This revitalized historic district developed from a careful ethnographic and cultural analysis, a series of public-input sessions and hands-on workshops with diverse groups from throughout the community. The resulting aesthetic celebrates the cross-cultural folk art traditions of the area's major ethnic groups (Latino, Czech, Polish, and Croatian). Colorful textile patterns are interpreted in custom glazed ceramic, pattern-cut metal, and lighting.
The "Tree of Life" is a comprehensive streetscape installation that transforms five blocks of South Omaha, Nebraska to create a dynamic multi-cultural experience and revitalize a significant historic district. Beyond the immediate need for curb and gutter infrastructure improvements, a question arose early in the project: "What will encourage a family to come to South Omaha for dinner on Friday night?" Public art was intended to play a key role in changing and improving the perception of the neighborhood, while creating a special place for celebrations. Rather than a typical rectilinear corridor design solution, a character and continuity is achieved through integrated public-art elements that include sculptural benches, planters and other features that have meaning and responsiveness to the concerns of the local community. An organic vine in the paving pattern winds around leaf-shaped planters, pods and benches, weaving together a tapestry of folk patterns. The street has become the destination for festivals, with as many as 20,000 people celebrating Cinco de Mayo, Day of the Dead and others. The integrated artwork has animates the street, reaching out to brand an exciting and active urban environment. Business has not only returned but is thriving. Restaurants and retailers, in true pride of ownership, take care of the artwork in front of their properties. Neighbors share the story of their cultural connection to the street. Placemaking depnds upon collaboration. The artist was part of a multi-disciplinary design team that worked together from early conceptual development through fabrication and installation. The ongoing process involved 3 distinct phases of funding and construction that lasted several years. Collaboration included many in-house design charrettes with transportation engineers, landscape architects and planners, as well as public-input workshops with diverse groups throughout the community: city representatives, local business organizations, Latino Museum, state historical representatives, students and others. The integrated public artwork became the symbolic bridge between many different constituents, creating a common language and story embraced by the community. The project functions on many levels and depended upon design collaboration to address a wide range of details: safety, use, wear, longevity and maintenance. Lighting is such a critical part of the project that collaboration of all professional design disciplines was needed to make sure things functioned as intended and would last. Collaboration means connection. Without it, the integration of public artwork would be impossible in a transportation corridor project of this scale and complexity. The illuminated tree of life, over 36 feet tall, flanks the road as part of the sculptural gateway that marks the entrance to the cultural district. It has become a new cultural landmark. The project recently received the Art of Community Award of Excellence from the city and the state, specifically in recognition of the integration of the artwork to the transportation infrastructure and revitalization project. Families are now making South 24th street the new place to go in Omaha.