Seward earns Creative District designation

City recognized by Nebraska Arts Council, eligible for $250k grants


Seward is finally among the 22 official Creative Districts in Nebraska, as designated by the Nebraska Arts Council.

“We’ve been working on it at least two years,” said Jeanne Wiemer, president of the Seward Arts Council. “It’s been quite the process, but I think it’s going to be amazing that we are a certified Creative District.”

The designation applies mainly to the downtown area, which encompasses a number of creative spaces for visual art, dance, music, writing and culinary art.

“The Nebraska Creative District Program utilizes the arts as an economic driver to support communities in Nebraska by telling their stories and elevating the value of the arts,” according to the Nebraska Arts Council.

Along with the designation comes a $10,000 grant that Seward can use to promote the arts.

It also allows Seward to qualify for Creative District Development Grants of up to $250,000 on a rolling basis beginning next July.

Wiemer said the initial $10,000 will be used for marketing, and a good amount of it will go toward the second annual Fifth Street Summer Music Series that was a hit last year.

“That was on the top of the list,” Wiemer said, referring to a community-wide survey in which respondents ranked their top arts-related priorities from a list of 18.

“Also, we are going to incorporate some type of artist-in-residence program and continue to grow that throughout the district,” Wiemer said.

That could be any type of artist, she said, from a musician to an author to a painter.

“The main idea here is to have an artist stay somewhere, from four weeks to six months, and what they do is get a stipend, and then they work at a location that’s a studio assigned to them,” Wiemer said. “It would give an artist an opportunity to work in a studio and get away from their own space, so they have an opportunity to relax and yet become creative.”

She said using the funds for the music series and the residency will provide something for the whole community and something for the artists themselves.

The Seward Arts Council currently is run solely by volunteers. They hope future grants can help fund a salary for an executive director as the arts continue to grow across the district.

The Creative District designation was a collaborative effort among the Seward Arts Council, the City of Seward acting as the fiscal agent, and the Seward County Chamber and Development Partnership, which has built promoting the arts into its strategic plan.

“We’ve really tried to be as welcoming and inclusive as possible for those voices at the table to help lead this effort, said Jonathan Jank, president and CEO of the SCCDP.

Jank said the designation helps set Seward apart from the rest of the state and will contribute to growing other aspects of the community.

“What we’ve realized is that to attract and retain talent in a community, you need arts and culture,” he said. “It is a critical piece of our quality of life here that we have things that draw people in, bring people together, and help create a community that is able to have creative outlets, spaces that welcome creativity, that invites new and different ideas.”

The arts council will take the lead on future projects based on the results of the community survey, which will help inform what projects will be most impactful in the community.

“We know we need more spaces to help people create. When you have a program like that, it helps other people dream,” Jank said. “We need artists that are doing this for a career in our community. Not just creating, but then building community around that.”

The Creative Districts program was created by the Nebraska Legislature in 2020 with the goal of promoting and supporting economic development in communities dedicated to growing their arts-related economic sectors.

To become a Certified Creative District, a community must submit a letter of interest, an eligibility assessment and a Strategic Plan as part of the approval process.

Goals can include attracting artists and creative enterprises, encouraging business and job development, establishing the district as a tourist destination, preserving and reusing historic buildings, and promoting the district’s cultural and historical heritage.