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  • Writer's pictureartistsinrise


Updated: Nov 3, 2022

In 1981, Omaha artists Jun Kaneko, Tony Hepburn, Lorne Falk, and Ree Schonlau saw the creative benefits of time, space, and support that their artist program, Alternative Worksite, gave to young artists. They knew that with more resources came more opportunity for artists to work and produce connections with museums, curators, collectors, and other artists.

They were able to acquire the Bemis Bag Warehouse in Omaha, Nebraska with the help of public and private partners. The old bag factory, a place where the first machine printed bags and food sacks were made, became the Bemis Foundation, a place where artists could research, experiment, and nurture their creative impulses. In 1995, the organization moved into its current headquarters, the McCord-Brady wholesale grocery warehouse, and became Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.

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Bemis Center quickly became internationally known as a preeminent artist residency. This fueled the organization to continue in its founding mission and expand their resources and programs. A couple of the new programs include the Exhibition Program, which supports international artists that focus on site-specific, immersive, and socially engaged work. Another is the Public Programs at Bemis that ignites civic engagement through professional development for artists, education initiatives, and community collaborations.

In 2017, Bemis Center’s Curator-in-Residence Program was established as the first of its kind in Nebraska. This unique program provides curators the opportunity to participate in the Bemis Residency Program, serve as a professional resource to Bemis artists-in-residence and the Greater Omaha arts community, and organize exhibitions and public programs at Bemis Center.

More recently, in 2019, Bemis Center launched its Sound Art + Experimental Music Program, with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The program includes a special track within the Residency Program for artists working in sound, composition, voice, and music of all genres. Among the first residents of the Sound Art + Experimental Music Program was Raven Chacon (2019) who, in 2022 became the first Native American to win a Pulitzer Prize. Chacons prized composition is titled, Voiceless Mass.