OutrSpaces arts collective caters to full-time musicians with location upgrade
Just south of downtown Omaha, past the Union Pacific Underpass on South 13th Street and back up the hill, lies a stretch of two-story brick buildings, pockmarked by broken sidewalks, empty storefronts and the last sign of the neighborhood that once thrived here, the now-closed Bohemian Cafe.
Little Bohemia was a thriving hub for Czech immigrants in the early-20th century, boasting churches, grocery stores, hotels and the amenities of a small, growing town.
On a fair night in early March, a hint of Little Bohemia’s deeply rooted energy flowed from an unassuming brick façade a block north of Bohemian Cafe, filling the air with bluesy guitar grooves and soul-infused vocal melodies.
This is OutrSpaces, Omaha’s youngest arts collective.
OutrSpaces first opened less than one year ago in a former car wash building outside downtown with the primary goal of providing local musicians a place to rehearse and perform. The idea stemmed from co-founder and board chair Philip Kolbo’s need for a space to practice percussion after graduating from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2016.
“We were like ‘there’s gotta be a way to do this where we can all have an affordable and accessible space where we can do our work,” Kolbo said.
Since launching as a nonprofit, OutrSpaces has hosted poetry slams and experimental rock shows while giving artists access to rehearsal spaces and musical instruments for a $100 monthly membership fee.
The car wash location served as an adequate starting point for the nonprofit, but it still wasn’t the fully functional space Kolbo envisioned. With the support of donors, however, OutrSpaces found what it was looking for in Little Bohemia.
“It just fills all the different needs,” Kolbo said. “It’s got a big space, it’s got a small space, it’s got a kitchen so you can make some Ramen during the day. Just a really big upgrade for us on every level.”
OutrSpaces’ move follows a flurry of projects and proposals for redevelopment in Little Bohemia, which urban planners think is poised for revitalization following recent renewal efforts in formerly run-down Omaha neighborhoods like Benson and the Blackstone District.
A Little Bohemia theatre recently received a facelift with glowing lights shining on its marquee, and plans are in the works to repurpose a handful of buildings on 13th Street’s east side.
“This neighborhood specifically, Little Bohemia, is really, like, coming up, so it’s exciting to be one of the first groups to actually re-open up,” Kolbo said.
On March 9, OutrSpaces made the move official, hosting an open house at the newly renovated building with live music from Omaha R&B singer-songwriter CJ Mills, who said she has felt Kolbo’s pain as an artist without a place to rehearse. And she’s glad Omaha has a place like OutrSpaces to fill that void.
“If you don’t have a cool space or a space at all to be creative as an artist, it can kind of hinder growth,” Mills said.
“Spaces like this, with the energy that they have and as beautiful as they are, I think they foster creativity and will be attractive to people for collaborative reasons as well. I’m super grateful for a place like this.”
Though OutrSpaces’ main focus is its offerings to members and artists looking for rehearsal space, it is also gaining a reputation as a venue for unusual or experimental artists to showcase their work.
Eris Koleszar, the frontwoman of Omaha punk rock trio The Boner Killerz who volunteered at OutrSpaces’ open house, said that’s one of the nonprofit’s greatest strengths — its celebration of art that might not resonate with a typical bar crowd.
“I think it’s really great that they’re reaching across all sorts of different kinds of performances and all sorts of genres of performance to kind of bring that all together and get people working together in the same creative space,” Koleszar said.
If the OutrSpaces community continues to grow, Kolbo said he hopes it can become a catalyst for the respect hard-working Omaha artists deserve and make it possible for artists to make a living through their work.
“This mission is really there to help push the city to the next level to where we’re actually paying artists and they’re actually being given living wages for what they’re doing because it’s a lot of work,” Kolbo said. “So we want to provide that platform for Omaha to do that.”