The Foundation is continuing our journey to understand the community—both its strengths and its biggest challenges. This process led us to add two additional areas of focus to last fall—Civic Engagement and Arts & Culture.

Arts & Culture

For a region of this size, our community has an engaged arts and cultural scene that offers world-class museums, music, and art. However, not all members of the community can access these opportunities.

Through our engagement and listening work with residents, we heard that many arts and cultural events and programs are out of reach for some—either due to cost or location. Expanding arts and cultural experiences to meet people where they are, ensuring that they represent a multitude of cultures and experiences, and thinking about more public art opportunities, are all critical to maximizing the entire community’s participation in the arts.

Arts and culture is not only an economic driver in our community, but it can be an important means for creating public dialogue, spurring creativity and connections, and attracting both residents and tourists alike. But fostering a creative community that supports the arts—especially creative professionals—is essential to ensuring that our cultural opportunities are on par with similarly sized cities. Our community offers fewer creative professional positions than other cities such as Lincoln, Des Moines, or Kansas City.

Financial support for the arts is another critical component of a thriving arts scene. The local philanthropic community provides most of the funding for local arts and culture nonprofits, while government support for arts and culture programs is much lower than in other states.

The arts help preserve culture and heritage for future generations within a community. And when the arts are accessible and reflect all people and cultures in a community, they can be a gateway for improved educational and social outcomes, as well as a primary ingredient in creating healthy, connected neighborhoods.

Civic Engagement

The Omaha-Council Bluffs area is known for its philanthropy and friendliness but digging into the data shows a more complex picture that can tell a different story. Only a small percentage of individuals in our community report that they are working collaboratively with neighbors to solve problems.

And while our community is incredibly philanthropically inclined—half of our residents give annually to a nonprofit—we are less politically engaged, with voting rates hovering between 30 to 40 percent for local and state elections.

While the region’s voter participation rates are higher than the national average, there are hundreds of thousands of people not exercising their right to vote in elections; and there are many more residents who may not have access to the voting process.

Also, our elected leadership does not reflect the make-up of our population; while women comprise nearly 50% of the region’s population and people of color make up 12% of the state population, their respective representation in government is roughly half of that.

We are committed to exploring our community, talking to our friends and neighbors, and digging into the data because we believe that we must truly understand our community to best understand how to invest in its future.