Yart Sale and Omaha’s backyard art community


James Knowles

Yart Sale is an unforgettable dive into Omaha’s art community. Photo courtesy of James Knowles/The Gateway.

“Where do you get your bones?” is a question that one would expect to hear at museums, graveyards and mortuaries, not a bustling backyard on a humid August afternoon. Nevertheless, I found myself listening to that very question being casually asked and answered at the August installment of “Yart Sale,” a pop-up in Omaha of local artists and their wares.

As a sibling of an artist, I can attest that they are lively, unique individuals who tend to stand out in crowds. When a crowd is composed entirely of artists selling and showing off their work, creativity and passion blend into a truly unforgettable atmosphere—and also just a great time.

The event debuted earlier this year and has occurred many times since. The recurring market was kickstarted by Anissa Romero, who was struck with the idea in the depths of the ongoing quarantine at the start of this year.

“We were making all this art, and we had no one to give it to,” says Romero. “The weather was getting nicer, and my mom joked ‘why don’t you just set up and sell your own stuff?’ I got the idea to have local artists come and sell their stuff, and just have a yard art sale!”

The idea proved to be a winner, and as of the most recent Yart Sale, dozens of local artists have had a chance to display and sell. Yart Sale has taken place about twice a month and will convene once in both September and October, followed by a cold-weather hiatus.

The artists are always the focus, and the straightforward application process keeps that in mind. Weeks before the scheduled dates, open applications are hosted on the Instagram account @p0p20 over the course of several days, in order to give artists time to decide which of the dates works best for them. Yart Sale hopefuls should be warned, though—space is limited, and it operates on a first-come, first-served basis.

Although there wasn’t room for every artist in Omaha to squeeze into one backyard, the space was still filled with a cast of characters diverse and eclectic as the art they were selling. Although I only managed to talk to a handful out of the group, every conversation held something new.

Ameen Wahba had art for sale that spanned the spectrum of expression, including paintings, record tapes for the various music that he’s helped bring to life, screen-printed merch for those same musical projects and collections of poetry. He appeared to be a true renaissance man to me, seeking to explore what he described as the “relationship with oneself.”

In contrast with the deeply complex, non-conformist and frankly bonkers works of most of her Yart Sale peers, Claire Fettig brought a wide selection of relaxed, soothing postcards. Products of quarantine, her watercolor prints reflect on friendship and mutual appreciation in times of crisis.

Claire Fettig’s table was a calm moment in the crazy storm of Yart Sale. Photo courtesy of James Knowles/The Gateway.

Much like Wahba, Alex Jacobsen displayed a multimedia approach to art. Although his experimentation with sound was a little too abstract to be sold, other pieces at his table included unique combinations of materials that included the ethically-sourced bones mentioned at the start of the article.

The psychedelic digital art of Sasha Quattlebaum developed as a form of dialogue with herself as she explored Buddhism. Her favorite of the works displayed depicts her floating over a jungle landscape, being rained on by a rainbow—a representation of the idea that we’re not always entirely here, and that Earth is just one stop on a cosmic journey.

Taylor Bushnell also explores religious concepts—namely the nature of God—through collage art, inspired by the Japanese concept of “kintsugi,” which she describes as “finding beauty in brokenness, and newness out of things that would otherwise be discarded.”

Beyond the art for sale, Bushnell also offered “a penny for your thoughts,” in which a personal interpretation of a piece of her artwork would merit a cash prize of one cent. A camera-wielding attendee—and a friend of Bushnell—offered a fascinating analysis of one collage, perceiving power, hierarchy and bondage in relation to the concept of womanhood. My own attempt at analysis wasn’t nearly so strong, but I was allowed to walk away with riches regardless.

Taylor Bushnell’s collages, and a penny for your interpretation. Photo courtesy of James Knowles/The Gateway.

The “penny for your thoughts” exercise is a key example of what makes Yart Sale so engaging. It’s not simply a place for artists to make cash, but a mutual exchange between them, each other and the Omaha community. The artists disseminate art into the city at manageable prices, and the community shows up with numbers and cash to support them.

“Everybody here understands that we’re all trying really hard to come out of the pandemic and to push through it financially,” Romero says. “Everybody has an understanding of one another.”

The artists also build working and personal relationships through Yart Sale, which helps to advance their craft and benefits the community through the enduring importance of the art that they give to the people.

“I love doing it, I don’t really seek anything out of it except for the feeling of knowing that everybody had a good time, people were able to sell stuff, or that they made connections with other artists,” Romero says. “It’s such a great feeling—it’s humbling.”