The Union for Contemporary Art is located within the north Omaha community, a segment of our city that covers more than 30 square miles and encompasses more than 50 unique neighborhoods. African Americans head approximately 73% of the households in north Omaha. The area contains many of Omaha’s most economically and socially distressed neighborhoods with more than 17% of residents living at or below the national poverty line.
The Union’s current and soon-to-be facilities are located within the North 24th and Lake Historic District, an area also historically referred to as the Near North Side neighborhood. This area of north Omaha has long been distinguished as the nucleus of Omaha’s African American community. During its “golden years” from the 1920’s through the early 1960’s, a time of rampant discriminatory housing practices called redlining, the area flourished as a segregated but vibrant and bustling economic and cultural corridor. Near North Side venues contributed significantly to the evolution of America’s jazz and big band legacies.
Following a heightened period of civil unrest in the mid to late 1960’s, the area entered a period of rapid decline followed by nearly five decades of systematic disinvestment and disregard. Today, a multitude of community investments, initiatives, and new organizations are bringing hope that this trend is finally beginning to reverse.
In 2011, the North Omaha Village Revitalization Plan was completed by community stakeholders that identified North 24th and Lake Streets as the ideal epicenter for revitalizing an arts and cultural district in north Omaha. Although The Union was not born out of the city-approved plan, our successful establishment, neighborhood focus, and relocation into the Blue Lion building positions us to proudly play an anchor role in this long-held goal. Coinciding projects such as Seventy5North’s Highlander project, The OEDC’s Fair Deal Village Plaza development, the renovation of Adams Park Master Plan and the development of No More Empty Pot’s facility, among others, are collectively changing the face of north Omaha and creating a renewed interest in the area.
Median household income of The Union’s surrounding zip codes (68111 & 68110) is 49% less than the city’s median. Within these zip codes, 42% of residents live below the national poverty line. In 2014, Nebraskans for Peace noted the [north Omaha] area as having the highest child poverty level of any U.S. Black metropolitan area. The community also contains the largest urban food desert in the state of Nebraska, with many residents lacking access to nutritious food.
The Union for Contemporary Art is working closely with our community partners to address these issues in our community. We strive to strengthen our community by rising above the lines that divide us — racially, socially, and economically — so that we may become a more unified and culturally vibrant city. We are committed to using the arts as a vehicle for social justice and civic engagement, as well as individual and collective empowerment.