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.