CreativeMornings/Omaha – Meet Mackenzie Frei

Omaha is part of the global CreativeMornings community. This monthly breakfast lecture series is designed to highlight our creative community and adds to Omaha’s strong arts and culture scene and growing reputation.

After our February event featuring Omaha Street Percussion, we caught up with attendee Mackenzie Frei, film producer.

By JoAnna LeFlore

Grand Island, Nebraska native Mackenzie Frei is neither a shy nor boring personality to have encountered. We met her at last month’s CreativeMornings session and she entertained us with her wit and sense of humor as she shared why being in Omaha is so important to her.

“In the film industry, students and prospective filmmakers are encouraged to either become enslaved in the repetitive, non-creative, commercial realm or take ‘the risk’ and leave for the coasts to work on ‘real’ films. These opportunities do exist in Omaha, though they are hard to come by without networking,” Mackenzie explains.

“Doing my part is simply being open-minded about projects and talking with as many people as possible. ‘It’s not what you know, its’ who you know.’ If you believe you have no career chances here, you will not find them. Being a new mother, my free time is little-to-none, however, I try to volunteer my time on local short films and spread the word about Omaha filmmakers and regional projects.”

Mackenzie brags that some of her creative hobbies are writing fiction, making homemade dog treats, fishing and scriptwriting. But her commitment is most evident in her current profession as a producer at Dialogue Farm working with clients who need just a little push to tell their story. The Omaha based firm confidently offers a way to help others share a message without losing its uniqueness. This is a quality that Mackenzie takes to heart in her work.

“My passion lies in storytelling. Telling stories is my way of meditating. It releases all my pent up creative energy. With many pressures of becoming a functioning adult, expressing my creativity is the single most important self-help I’ve found. Some do yoga, some drink coffee – I write and daydream about plot lines.”

Mackenzie’s favorite moment from February’s CreativeMornings session with Omaha Street Percussion was witnessing everyone in the room clapping together in one syncopated rhythm. “There were people from different backgrounds, ages, ethnicities with different interests and careers that all participated in one collaborative sound,” she said. “We can all learn from each other and influence positive change for one another both professionally and personally.”

Photo by Eric Francis

How important is being a part of a creative community to you?
Dialogue Farm is located in the Image Arts Building at 2626 Harney Street. Within the Image Arts Building I see designers, photographers, videographers, actors, writers, audio engineers (and more) on a daily basis. Without having those individuals around Dialogue Farm, the business would become stale and stagnant. Creative minds inspire movement and new perspectives for growth and depth within the business and versatility in projects.

In your opinion, how should we celebrate one another’s uniqueness?
Celebrating uniqueness, to me, is all about acceptance. For too long uniqueness has meant people’s physical differences and appearances, which has created a sort of dissonance. To celebrate our uniquenesses is to allow everyone to do what they want, how they want.

“Live and let live.”

What might you look forward to by attending CreativeMorning lectures?
I would be very interested in listening from more accomplished artists on their inspirations, obstacles, and thought processes. Also, to hear more about opportunities to participate in creative projects locally.

You can connect with Mackenzie through the online CreativeMornings community or find her working passionately on her next project at

Posted in We Entertain, We Live |

CreativeMornings/Omaha – Meet Rita Paskowitz

Omaha is part of the global CreativeMornings community. This monthly breakfast lecture series is designed to highlight our creative community and adds to Omaha’s strong arts and culture scene and growing reputation.

After our January event featuring Dana Altman from North Sea Films, we caught up with attendee Rita Paskowitz, a storyteller and performance art teacher.

By JoAnna LeFore

When we asked Rita what her favorite pastime was she humbly replied, “listening to others tell their story.” Fitting for someone who graciously makes a living as a storyteller and performance art teacher. In January, Rita Paskowitz, who is known for warming up the crowd and inviting individuals into a sacred space on the stage or classroom, taught the CreativeMornings family how to tell a story through improvisation and collaboration with complete strangers.

“I believe if we all knew each other’s stories, we would have world peace,” she told the audience.

Rita is a well-traveled artist who delivers a dynamic experience, whether as an actress on stage or through her teaching. “I was really inspired by a woman named Nancy Duncan, who is the goddess of storytelling and she really wooed me into storytelling,” Rita says. “For me, it combines all of my skill sets: my ability to write, create, improvise and teach. It’s the best marriage of all of the things I can do. It takes me to so many amazing places too.”

Photo by Eric Francis

Having a professional background in spaces between Los Angeles, Minneapolis and New York City, she is no stranger to the hustle and fortitude of living as a creative entrepreneur.

While working at a Soho art gallery in New York City, she met artists like Faith Ringwall, a quilt artist, and Beverly Buchanan, a painter and installation artist.

Throughout her life, Rita has been inspired by many pieces, including three mosaic style paintings on small canvases. The South African artist told his story of how his brother was murdered by military men due to a violent civil rights issue over children protesting apartheid in their schools. “All of those children who died, they are my heroes,” she says. Rita’s entire apartment is also covered with paintings, sculptures, hand-crafted pieces and an 8-foot-tall wall stacked with books. Each piece of artwork has a story, and she uses those experiences in her teachings and workshops.

Another skill Rita embodies is dealing with human emotions. She tackles grief, depression, social justice, empathy and excitement all through the art of storytelling. She prides herself most in her mission to create an inclusive environment for her students and peers.

At a Lincoln-based alternative high school, she taught young artists aesthetic based education. Another inspiring piece, an abstract painting, was gifted by a student who was mentally ill and used art to express his hardships.

“I always make it a priority to create an atmosphere of permission and safety. Nothing that someone shares is wrong and we all have something to learn from each other.” Rita explains. “If you are alive and aware, everybody’s got something to teach you. And everybody has a story.”

As an Omaha resident, Rita has worked with local organizations including the Nebraska Arts Council as an Artist-in-Residence, TEDx Omaha, Temple Israel, Sienna Francis House, Joslyn Art Museum and a Storyteller-in-Residence at Ted E. Bear Hollow. She has also held countless workshops through non-profits, corporate organizations, universities, and schools.

As Rita continues her storytelling journey, she believes that her work is a calling and this is what inspires her to stay connected to Omaha. After attending CreativeMornings, she was inspired by so many people who were passionate about the arts. Rita hopes to continue to help others express their experiences and find the joy in living. If you wish to meet her one day or witness her on stage, you can watch her TEDx video or request her presence through the Nebraska Arts Council.

Posted in We Entertain, We Live |

2016 OMA-goodness Moments

Photos by Chris Machian, Ryan Soderlin and Mark Davis
Excerpt from the “Omaha: We Don’t Coast” magazine:

We loved our 2016 “OMA-goodness” moments – those shared experiences that got the masses talking and amping up Twitter. We had our share over the last year – whether we were welcoming the leader of the free world or the man who helped colonize Mars (on the big screen).

President Barack Obama (top left) – President Obama making Omaha his first stop after his final State of the Union address? That certainly grabbed our attention. Speaking to more than 10,000 people, he gave a shout to our new Baxter Arena (“It’s still got that new arena smell”) but more importantly, highlighted our strong economy.

Terence “Bud” Crawford (top right) – Crawford, Omaha’s own, defended his junior welterweight title at Madison Square Garden in February – and then in July beat back a challenge from previously undefeated Viktor Postol (28-1) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas – a highly-anticipated super-lightweight unification fight.

Tri-Faith Initiative (bottom left) – Christians, Jews and Muslims came together on one campus that celebrates our differences and promotes understanding. The initiative involving Temple Israel, Countryside Community Church and the American Muslim Institute (formerly American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture) is believed to be the first and only project of its kind in the world.

Alexander Payne (bottom right) – Oscar-winners, Alexander Payne, an Omaha native, and Matt Damon, a Hollywood superstar, filmed parts of Payne’s latest movie, Downsizing, around Omaha, setting off a selfie and Twitter frenzy. Locations included a neighborhood near 46th and Douglas St., Creighton Prep High School (Payne’s alma mater), La Casa Pizzeria and Borsheim’s in Regency Court.

Posted in We Entertain, We Live |

Masterworks on Display

Photo by Brad J. Williams
Excerpt from the “Omaha: We Don’t Coast” magazine:

We are a cultural hub, feeding all avenues of expression. Creativity is not confined here – and the sheer quality of our artistic continuum continually enhances the quality of our lives.

Joslyn Art Museum – Nebraska’s largest art museum, honored with a 2016 Governor’s Arts Award for its role in shaping “our state’s artistic landscape.” Over the last 85 years, the Joslyn’s collection has grown to include over 11,000 works – all of which can be seen free of charge.

Our area galleries also include:

  • 402 Arts Collective
  • Artists’ Cooperative Fine Arts Gallery
  • Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts / Carver Bank
  • Gallery 92 West / Fremont Area Art Association
  • Gallery 1510
  • Hot Shops Art Center
  • Harvester Artspace
  • Union for Contemporary Art
Posted in We Entertain, We Live |

We Welcome Sports Fans from Around the World

Photo by ONElapse Photography
Excerpt from the “Omaha: We Don’t Coast” magazine:

For four days in June, we were simultaneously home base and starting block for two of the biggest happenings in sports: the NCAA Men’s College World Series and the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials.

We took tremendous pride in welcoming the tens of thousands of spectators who joined us for these overlapping marquee events – and showing them what “We Don’t Coast” means to us. More than a comment on our geography, it’s a synopsis of our attitude.


Posted in We Entertain, We Win |

Parkour Run

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

A boy has a blast at a Benson First Friday, exploring art and getting a parkour run in. The Benson neighborhood has become home to one of the largest outdoor art galleries in the state.

Excerpt from the Omaha: We Don’t Coast magazine, a Greater Omaha Chamber publication created and produced by the Omaha World-Herald. It is a celebration of the businesses, institutions and neighbors that are achieving success – and having a positive impact in our community – by refusing to coast.
Posted in We Inspire, We Live |

CreativeMornings/Omaha – Meet Jamaal Chinn

Omaha has officially been accepted into the CreativeMornings community and has joined 157 other creative cities across the globe. This monthly breakfast lecture series is designed to highlight our creative community and adds to Omaha’s strong arts and culture scene and growing reputation.

After our December event featuring Ruth Meints from the Omaha Conservatory of Music, we caught up with attendee Jamaal Chinn, a creative who believes that entrepreneurship and making noise go hand-in-hand.

Meet Jamaal Chinn

By JoAnna LeFlore

Jamaal is drumming up attention for arts and culture in Nebraska through his creative agency WKND LDRS (Weekend Leaders). What began as an idea to inspire himself in 2014 quickly evolved into a fresh approach toward collaboration, entrepreneurship and a new social movement.

“WKND LDRS is about stepping outside of the box. It’s about leading your life in a creative way. It’s about this Kaizen mentality: about being positive, progressing forward and self-development. I wanted to make personal development and creativity cool again.”

Kaizen is a principle taken from a Japanese business model of doing the greatest good with an idea. Jamaal’s idea to take this framework and apply it to his passions turned into the building of a new brand for establishing cultural development and personal growth. He also realized his strengths were magnified through collaborations with others – so he brought in a few friends, including photographer Michael Garrett, singer/songwriter Todd Zach, Jr., and videographer Christiann Gilchrist.

The agency first started making noise through its soundcloud channel, which features weekly “We Don’t Coast Wednesdays” playlists powered by Nebraska’s own music artists and lyricists. Local music enthusiasts, spreading between Omaha and Lincoln’s college crowd, are taking notice. WKND LDRS recently added event production to its portfolio, hosting a live music event in Lincoln, Nebraska, that showcased over a dozen musicians, producers, dancers and lyricists.

Prior to launching WKND LDRS, Jamaal tried his hand at developing a digital magazine, a clothing line and even an art collective. After experiencing limited success – and receiving his Master of Arts in Management from Doane College – he moved to Austin, Texas, where he found a stride for his passions working for a couple of startup tech firms.

“After doing some traveling I knew, I had to come back. From what I saw in other cities, I realized what Omaha doesn’t have and that’s where my motivation began. Working formerly in other creative agencies and watching how they operate sparked things up. Being halfway between New York and LA, I wanted to be a part of something that my friends could say, ‘Oh there’s some cool things happening here.’ I wanted to make more noise and make people want to come to Nebraska.”

Jamaal hopes to inspire others to create the environments they want to be in and not feel guilty about pushing the envelope for the arts and culture scene in Nebraska.

“We started this brand because we wanted to see things that we liked and be unapologetic about it. … We’re getting together and saying we can create an environment wherever we go. We’re creating a network to help support each other and grow our own ideas.”

Constantly seeking inspiration from others, Jamaal says what he enjoys most about CreativeMornings is the chance to be around other passionate people and gain some exposure.

Photo by Eric Francis

“What stuck out for me about CreativeMornings was that it was not so much focused on tech. It offers a diverse crowd with the monthly themes and I’m glad to hear the storytelling. People are just so engaged when you look around the room. I’ve left each one with more energy and enthusiasm for the day.”

Keep up with Jamaal Chin online and grab your seat at the next WKND LDRS function, the details of which are usually posted via their digital magazine or on Instagram @WKNDLDRS.

Posted in We Launch, We Live |

Photographing The University of Nebraska at Omaha

By Ryan Henriksen 

Having the responsibility of documenting an entire university is an exciting challenge. The University of Nebraska at Omaha is home to a vibrant community of students, faculty and staff with endless photographic opportunities happening every day. It is inspiring to be around so many smart and talented people in all different academic fields, but knowing what to photograph and when to be there can be a daunting task. A large part of my job is to stay on top of what is happening on campus and to know what can make for a thoughtful image to help tell the story of the university.

Annual events like Durango Days and the Signature Service Days are opportunities for me to explore the campus and the community to document what students are doing and the positive impact they have in Omaha. On the rare occasion, I have an open schedule, I spend time walking around campus and through buildings I haven’t visited in a while. This helps me reconnect with professors and students to find new stories and get new photo ideas.

There have been a few times I haven’t had advance notice to plan out a shoot. Events like the President of the United States visiting Baxter Arena can’t be planned out in advance but knowing its historical significance for the university and for Omaha, I needed to make sure to cover every different aspect of the day.

The job has also taken me outside the city. I traveled to India over the summer with Dr. Patrick McNamara, Director of International Studies and Programs at UNO, to document his work with partner universities and his research on water quality. I was able to plan out what gear to bring but each day brought a new unexpected adventure.

I go to work every day excited for the planned events and ready for the unexpected. Each day is new opportunity for me to do my part in adding to the visual history and help tell the story of this great university.


Ryan Henriksen has been the multimedia specialist at the University of Nebraska at Omaha for 2.5 years, telling the story of the university on campus and abroad. Prior to that he worked as a staff photographer for newspapers across the country documenting and telling the stories of people in their communities.

Posted in We Inspire, We Launch |

Omaha Musicians Included in Global Collaborative Playlist

CreativeMorning communities – around the world – have helped create to a global collaborative playlist, recommending songs that represent the “sound” of their city. The Greater Omaha Chamber huddled with Hear Nebraska to select three songs/artists to be included:

To check out the entire CreativeMornings playlist – and more of the story behind it – visit (If you want to listen to songs in their entirety, you will need a Spotify account.)

Learn more about the CreativeMornings – Omaha community at



Posted in Uncategorized, We Entertain, We Live |

CreativeMornings Omaha – Meet John Henry Muller

By JoAnna LeFlore
Photo by Jeremy Dreier (

Omaha has officially been accepted into the CreativeMornings community and has joined 157 other creative cities across the globe. This monthly breakfast lecture series is designed to highlight our creative community and adds to Omaha’s strong arts and culture scene and growing reputation.

After the inaugural November event featuring photographer and world traveler, Dean Jacobs, we caught up with attendee, John Henry, and wanted to introduce you to our new friend.

CreativeMornings-OMA: What is your hometown?

I was born and raised in LeMars, IA. The ice cream capitol of the world.

CM-OMA: What are some of your hobbies?

John: I don’t have any “hobbies” like whittling or making craft beer or yo-yoing or anything cool like that. But I’m open to ideas. I like work but I’m not sure that’s a hobby.

I spend all my free time with my family. We love getting outside for hikes, walks, runs, bike rides, picnics, swimming, sledding, skiing, etc. Moving about to see more of this amazing planet is becoming a higher priority.

Occasionally I work on side projects with/for friends and family. Last summer my brother Daniel and I made a documentary about our family history. I recently helped my friend Alex with his school board campaign.

CM-OMA: We are a community who has committed to ‘Not Coast.’ How do you help to push our community forward/what causes do you advocate for and participate in?

John: Before I left Omaha in 2013, my company (What Cheer) was quite active in community projects promoting art, technology, entrepreneurship, inclusiveness and progressive ideas. These included “I live in Omaha” (a community pride project), Empty Room (a creative space for artist and entrepreneurs), a bunch of Big Omaha “experiments” (including: Selective Perspective Detective Objective, Small Talk, Hot or Cold, others) as well as bake sales and other community events that supported positive ideas.

Since moving back in 2015, I haven’t been as involved in the community as I used to be. With the results of the recent election, I’m feeling more motivated to take a more active role.

CM-OMA: What is your creative passion?

John: People! Art exists to give humans a better understanding of the world around them. Design exists to make the world function better for humans.

CM-OMA: Have you attended CreativeMornings in another city in the past?

John: I have! When I lived in California I would frequent CreativeMornings in both San Francisco and Oakland. The most memorable session was David McCreath (then of Mule Design, now Slack). He did a live version of his podcast, It Might Get Personal. The theme was “Bravery.” It was a positive message that stuck with me.

CM-OMA: Describe your favorite moment of today’s CreativeMornings-Fantasy presentation?

John: It’s hard to choose. The whole event was incredibly special. It was something everyone needed after an especially long week. I think the thing that will stick with me the most is Dean Jacobs’ message about putting your whole self in. I will never hear “The Hokey Pokey” the same way again.

2016. CreativeMornings inaugural event. Fantasy with Dean Jacobs. Photo by Eric Francis

Photo by Eric Francis

CM-OMA: How are you motivated to express your creativity?

John: I’m a lucky guy and able to do creative work to pay the bills. My influence ranges from visual brand to user interface to user experience to product design. Outside of my day job, I often like to use the same mediums I use during the day. However, I’m a little selfish. If I’m doing work outside of work, I like to get something out of it for myself. That could be learning or trying something new, or supporting people or causes I care about.

CM-OMA: How important is being a part of a creative community to you?

John: Super important! As mentioned before, people are the reason for art and design. Your own community understands that as much as you do and will support your own mission. Being at Omaha’s first CreativeMornings reinforced how important that is.

CM-OMA: In your opinion, how should we celebrate one another’s uniqueness?

John: Empathy. Knowledge. Kindness.

The messages of hatred disseminated during this election are a threat to the values of every creative community. We have to fight anger with empathy, ignorance with knowledge and hatred with kindness.

We just learned the battle is a little bigger than we originally thought, but I hope that motivates us to make the world a better place for all people.

CM-OMA: What might you look forward to by attending CreativeMornings in the future?

John: I look forward to seeing familiar faces, welcoming new people, drinking delicious coffee and starting my Friday with positive excitement for what’s next.

CM-OMA: Who is your favorite cultural leader and/or artist of all time?

John: Oh, boy. That’s a big question. I’m not sure I can limit it to just one.

So, I’d say the person I don’t know yet. The person who pushes for what she believes in and hasn’t gained recognition. The person who stays up late and gets up early to create the thing that feeds something within and makes the world a better place.

We need more of this person.

CreativeMornings – OMA

Posted in Uncategorized, We Launch, We Live |