Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts

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Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts
Established 1981
Type Art museum
Artist cooperative

The Bemis Center for Contemporary Art is located in the heart of Omaha's arts district, the Old Market Historic District of downtown Omaha, Nebraska, at the corner of 12th Street and Leavenworth Street. In addition to three art gallery spaces that feature ongoing exhibitions, the Bemis offers an Artist-in-Residence program and runs a Community Arts program.[1]


In 1984, Ree Schonlau established a consortium consisting of the City of Omaha, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, private and corporate foundations and the Mercer family, who owned the vacant 170,000-square-foot (16,000 m2) Bemis Bag Building. That year Schonlau convinced the group to develop an artist-in-residence studio program in building. By the late 80s renovation began, with facilities including eight living spaces with heating, air conditioning, kitchens and baths. The first floor was renovated to produce an exhibition space, administrative offices, and sculpture studio complete with three large-scale gas kilns.

The Bemis was founded by artists Jun Kaneko, Tony Hepburn, Lorne Falke and Ree Schonlau in 1981. The spirit and programs of the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts are based on the conviction that exceptional talent deserves to be supported.[2] Its artists and exhibits regularly receive local, regional, national and international awards for presentations.[3] The Bemis Center is home to one of the most sought-after artist-in-residence programs and is regarded as one of the nation's premier artist colonies, and has been referred to as "the largest urban artist colony in the world".[4]

The Bemis Center also presents over 20 cutting-edge exhibitions annually. These shows, which run in the Center's 3 main galleries.

The Bemis holds an annual art auction, one of the biggest annual arts events in the region.[5]


The Bemis was formerly located at the Omaha Bemis Bag Company building, 614 South 11th Street.[6] In 1999, a fire severely damaged the original building. The current location houses the Blue Barn Theatre,[7] The Boiler Room restaurant, and lofts.[6]

Today, the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts is located in the old McCord, Brady, & Co. building on 12th and Leavenworth and is an internationally recognized artist-in-residence program. The program provides well-equipped studio spaces, living accommodations and a monthly stipend to artists who are awarded residencies. These artists come from around the world to work within a supportive community of like-minded people. The atmosphere and environment offer an ideal situation for creative growth and experimentation and encourage artists to confront new challenges. The band Tilly and the Wall were the first band in residence in 2005.

The Bemis also operated a space called Bemis Underground, an experimental art space.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Krainak, Michael J. (2 July 2014). "Bemis Reboot". The Reader. Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  2. ^ "Mission and History", Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. Retrieved 20 December 2007
  3. ^ Garriott-Stejskal, R. "Bemis Center for the Contemporary Arts - Fostering Creative Growth", Artwell. Retrieved 26 November 2007.
  4. ^ (2006) Insight Omaha: The Art of it All. Hemispheres Magazine. Retrieved 7 June 2007.
  5. ^ Logan, Casey (15 December 2014). "With annual auction change, internationally known Bemis Center frustrates some local artists". Omaha World-Herald. Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  6. ^ a b Omaha Magazine Staff (3 October 2014). "Historic Buildings of the Old Market". Omaha Magazine. Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  7. ^ Fischbach, Bob (19 January 2014). "Blue Barn Theatre unveils designs for permanent home". Omaha World-Herald. Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  8. ^ Krainak, Michael J. (28 May 2014). "Underground, History". The Reader. Retrieved 31 March 2015. 

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