Husker football, Warren Buffet, Marlon Brando, cornfields and a great steak are among the people and things that Nebraska is known for.
But the state also has a thriving arts scene, which is best represented by its wonderful variety of theaters, art museums and galleries.
Following are eight creative ideas for group venues and excursions.
Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha
The Joslyn Art Museum building itself is a work of art made from 38 different types of marble from seven different countries. Housed inside are 11,000 pieces of art from masters including Monet, Degas, Calder and Renoir.
“The Joslyn Art Museum was a gift to the city and really embodies the philanthropic nature of Omaha,” says Lindsey Creath, convention services manager at the Omaha CVB. “Every Saturday morning the museum is open, free of charge, with the idea that art should be available for everyone to enjoy.”
The Joslyn accommodates groups of 100 to 1,200 people for formal functions, sit-down dinners, cocktail parties and other events in spaces ranging from the 1,000-seat Witherspoon Concert Hall to the Peter Kiewit Sculpture Garden.
“The original Art Deco architecture and hand-crafted ceramic tile Storz Fountain Court courtyard is exquisitely unique and provides a classic feel to a dinner or cocktail party,” Creath says. “In another part of the museum, beautifully large Chihuly sculptures flank the soaring glass ConAgra Foods Atrium and offer a more contemporary feel to an event.”
Hot Shops Art Center, Omaha
At the Joslyn Art Museum, attendees will see art as a finished product, but at the Hot Shops Art Center, Creath says they’ll witness the creative process and see raw natural materials become one-of-a-kind masterpieces.
“The Hot Shops experience allows groups to be hands-on and actually create art themselves,” she says. “Visitors leave with a keepsake of their experience and a better appreciation for art.”
This interactive art house offers creative experiences customized for each group, from sculpting hot molten glass or molding pottery to playing African drums or creating metal and wood sculptures.
“Hot Shops is a more urban, industrial venue than Joslyn that lends itself more to casual, roll-up-your-sleeves icebreaker events or creative team-building experiences,” Creath says, adding that the venue easily accommodates groups of 10 to 200 people.
Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln
The Sheldon Museum of Art in Lincoln is another Nebraska arts institution constructed of marble.
“At the time of its construction, it was the most expensively built building in the United States per square foot,” says Derek Feyerherm, director of sales and operations at the Lincoln CVB. “One place visitors to Lincoln need to visit is the Sheldon Museum of Art.”
Home to one of the best publically owned collections of 20th century art in the country, Sheldon’s treasures include more than 12,000 objects and pieces of work from artists such as Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol.
“It is considered one of the most important collections of American art in the United States,” Feyerherm says. “Sheldon also has many events throughout the year that allow its guests to partake in great experiences.”
Every Tuesday evening in June, for example, the Sheldon hosts the annual “Jazz in June” in its sculpture garden. It’s a free concert series that begins with a farmers market and ends with music on the west lawn, according to Feyerherm.
The Sheldon is available for private events as well.
“Perhaps the most unique setting for planners is the Sculpture Garden,” Feyerherm says. “It surrounds the museum and has more than 30 unique sculptures that will provide not only conversation starters for participants, but an amazing backdrop for an outdoor event.”
Midwest Theater, ScottsBluff
The Midwest Theater in downtown Scottsbluff offers a performing arts calendar that includes film, music and theater.
According to Brenda Leisy, director of Scotts Bluff County Tourism, visitors to the historic theater enjoy a comfortable, lovely setting to take in performances and movies, and like many locals who have fond memories of the theater from growing up in the area, visitors will remember their experience here as well.
“The historic Midwest Theater is a beautiful venue and the center of arts events and activities for Scotts Bluff County and beyond,” adds Willa Kosman, executive director of the Midwest Theater.
She says the theater is available for a variety of activities and gatherings such as tours, special ceremonies, speaking engagements and cocktail parties.
Grand Theatre, Grand Island
The Grand Theatre, an anchor for historic downtown Grand Island, is currently finishing up a stunning $3 million facade restoration to mark its 75th anniversary. According to Paul Nielsen, spokesman for the Grand Island/Hall County CVB, the Art Deco theater will feature a new glass tile exterior replicating the original design.
“The 450-seat theater still sports its original interior decoration and shows second-run films on the weekends,” he says, adding that numerous other events are held at the theater throughout the year, including travelogues and variety shows. “Groups can enjoy the regular movie nights, or rent the theater for business presentations, trainings or for a pleasure screening of an old-time favorite or current movie.”
The Grand, featured in a documentary called Haunted Nebraska, also has “haunted tours” lead by a paranormal investigator to search for ghosts.
“Going to the Grand is an event, an occasion, where manners are remembered, people wait patiently in line, property is respected and conversation and pleasantries are exchanged,” Nielsen adds. “There is a sense of community pride and ownership that brings joy to all who enter, whether as a moviegoer, concert attendee or event participant.”
The Grand’s best feature and use for groups is its auditorium, which seats up to 450 people and has crystal clear acoustics and the original 1930s Art Deco interior, according to Nielsen.
“A future goal is to buy an adjacent building and create space suited for dinner and a movie or hosting receptions,” he says.
Museum of Nebraska Art, Kearney
Formerly the Kearney Post Office from 1911 to 1985, the three-floor Museum of Nebraska Art building celebrated its centennial last year.
“The entire art community in Kearney has grown immensely due in part to the people involved with MONA and the programming they offer all year-round, indoors and out,” says Sarah Focke, convention sales and tourism manager at the Kearney Visitors Bureau.
The Museum of Nebraska Art, also known as MONA, is unique in that it’s the only museum in the world strictly featuring the art and artists of Nebraska.
“MONA celebrates Nebraska’s artistic culture and heritage by collecting and preserving, exhibiting and interpreting the art of Nebraska,” says Karen Humphrey, spokeswoman for MONA.
Tours of MONA and its collections are available for groups.
MONA also offers classes throughout the year for all ages, including Interpret Music through Paint, Art and Puppetry, and Abstract Still Life Painting.
“MONA also hosts a variety of events, from receptions to business luncheons,” Humphrey says.
Norfolk Arts Center, Norfolk
Founded in 1978, the Norfolk Arts Center was established to provide visual arts to the residents of northeast Nebraska. Today, it exhibits the works of regional artists who create sculpture, painting, beadwork and more, and it also has a calendar of performance arts events.
“Groups can schedule a tour or plan a group project on-site,” says Melinda Wriedt Kozel, program coordinator at the Norfolk Arts Center. “There are also a variety of classes available and exhibit receptions every six to eight weeks that are free and open to the public.”
The facility, which is available year-round for group gatherings, features two galleries, two classrooms, a gallery concourse and a serving kitchen.
Art & Gift Gallery, North Platte
North Platte’s Art & Gift Gallery also features the works of local artists. Here, attendees will find contemporary, original art in many mediums ranging from paintings, pencil drawings and photographs to woodcarvings, pottery and jewelry.
“Groups will experience some of North Platte’s best talents,” says Ginger Ady of the North Platte/Lincoln County CVB. “The Art & Gift Gallery can also have artists give demonstrations to your group.”
Ady adds that the gallery can accommodate small gatherings.
Carolyn Blackburn is a frequent contributor to Meetings Focus MidAmerica.