Omaha couple being honored for their support of arts, humanities

Annette and Paul Smith will be presented with this year's Sower Award from Humanities Nebraska on Oct. 1.

Between the two of them, Paul and Annette Smith have degrees in business, engineering, architecture and psychology.

And yet over the past two decades, they've been among Omaha's most important philanthropic supporters of the arts and humanities.

"In a way, it sounds like it doesn't fit," said Paul Smith, a founding member of Tenaska Capital Management. "But both of us have been lifelong lovers of the arts, music and literature, and so we've always been active members of the consuming public.

"Even if we don't play musical instruments, and we don't come from a background where we got a degree in English literature or that sort of thing, it's been an important part of our lives."

Next month, the couple will be recognized as the recipients of the 2015 Sower Award in the Humanities. Given by Humanities Nebraska, the annual award honors "an individual, institution, business or community that has made a significant contribution to public understanding of the humanities in Nebraska."

The Smiths were nominated by Ann Bird of Omaha with letters of support from multiple individuals who recognized the Smiths' multi-faceted efforts in making the arts and humanities accessible to everyone.

Community volunteer Jessica Pate highlighted the couple's support of innovation in art: "Paul and Annette's willingness to invest again and again in the new, the untried, have enviably enriched our cultural landscape."

The Smiths have supported arts organizations that include the Great Plains Theater Conference, the Louder Than a Bomb poetry festival in Omaha, the Omaha Conservatory of Music, Opera Omaha and the Omaha Symphony.

"It's often around things like the arts where we connect with other people from all over our community," Smith said. "That is an important thing to giving a community identity, and making it open to new and different cultures."

The Smiths' recognition will be Oct. 1 before the Governor's Lecture in the Humanities at the Holland Performing Arts Center. This year's free lecture, "World War One: Remembering America's Forgotten War," will be delivered by David Reynolds, a Cambridge professor of history, at 7:30 p.m.

"We hope that (the award) will lead other people to think carefully about what the arts mean in our community and support the arts, each in their way," Smith said. "If that's just being part of the consuming public, that's great. ... If they also want to support the arts financially, we hope that we're providing a positive example."

The Smiths also have directed philanthropic efforts at organizations not strictly focused on the arts, including Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands.

Annette is a board member at the Open Sky Policy Institute and the College of St. Mary, as well as president-elect of the Boys and Girls Club of the Midlands. She volunteers at a number of local organizations.

Paul Smith is a board member of the Joslyn Art Museum, Film Streams, the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts and the Omaha Conservatory of Music.

Paul is an Omaha native, and Annette is originally from Ashland. They have three adult sons.

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