizations can be a bit like herding cats—just ask those receiving my pleading emails twice a year for the seasonal arts previews. It is not always gratifying—once it’s out in the ether, I don’t know how or if it is being received. But it’s a labor of love which has taken me places and introduced me to people I have been privileged to know.

In a world where we’re now surrounded by social-media driven visual culture, coupled by a shrinking environment for verbal content in its regard, I am saddened by the departure of the Reader from the Omaha publishing scene. We are left without voices to promote, decipher and uplift the important happenings in the local visual arts community. I thank John Heaston and the Reader for hanging in there, a stalwart for so many years in a shifting publishing landscape, ever trying to reinvent a sustainable business model so that the important work of community journalism could continue.

Leave a comment