The writer, professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, is a former chair of the UNO Department of Art and Art History and a current member of the Omaha Public Art Commission.
An Aug. 3, 2018, World-Herald editorial, “Art vision wins praise,” states: “Among … middle-sized U.S. cities … the Omaha-Council Bluffs area ranked sixth nationwide for the strength of its art community.” The editorial concludes: “Our area is demonstrating commendable vision on the arts front. Continued support and artistic vision can lead to even greater progress and recognition.”
One important component of the arts community relates to the visual arts; and one important institution in the arts community is the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The 60-page Summer 2019 UNO Magazine has UNO and art as its major theme. While most of the articles are very positive, there are a few statements made, and facts not stated, that are troubling.
The article “Who Made that? A UNO developed app can tell you” describes a collaborative effort between the Omaha Public Art Commission, Omaha by Design and UNO’s College of Information Science & Technology to compile an online, searchable database and Public Art Omaha mobile application of more than 370 public art installations in the Omaha metropolitan area. Not mentioned was the university deciding in 2018 that it could no longer support the website and app. No updates have been made to the app since the website was removed from the UNO server. At its August 2019 meeting, the Omaha Public Arts Commission voted to discontinue the mobile application. The only dissenting vote was mine. While I understand my fellow commissioners’ reluctance to have outdated information presented, I am hopeful a way can be found to maintain the mobile app.
Also disturbing is the lack of documentation concerning UNO campus art. In the article, “Art House — Like art?” claims are made that UNO is home to more than 1,000 art objects, estimated value in excess of $4.5 million. However, it is acknowledged there is no comprehensive inventory of UNO art either in terms of objects or value.
Not mentioned in the magazine articles is lack of a university budget for maintenance or restoration of art on the campus. Some units (for example, the College of Business Administration) have taken it upon themselves to maintain art in their building/grounds, but for most of the UNO art, there is no budget for maintenance/restoration. Art keeps being purchased (for example, through Nebraska’s 1% for Art law), but no provisions are made for upkeep. A significant number of art pieces need restoration. Perhaps the two most notable examples are Alice Aycock’s “Waterfall” and Sidney Buchanan’s “Black Twist,” both of which are prominently mentioned in UNO Magazine.
“Waterfall” was originally a 1% for Art piece at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The sculpture, installed in 1993 in front of the current UNMC Durham Outpatient Clinic, was proclaimed the most important piece of public art in Omaha. In 1998 “Waterfall” was removed when the hospital’s outpatient clinic outdoor area was remodeled. When UNMC officials decided not to reinstall it on the campus in 1999, it was moved to the UNO Aksarben campus (current Scott campus) behind the Peter Kiewit Building. There were difficulties after reinstallation getting flowing water (a critical component of the installation) to cascade down the sculpture. The decision was made to “temporarily” shut off the water — the water remains shut off today.
“Black Twist,” the prominent feature on the northwest corner of the Dodge Street campus, was installed in 1993. By 2010 the paint on the sculpture began to show significant signs of deterioration, and the paint has continued to fade and peel, but it still has not been repainted.
For Omaha to attain even greater progress and national recognition of its art community, institutions, such as the University of Nebraska at Omaha, must play a critical role. I urge the university to find ways to continue support for the Omaha Public Art mobile application and to fund the inventory, appraisal, ongoing maintenance and restoration of art on the UNO campus.