Art improves our communities and our mental health


Hannah Michelle Bussa

Life imitates art, and art is what communities need to thrive equally, inclusively and collaboratively. State Senator Megan Hunt along with Caitlin Little, Patrick Mainelli and Marcey Yates are just a handful of people bringing this vision to life in Omaha. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

“Art has always brought folks together,” said Caitlin Little of Benson First Friday (BFF) Omaha.

However, unlike most states, Nebraska did not have any recognized art districts until Nebraska’s legislature passed a bill introduced by State Senator Megan Hunt this summer.

“A cultural district is a specific geographical area in a city or town that has a concentration of cultural facilities, activities and assets,” Sen. Hunt said. “It is a walkable, compact area that is easily identifiable to visitors and residents and serves as a center of cultural, artistic and economic activity.”

“The districts are for everyone,” Hunt said. “Creative districts embrace a community’s characteristics, helping to revitalize neighborhoods and increase the quality of life of residents by preserving cultural or ethnic heritage, fostering creative spaces and encouraging community collaboration.”

Caitlin Little added, “This bill will allow those districts to receive funding to grow their economic and cultural footprint.”

BFF Omaha in Benson offers several affordable and accessible programs that support the community, including highlighting artists new to America and refugee artists. Little spoke about the importance of art in communities.

“Art is essential,” she says. “Creating, exploring and understanding are essential to us as humans and can only help us stay mentally healthy. Art challenges and creates space to examine the world. When we have this space, our minds become more resilient. Art has always been a modality for healing. Art is the shell of our emotional process.”

The Union for Contemporary Art’s programs works to foster social change through daily programs and their commitment to their community of North Omaha.

Patrick Mainelli, communications director for The Union for Contemporary Art said: “Since our founding, The Union has used the metaphor of the arts as being a bridge between communities. This is especially relevant to our North Omaha home which has, for so long, experienced the negative consequences of disinvestment, neglect, and isolation from the rest of our city. Art, and the dialogue it inspires, will remain an essential force in building connections and encouraging us to interrogate and dismantle systems of oppression.”

Senator Hunt echoed that metaphor, saying: “Art brings us together, bridging bridges between cultures. This will serve as a pathway for further understanding and cohesion in our communities. Creative districts will employ workers and improve their communities.”

The Culxr House is another creative space in Omaha that works to bring North Omaha together through artistic and community-centered programs.

“Art is vibrant, and studies have shown in rebuilding communities, it is a quick win to uplifting,” Marcey Yates, founder of the Culxr House, says. “Using art as a form of expression is important for mental health. We have to be able to express ourselves to eliminate stress and other factors that contribute to mental health. Art is just part of the therapy for a life of trauma.”

Mainelli also mentioned the impact art can have on mental health.

“Art and the communities it creates can help situate our own struggles within a larger frame and remind us of our deep connection and indebtedness to one another,” Mainelli says. “Keeping this in mind is critical for mental health.”