By: Mark Foradori
Situated in the center of a rural state with a population of approximately 30,000 people, visitors to Kearney might assume that it’s a sleepy town with little to offer in terms of cultural amenities. Nothing could be further from the truth. Kearney has a thriving community of non-profit arts and cultural organizations that keep the community humming all year long. Many of these organizations belong to a group called the Kearney Cultural Partners. The Partners work together to set the cultural calendar of activities and promote Kearney as a cultural destination for travelers from all over Nebraska and beyond.
Kearney is the home to statewide organizations like the Archway, which welcomes visitors from all over the world who are curious about Nebraska’s role in the building of America and the Museum of Nebraska Art, which houses the official visual art collection of the state and offers a busy schedule of exhibitions featuring the work of historic and contemporary Nebraska artists.
Nationally acclaimed musical performers are featured on the schedules of the Kearney Concert Association and the Merryman Performing Arts Center. During the coming year, music lovers will be able to enjoy Kearney Concert Association performances by the Boston Brass, the Dallas String Quartet, and the Jersey Tenors. The Merryman Performing Arts Center hosts musical and theatrical events all year long. Just a few of the highlights for the coming year include Super Diamond, a nationally recognized Neil Diamond tribute band, the latest installment of the hilarious Church Basement Ladies comedy series, and “Deep in the Heart of Christmas,” a holiday show featuring the Texas Tenors.
Looking for the perfect way to spend a summer evening? The Kearney Area Arts Council presents free live performances by local and regionally known musicians on Sunday evenings throughout the summer on the stage in Kearney’s Harmon Park.
Love movie classics and cutting edge independent films? The recently renovated World Theatre in downtown Kearney shows classic favorites and ”art house” films you may not find anywhere else in the state. Renovation of the once abandoned movie house was spearheaded by Jon Bokenkamp, the Kearney-born creator of NBC’s popular series “The Blacklist.” During the season, audiences gather to watch the show on the World’s big screen and follow the program up with live Skype chats with Bokenkamp and other celebrities associated with the show.
Live theater is alive and well in Kearney, which boasts two theater companies. The Kearney Community Theater features actors form the local community in ambitious productions like “Cats” and “Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution.” Crane River Theater combines the talents of local performers and actors it brings in from across the country to mount a variety of productions on the Merryman Performing Arts Center’s stage and in venues throughout the community. For instance, they recently presented “Driving Miss Daisy” amid the automotive gems at Kearney’s Classic Car Collection. Every summer, Crane River Theater also presents an outdoor production of a large scale musical show on the stage at Kearney’s Yanney Park.
Of course, we can’t forget that Kearney is also the home of the University of Nebraska Kearney, which offers a rich menu of musical events and live theatrical performances throughout the academic year. Before you visit, check their website for specific performances and dates.
Near the site of Fort Kearny, which served as the gateway to the trails west from 1848 – 1871, the Kearney area is rich in history and boasts several exciting historical attractions. The Archway’s family friendly exhibit tells the story of western migration from the Oregon Trail era through today. Their life size figures placed in elaborate historical settings enable visitors to walk through nearly 200 years of history in a little over an hour.