For almost seven years, Connect Gallery, situated on a busy corner on Leavenworth Street within walking distance of UNMC, has featured a wide variety of art by Nebraska and Iowa artists.

Over 100 artists — painters, sculptors, printmakers, photographers, jewelry makers, folk artists, furniture makers, weavers, calligraphers and more — have showcased their work at the gallery, which also hosted workshops and a popular biannual fiber arts exhibition.

On Dec. 28, those seven years come to a close as Connect’s owner and director, Tom Sitzman, shuts down the gallery for good.

He opened the venue with his wife, Jean, in January 2013 with an exhibition of works by painter Julie Thorsen. In addition to being gallery owners, the Sitzmans have been part of Omaha’s art community for some 50-plus years as collectors and educators. They are also both artists — Tom is a sculptor, Jean a fiber artist.

Communication and fostering a love of art were key components at Connect.

“We feel that a gallery’s first job is to educate the buyer,” Sitzman said. “We always tell our artists that their first job is to tell their story in the media they are using. A sale is always exciting for us, knowing that the art is going to a good home to be enjoyed as a piece of original, one-of-a-kind art and not something that matches the couch.”

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A piece by Al Rhea from his "Our Habitat" exhibit, which will be the final exhibit at Connect Gallery before it closes on Dec. 28.

Throughout Connect’s run, Sitzman focused on an eclectic curating approach and said he and Jean didn’t “draw a tight circle” around what might be considered “real art.”

“We never let ourselves be pinned down to showing one kind of art,” he said. “Our definition of art is anything that brings meaning to the viewer in a voice they understand. If we liked it, and the artist had a story to tell, we would show it. It is about living artfully.”

It’s also about challenging viewers. The Sitzmans never turned down work based on content, he said.

“Art that does not make people think is just vanilla ice cream,” Sitzman said.

He fondly remembers a reaction some young clients had to one of his artists.

“Several years ago, we had three grade-school girls in the gallery so excited about a Nick Chiburis nude,” Sitzman said. “They told their parents that when they grew up, they wanted to be that good an artist.”

Connect’s owner said the economic challenge of operating a gallery in today’s art market and a desire to retire played roles in the decision. Sitzman, who is turning 78, wanted to go out on a high note. His last show, “Al Rhea: Our Habitat,” features wall relief sculptures and mobiles. Gallery patrons will recognize the work. For several years, Rhea’s two eight-foot-tall stainless steel sculptures stood outside Connect and welcomed visitors to the gallery.

As he prepares for his last opening Friday, Sitzman has a message for art lovers.

“We would like to thank all of you who support metro-area artists and all hard-working artists,” he said. “We have an incredible art community in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa. They are what has made being a gallery owner fun, enjoyable and exciting. When you are excited about what you do, you will never work a day in your life.”

Sitzman also has parting words for the 100 artists he and Jean have worked with over the years.

“You all are so creative and been wonderful to work with,” he said. “We thank all of you so much for the art you have brought to Omaha homes, businesses and public spaces. Never stop making art.”

Connect Gallery, 3901 Leavenworth St. “Al Rhea: Our Habitat.” Opening reception: 5:30 to 9 p.m. Friday. Through Dec. 28. Gallery hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. connectgallery.net or 402-991-8234.

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This complete guide of local music, movies, dining and entertainment will have you weekend ready.

NEW THIS WEEK

Amplify Arts, 1419 S. 13th St., Suite 103. “Panel Discussion: Art & Labor.” Art historian Alexandra Cardon, director of the Union for Contemporary Art Brigitte McQueen Shew and artist and educator Tyler Swain discuss the value of cultural labor and why it’s monetized differently than other labor. Noon to 1 p.m. Friday. amplifyarts.org or 402-996-1092.

Anderson O’Brien Fine Art, 3201 Farnam Street Suite 6109. “Small Works Exhibition Opening Reception.” Features miniature works by Stephen Dinsmore, Shelly Bartek, Carol Thompson, Gary Bowling, Rebecca Hermann, Tim Klunder, Connie Connally, Tom Maakestad, Lisa Tubach, Vince Hron, Christian Rothman, Christina Narwicz and more. 5 to 8 p.m. Friday. Through Dec. 31. aobfineart.com or 402-884-0911.

The Art Garden, 9747 Q St. “Art and Gift Boutique.” The annual event features work by Omaha artisans. 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday. theartgardennebraska.org or 402-452-3355.

Artists’ Cooperative Fine Art Gallery, 405 S. 11th St. “Small Works Exhibition.” Features original work by gallery members sized under 20-by-20 inches, Opening reception: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. Through Dec. 29. artistsco-opgallery.com or 402-342-9617.

Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, 724 S. 12th St. “Alluring Specimens: Curating and the Curious Intersections of Art and Zoology.” A discussion of the intersections in the practices of care, collaboration and research by curator Sylvie Fortin and Stephanie Huettner, the Birds and Atlantic Puffin Species Survival Plan coordinator at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday. bemiscenter.org or 402-341-7130.

BENCH, 1441 N. 11th St. “Bench & Friends Holiday Open House.” Features open studios of the resident makers. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. benchomaha.com or 402-915-1399.

The B Side of Benson Theatre, 6058 Maple St. “Unnecessary Duplicates with Meghan O’Connor.” Showcases work that explores themes of refuge, persecution, survival and hierarchies. 6 to 8 p.m. Friday. bensontheatre.org or 402-991-4333.

Cali Commons, 518 N. 40th St. “Project Rebirth.” A community-driven initiative to reduce waste and produce art. 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday.

Also at Cali Commons: “December Drink N Draw.” A life-drawing session hosted by the venue. 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. $8 exact change. calicommons.com or 402-513-2321.

Choice Custom Framing & Gallery, 5905 Maple St. “Mythical Beasts V.” Features work around the theme. 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. facebook.com/choiceframinggallery or 402-505-6666.

Citylight Arts Project, 5603 Northwest Radial. “Carly Janet Halsey: Winter Makers Market.” Features work by the artist, who references underlying gridded structures to produce abstract pieces in various mediums. 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. facebook.com/citylightartsproject or 402-551-0760.

Creighton University Lied Art Gallery, 2500 California Plaza. “2019 CU Empty Bowls Project: Benefit for Siena/Francis House.” A sale of handmade ceramic bowls between $5 and $10 to benefit the homeless shelter. 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursday. creighton.edu/ccas/fineandperformingarts/liedartgallery.

Daisy Jones’ Locker, 6003 Maple St. “BFF Pop-up with Prickly Pear Embroidery.” Hand-sewn pieces by Brianne Tellez. 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. daisy-jones-locker.com or 402-933-1390.

El Museo Latino, 4701 S. 25th St. “Gallery Talk: Frida Kahlo’s Garden.” A talk about the current exhibition. 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday.

Also at El Museo: “Saturday Art Fun.” Free art-making activities for the whole family. 10:30 a.m. and noon Saturday. “Public Guided Tours.” Tours of current exhibitions. Noon to 1 p.m. Saturday. elmuseolatino.org or 402-731-1137.

The Frame Service Gallery, 3564 Farnam St. “Holiday Group Art Show 2019.” Includes paintings, prints, ceramics, glass, wood and letterpress cards by local artists. 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. 402-346-6130.

Gallery 1516, 1516 Leavenworth St. “Book Launch: Nomi Stone & Lindsey Anne Baker.” Features new work by the poets. 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday. gallery1516.org or 402-305-1510.

Haney Studio, 1141 N. 11th St. “Haney Open Studio.” A showcase of Amy Haney’s new paintings, prints and works in progress. 4 to 7 p.m. Friday and noon to 6 p.m. Saturday. amyhaney.com.

Harvester Artspace, 1000 S. Main St., Council Bluffs. “8th Annual Holiday Boutique.” Includes hand-made goods, original art and a visit from Santa Claus. Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. facebook.com/Harvesterartistlofts.

KANEKO, 1111 Jones St. “What’s Your Story: The Healing Power of Words.” A safe space to discover and write about new meanings of health and disease as it applies to participants and the community around them. 10 a.m. to noon Saturday. Free. Registration required.

Also at Kaneko: “Influence Family Day: Winter Wonderland.” Hands-on, family-fun activities in the gallery spaces. Free. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. thekaneko.org or 402-341-3800.

Loftus Studio, 2520 N. 61st St. “Holiday Art Show/Art Sale.” Features work by painter Mike Loftus. Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday.

The HideAway Art Gallery, 5701 Northwest Radial. “Nash Bellows.” Abstract formal paintings with a bright, colorful palette that bring low art and pop culture together. 5 to 9 p.m. Friday. facebook.com/pg/hideawayartgallery.

Hot Shops Art Center, 1301 Nicholas St. “Winter Open House.” Features work by 80-plus artists and demonstrations in bronze pouring, clay work, iron forging, glass blowing, painting and more. Noon to 8 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. hotshopsartcenter.com or 402-342-6452.

Jake’s Cigars, 6206 Maple St. “Benson First Friday.” New artworks, prints and insect taxidermy by Tracy Haas, Josh Audiss, Dave Koenig, Tobias Caballero, Christopher Martini, Katie Martin and Jay Barnett. 7 to 10 p.m. Friday. jakescigars.com or 402-934-9633.

Joslyn Art Museum, 2200 Dodge St. “Holiday Under Glass.” Features the Central High School Guitar Ensemble. Noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday.

Also at Joslyn: “Caskets of Bones and Walls of Stone: The Saints in Western Medieval Art.” A lecture presented by Bridget Sandhoff, Ph.D., associate professor of art history at UNO. 6:30 p.m. Thursday. “Holiday Under Glass.” A concert by the MasterSingers of Omaha. Noon to 1 p.m. Friday. “Encountering The Saint John’s Bible.” Features the lecture “Gospel Portraiture and the Art of Interpretation” with Dr. Susan Calef, who explores the distinctive features of each of the four Gospel “portraits” of Jesus and their contributions to Christian spirituality. 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday. joslyn.org or 402-342-3300.

The Little Gallery, 5901 Maple St. “5th Annual Little Show.” Work by local artists measuring 12-by-12 inches or smaller for $100 or less. Opening reception: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. Through Dec. 28. facebook.com/thelittlegalleryandbuff or 402-681-1901.

Main Street Studios and Art Gallery, 2610 Main St., Elkhorn. “Holiday Open House.” Features original art by local artists. 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. mainstreetstudios2610.com or 402-452-3088.

Maple St. Construct, 5912 Maple St. “Foundation Drawings: Steve Joy.” Showcases drawings by the world-renowned painter. 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. facebook.com/maplestconstruct or 402-630-7854.

Mayflower Mobile Mobile Gallery at Citylight Arts Project, 5603 Northwest Radial. “Natori Pittman.” Work by the artist, who explores mediums, illustrations and representation in art. 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. bffomaha.org/mamo.

Mercer Masonic Lodge, 5903 Maple St. “BFF Winter Artist Market.” Showcases a variety of work by local artists and handmade goods. 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. johnjmercerlodge.org or 402-553-0679.

OM Center, 1216 Howard St. “Holiday Art Bazaar.” Features art by Roxanne Wach, Clay Cunningham, Gerard Pefung, Sara McNeilly Ammon, John Prouty and others. 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. omahahealingarts.com or 402-345-5078.

Petshop Gallery, 2725-2727 N. 62nd St. “BEAM: UNO Student Exhibition.” Showcases selected work from the ceramics curriculum and the fall 2019 Art in Public Places course at UNO. 7 to 10 p.m. Friday. facebook.com/bensonpetshop.

Populus, 2566 Farnam St. “Connections.” Work by Travis Apel, Erin Dickey, Toph Beck, Kaitlin Kratky, Shawnequa Linder and Ben Rudnicki. facebook.com/populusco or 402-625-7866.

Star Deli, 6114 Military Ave. “December Group Art Exhibition.” Features work by local artists, with sales benefiting the nonprofit Nebraska Appleseed. 6 to 8 p.m. Friday. omahastardeli.com or 402-880-8481.

Union for Contemporary Art, 2423 N. 24th St. “UnionMade: An Artist Market.” Features original work by co-op members. Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. u-ca.org or 402-933-3161.

White Horse Art Gallery & Newberry Art Studio, 2416 S. 120th St. “Holiday Open House.” Features artwork and pottery from seven artists. 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday. facebook.com/pg/WhiteHorseArtGallery or 402-616-6439.