A glassblower firing a blown pumpkin stops what he’s doing, picks up an instrument, and joins an impromptu drum session without missing a beat. This is just a typical day at Hot Shops Art Center in downtown Omaha.
“Those spontaneous creative activities that happen here are the norm; everything is different on a daily basis,” says Kim Sellmeyer, Hot Shops Art Center executive director. “It depends on what the artists are working on and what they are inspired by on any given day.”
Kim Sellmeyer, Hot Shops Art Center executive director
A sign welcomes visitors into Hot Shops says that says “Wander and Wonder.” – They can wander into a living art space where they can watch art being created inside the studios. The idea behind Hot Shops is simple: provide a place where artists can collaborate, create and communicate with the public.
The three-level open floor plan can leave one enchanted and lost in the splendor of art. There is always something to discover and you can stumble upon something new with each visit. Hot Shops features an art glass studio, ceramics studio, metal foundry, and an iron forge. There are 58 different studios in total.
“Freedom and ideas are what Hot Shops is all about,” Sellmeyer says. “This is a place to express yourself and develop your voice.”
Jennifer Young, Hot Shops Resident Artist
Hot Shops’ resident artists seek to be better artists. This concentration of service-driven artists provides immersive and experiential learning opportunities forging a truly unique arts organization in Omaha.
That is exactly what potter Tim Barry, sculptor Les Bruning and glass blower Ed Fennell, three of the original co-founders, had in mind when they collectively came up with Hot Shops
Each of these artists were at a place where they needed more space to expand their respective art forms. The artists looked for opportunities to collaborate and wanted to invite others in.
This is how the story goes. Barry’s partner in the tile business went to an auction and bid on what he thought was a pallet of used office furniture. After winning the bid, he discovered it was actually a floor full of furniture in the building that is now Hot Shops. They both called the auctioneers asking to rent storage at their building until they found a larger space. The auctioneers’ response was, “sure you can rent some space, or do you want to buy the building?”
The co-founders decided the space was ideal to invite other artists to join them. Now, 22 years after purchasing the building, more than 90 artists are part of the collective.
“Many people in Omaha still don’t know we’re here,” Sellmeyer says. “But artists find us, and we currently have 50 artists on the waiting lists to join this community.”
Rowena B. Bennett, Hot Shops Resident Artist
Hot Shops focuses more on the process than the finished work. The artists housed in Hot Shops want viewers to see and feel the heat of the glass furnace, hear the sparks and the heat at the welding station, observe a sculptor create lifelike humans out of clay, witness the swiftness and precision of the glassblowers and observe the evolution of a painting.
The art center offers over 300 classes and workshops each year. Among the offerings are glassblowing, pottery and drawing classes. Students can engage in experiential art labs or independent studies, a new concept at Hot Shops where they can create freely with artists on hand for questions.
“We want this to be a place for anybody whether you are 5 years old or 70-plus years old,” Sellmeyer says.
Sellmeyer says Hot Shops looks to build a pipeline for creative development.
“We want to help Omaha attract and retain creative talent in this community. we are all better if there is creativity in our lives as creative figures make the world a better place.”
Hot Shops places a high priority on art education and hopes to one day offer scholarships to young artists in under-resourced communities.
“We want to teach all who want to learn,” Sellmeyer says. “All the creative possibilities are out there; we want to find a way to reach these kids and let them know the possibilities.”