Benson began its process of achieving Creative District status many years before I was even associated with the neighborhood. It has long fostered a creative culture, which is why I moved to the neighborhood in 2010. Drawn to the live music scene, intimate feel, and connectivity, I got a job at Jake’s Cigars and a rental house near Holy Name Church.
In 2012, long before creative district status was attainable through the state, myself and a group of fellow artists and community members founded BFF Omaha (BFF), then (and often still) known as Benson First Friday. BFF is dedicated to building community through arts engagement. We support the arts and our community through Advocacy, Education, Inclusion, Opportunity, and Unique experiences (AEIOU). We provide a social infrastructure integral to the community’s well-being and supportive of local artists, businesses, residents, commerce, and the environment through interactive art programs.
BFF was founded by a group of underrepresented artists and community members looking for positive change and additional artist resources and support in the Omaha community. Over the past 11 years, I’ve worked with hundreds of artists and volunteers who have dedicated their time and talents, along with the Benson community, in pursuit of becoming a creative district. Most of our founding artists volunteered 40+ hours a month and/or paid out of pocket to fund the project. This amount of volunteer artists grew into the “BFF Crew,” with each artist dedicating 10 – 20 hours a month to the project. This volunteer model still persists to some extent. I was a volunteer myself until June 2022.
Before Nebraska recognized Creative Districts, BFF’s former Development Director Caitlin Little even spoke in support of creative districts in Nebraska during state hearings for the program.
“We have continually reinvested in our community, creating jobs for artists, implementing safety measures for our immediate community, and leading environmentally sustainable projects to beautify our neighborhood. We also use marketing synergy to create support for all who occupy our district.”
– Caitlin Little, BFF
As soon as the program was established by the state and the Nebraska Arts Council (NAC), BFF assembled a group of neighborhood advocates and stakeholders to help with the application process. Our team needed to gather as much community interest and input as possible while filling out the application. We gathered this input through online surveys, informal discussions, and community forums, which One Omaha helped facilitate in March of 2021. They created a comprehensive report on our findings from the forum and online surveys, which helped us immensely with our NAC application and our 5-year strategic plan. We would (and do!) greatly recommend One Omaha to other communities in Omaha interested in establishing a creative district!
With enough community input gathered and ongoing outlets available to collect more, we were able to submit our official application to NAC, which ended up being 45 pages long and included 27 appendices. After acceptance of the application and following a successful site visit and tour of Benson with NAC, we were officially granted status as the Benson Creative District in July 2022. The neighborhood celebrated and inaugurated this moment with a ribbon-cutting ceremony across Maple Street, officiated by the Greater Omaha Chamber.
This designation only elevates the already strong community engagement, creative culture, and supportive neighborhood rooted decades ago in Benson and since BFF’s establishment in 2012. The district’s mission is to advance creativity and economic vitality in the historic Benson community. Our vision is to elevate artists, amplify Benson’s creative spirit, and serve as a hub for creative enterprise and expression in the Midwest. We plan to continue supporting Omaha’s creatives through additional creative events, community support, infrastructure improvements, tourist attractions, and spaces for Omaha’s artists to work, live, create, and exhibit.
We are always in need and have space for new volunteers, creatives, and supporters, as future community dreams and efforts will need everyone’s help to accomplish. More information on the district can be found at experiencebenson.com, bffomaha.org/district, and by emailing email@example.com. Donations can be accepted at bffomaha.org/support.
This blog was written by Alex Jochim, co-founder and executive director of BFF.
April 7th (5 – 11 pm) – First Friday – Neighborhood – wide Art Walk
April 7th (TBD) – Maple Street Construct Short Film Festival
May 5th (5 – 11 pm) – First Friday (+ Artist Markets) – Neighborhood – wide Art Walk with street closures featuring artist vendors, live artists, live music, performances, etc.
May 13th (2 – 8 pm) – “Benson Allstar Rumble (a Fundraiser)” aka BARF – Spring fundraiser, featuring creative competitions, games, live artists/musicians within the Benson Creative District in support of BFF Omaha.
May 19 – 20th – Benson Film Festival – Film / Art / Community – hosted by Aksarben Creative & Benson Theatre.
June 2nd (5 – 11 pm) – First Friday PRIDE – Celebrating LGBTQIA2S+ artists and performers on – street and inside various locations within the district.
TBA June – Benson Beer Fest – Craft beer tasting on – street festival
July 29th (11 am – 4 pm) – Benson Days – Neighborhood celebration featuring a parade and street vendors
August 4th (6 – 10 pm) – The New American Arts Festival – Celebrating local refugee and immigrant artists, performers, and cultures on – street and inside various locations within the district.
August 19th (2 pm – 2 am) – PETFEST – BFF Omaha’s annual music festival and fundraiser featuring 15 – 25 musicians, bands, and performing artists.
TBA October – Zombie Walk – Annual zombie costumed gathering and “walk” along Maple Street.
November 10th (6 – 11 pm) – The BFF Ball – BFF Omaha’s annual end-of-year fundraiser, membership gala, and celebration.
TBA November – Maple Street Construct Fundraiser – Fundraiser featuring visual artists and more.