Falls City named, ‘A City of Art.’

By Lori Gottula

Last Monday night, October 7th, Falls City became a leader in Nebraska’s art world when the city council voted to approve a mayoral proclamation officially recognizing the community as a “city of art.” 

The proclamation will be read publicly at an open house in the Stalder Gallery of the Falls City Library and Arts Center at 6 p.m. on Friday, October 18th.  The reading will coincide with a show that currently hangs in the gallery and will be exhibited through Saturday, October 19th.  The exhibition is titled “Made in America: A Tribute to the American Cowboy,” and includes works owned by the Library and Community Foundation of Richardson County, philanthropist Merle Stalder, the John Morehead family, and the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney. 

The proclamation was the brainchild of Stalder’s, and was strengthened by support from the Stalder Foundation. Merle then brought Christina Wertenberger, the curator of the Stalder Art Gallery, into the mix.  Because of the rich history of art and artists in Richardson County, Christina and several other board members of the Richardson County Arts and Humanities Council and the Stalder Foundation sought support from local art outlets and museums. Those members included Cassondra Goff, Liz Huettner, and Hope Schawang. The idea immediately received support from the Library and Community Foundation, Richardson County Arts and Humanities Council, John P. Falter Art Museum, the Area Artists Association, Richardson County Historical Museum, and numerous area artists and art enthusiasts. Many of those supporters attended the September 17th city council meeting when the proclamation was first proposed. That meeting resulted in regional and national media coverage by outlets such as 10/11 news and US News and World Report. “The Library and Community Foundation owns more than 250 works of art by locally-recognized and internationally-known artists,” Wertenberger said. “The list includes names such as John P. Falter, Alice Cleaver, Allan Tubach, Lawton Parker, Thomas Hart Benton, and Luella Weddle, just to name a few.

“We have generous philanthropists like Merle Stalder, Ed and Sandra Hartman, Butch and Dobey Haws, the Morehead family, and many others who have donated exquisite works of art to the Foundation, as well as to the Richardson County Historical Museum. “In addition, we have tremendous support for the arts in general,” she said. “We have amazing teachers in our schools and in the community. Those instructors turn out talented students who have historically dominated student art contests. 

“We have the John P.  Falter Museum which is not only an attraction for art lovers and Falter enthusiasts, but is a stop on the Nebraska passport program. In addition, we have the store downtown owned by the Falls City Artists’ Association. It sells original art by local artists.”

In other words, this area is teeming with art, and people who support it. “I’ve actually had people from cities like Kearney ask, ‘What is in the water down there?’”  Christina said. “They are blown away by the quality of talent that we have, and also by the commitments that people have made to our artists and our art history.” Mayor Shawna Bindle echoed that thought. “I love that this proclamation came about as a vision of a group of citizens,” she said.  “Citizens like this are what makes Falls City the amazing place that it is. The proclamation gives our beautiful city a spotlight that is much deserved, not only in its present form, but in its rich past as well.” Designating the community as a ‘city of art’ was a bold move, and quite possibly the first of its kind in Nebraska.  “There are other communities that have issued proclamations for certain areas of their communities, or have designated events as activities for the arts,” Christina said, “But I don’t know of any that have voted to proclaim their communities as cities of art. Mayor Shawna Bindle and our city council have had the foresight to do so, and how we just hope that other communities follow our lead.”

For more information about the proclamation or the city council’s passing of the motion, contact Wertenberger at (402) 245-6034.