Omaha-Lincoln collaborative launches mobile outdoor venue for post-pandemic revitalization

Omaha Mobile Stage revives Good Fellows Show Wagon concept with focus on community, public health, education and economic recovery for artists

A multidisciplinary collaborative of Omaha and Lincoln-based leaders in the fields of design, performance, education and placemaking has begun fundraising efforts for a new project aimed at reviving neighborhoods, schools and public spaces post-pandemic. 

Omaha Mobile Stage, a mobile performing arts venue, will be a catalyst for supporting performing artists and engaging communities via free, live entertainment in public space. The project currently includes 15 organizations and has raised over $36,000 of its $125,000 goal.

“Omaha Mobile Stage is a prototype for a new model of outdoor venue—providing a fun and flexible, but safe and serene, place for Omahans to re-engage with each other, reactivate public spaces, and reanimate social, creative and economic life in the city,” said Jessica Scheuerman, executive director of Partners for Livable Omaha, the nonprofit that manages the Omaha Mobile Stage project. 

The project takes place in two phases—a designbuild phase in Lincoln, followed by a live performing arts tour in Omaha. 

Phase I is directed by design professionals Jeffrey L.  Day, FAIA  and Brendan Greene-Walsh, and placemaking facilitator Jessica Scheuerman. Over the course of the upcoming fall semester, they will lead a team of 4th year architecture, landscape architecture, and interior design students who will design and build the stage. Adapted from a used truck able to be parked anywhere, the Omaha Mobile Stage will be an accessible, adaptable, and easily transportable stage supporting a variety for performers and events. The stage will be fully equipped with lighting and sound equipment as well as basic set dressing. It will be designed and built by students as a fall semester design studio project in the UNL College of Architecture, working in collaboration with selected vendors and tradespeople. 

Phase II is led by a diverse range of public space managers, local performers and arts nonprofits. Several Omaha-based arts nonprofits—Nebraska Writers Collective, Omaha Conservatory of Music, and tbd. dance collective—have joined the project. The project is planning free, outdoor events for spring 2022. Events will be hosted by venue collaborators such as Culxr House, the Gifford Park Neighborhood Association, The Holy Family Community Center, The Joslyn Castle and The RiverFront. 

As restrictions to field trips and engagement with outside artists are expected to continue for Omaha Public Schools students for the 2021-22 school year, Omaha Mobile Stage and collaborator Omaha Public School Foundation will launch an Artists Return to Schools (ARTS) Program to deliver live performances that can be experienced safely, outdoors, on school grounds.

“This project started at the peak of the pandemic with the hope of easing some of the social isolation and economic uncertainty we all felt,” said Scheuerman. “In response to the mental health strain felt by everyone and the hardships placed on the creative community, we saw an opportunity to build an outdoor, mobile stage to safely and reliably produce free, live entertainment.”

“We know this can be done here, as it’s been done before and for six decades.”


Scheuerman connects the Omaha Mobile Stage to Omaha and Lincoln’s rich cultural heritage of using mobile performing arts to build community during each city’s Show Wagon years. 

Phase I: Designbuild

The first phase of the project is lead by a collaboration between Partners for Livable Omaha, award-winning architect Jeffrey L.  Day, FAIA of Actual Architecture Co.; FACT (Fabrication And Construction Team), an award-winning student designbuild program at the UNL College of Architecture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Omaha-based theatrical designer and technical director Brendan Greene-Walsh; and Nebraska Innovation Studio. 

The bulk of the designbuild phase occurs within the framework of the FACT Collaborate! Studio class offered by UNL’s College of Architecture. During the fall 2021 semester, a team of 4th year architecture, landscape architecture, and interior design students will create the stage at Nebraska Innovation Campus inside the Nebraska Innovation Studio, one of the nation’s top makerspaces, a 16,000-square-foot facility with a full metal shop, wood shop and rapid prototyping room.

“Fuddy Meers” at the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film, Fall 2016. Brendan Greene-Walsh, Technical Director and Automation Designer. 

Phase II: Public Space Tour

After construction is complete, Omaha Mobile Stage will operate as a mobile, public venue for performing artists of all ages and disciplines. 

“Gifford Park is returning to our neighborhood a new version of the Show Wagon, which was a mobile stage venue for aspiring youth to show off their talents in front of the community,” said Chris Foster of the Gifford Park Neighborhood Association. “The Omaha Mobile Stage’s tour stops in the Gifford Park neighborhood will once again inspire all generations. Like the Show Wagon, this project will draw together neighbors in a fun, family-friendly environment sure to create more connections and dreams.”

Performing artists will have access to paid stipends. The project also offers partners access to the stage in an open-air, public space; professional sound and lighting equipment; and crew and event manager support.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, parks, gardens and schools are positioned as resources for improving public health,” said Scheuerman. “As traditional institutions, they are already embedded in communities and are anchors in the physical setting. They already provide accessible open and green spaces that are essential for combating isolation during a public health crisis.”

By working in partnership with a diverse range of public space managers, property types, local performers and arts nonprofits, the programming will respond to the local heritage, culture and tastes of Omaha’s unique neighborhoods. 

Tour dates and performers will be announced after phase one is complete.

Artists Return to Schools (ARTS) Program

In addition to touring public space, Omaha Mobile Stage will launch its Artists Return to Schools (ARTS) Program at Omaha Public Schools locations in spring 2022.

Omaha Public School students in underserved communities rely on schools for  arts enrichment experiences such as field trips to local arts institutions and visiting artists in classroom and afterschool settings. Restrictions on opportunities for access to and engagement with professional performing artists are expected to continue for the 2021-22 school year.

“Even before the pandemic, many of our students across the District did not have enough access to the arts due to socioeconomic conditions beyond their control,” said Toba Cohen-Dunning, executive director of Omaha Public Schools Foundation. 

“This initiative brings creative and innovative performances to every child across OPS,” said Cohen-Dunning. “The arts increase communication skills, teach children how to work in partnership with each other, encourage creativity and provide incredible new experiences. The Omaha Mobile Stage is coming to Omaha at an important moment in time and we are grateful to everyone who is making this wonderful endeavor possible.” 

The Omaha Mobile Stage offers an innovative solution, safely reintroducing students to the performing arts via its Artists Return to Schools (ARTS) program. In partnership with local performing arts groups and the Omaha Public Schools Foundation, Omaha Mobile Stage will deliver live performances that can be experienced safely, outdoors, on school grounds.

Good Fellows Show Wagon

“We know this can be done here, as it’s been done before and for six decades,” said Scheuerman, an Omaha native who connects this project to Omaha and Lincoln’s rich cultural heritage of using mobile performing arts to build social cohesion. 

Beginning in 1952 and lasting for 59 years, the City of Omaha Parks Department operated the Good Fellows Show Wagon as a youth talent competition. In its heyday in the 1970s, the Show Wagon drew hundreds of contestants and thousands of audience members from the Omaha area and beyond. 

Among many who grew up, raised families and aged in the city during this time, it was a memorable and cherished feature of community life. 

In 1966, the Lincoln Recreation Department dedicated a Show Wagon, a “theater on wheels” that was taken to schools around the city.

Support

Omaha Mobile Stage is made possible by the generous support of Anonymous, the Omaha Public Schools Foundation, Kevin M. McCarthy, and Bluestone Development. Donations to the project are tax deductible and can be made at omahamobilestage.org/support.

Partners

Omaha Mobile Stage is a collaboration with:  

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About Partners for Livable Omaha

Omaha Mobile Stage is a project of Partners for Livable Omaha. Founded by Jessica Scheuerman in 2020, Partners for Livable Omaha is an Omaha-based nonprofit dedicated to the educational and charitable support of the live performing arts. 

Scheuerman is also vice president of the D.C.-based national nonprofit Partners for Livable Communities, where she began her career in 2007. With Partners for Livable Communities, she has written extensively concerning creative responses to America’s aging crisis, provided technical assistance to communities across the U.S., and is the editor of Mobilizing Arts and Cultural Resources for Community Development.

Scheuerman’s work has been supported by ArtPlace America, the D.C. Office of Planning, MetLife Foundation, Kresge Foundation, the National Endowment of the Arts, The Sherwood Foundation, and numerous Nebraska-based sponsors.