North and South Omaha museums receiving ARPA funds

300 organizations applied for a share of more than $300 in Rescue Plan money
The Great Plains Black History Museum and El Museo Latino are in line to receive money from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Published: Jan. 13, 2023 at 4:44 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The Great Plains History Museum opened in the historic Webster Telephone Exchange Building near 24th and Lake in 1976. The building fell into disrepair and closed in 2001.

In 2017, the museum opened in its current location in the landmark Jewell building.

Eric Ewing is moving into his sixth year as executive director. He says the $1.1 million in ARPA funds will help jump-start fundraising for the $11 million project that will build a new museum.

“It puts something in the basket so that way when we go out to funders to ask for their support,” Ewing said. “We’re not coming to them with an empty basket.”

The plan is to build a new two-story museum right next door to the current site. The more than 20,000-square-foot facility will allow the museum to expand its exhibit space, hire more employees, attract tourism to the area, and be an education source, teaching the area’s history -- the good, the bad, the Black, and the white.

“We need to know our past in order to move forward and knowing our past helps us to move forward because it also shows everyone’s contributions to where we are today,” Ewing said.

Omaha cultural museums are hoping to receive funds for expansion from the American Rescue Plan Act.

El Museo Latino in South Omaha has been recommended to receive $9 million. Magdalena Garcia is the founder and executive director of the museum. She tells 6 News the ARPA funds will help make up the difference of what they’ve raised so far to renovate and update this historic building.

“This was originally the first site of South High, and later it became the American Legion, then it was the Polish Home, and then us,” Garcia said.

Garcia says the building needs more classrooms and better infrastructure to help upgrade exhibit space.

“It’s going to be climate-controlled, where we’ll be in a better position to more important or more exhibits that require more care, so this will open up a whole new area for us,” Garcia said.

She says the museum is unique to South Omaha, and generates money for the entire metro.

“In general, [to] give everyone a better experience as they come through the museum,” Garcia said. “This is the only Latino museum in the state of Nebraska and actually in the region within a 500-mile radius. We do get a lot of tourists from around the states surrounding Nebraska.”

Only around three dozen of the 300-some organizations were recommended by a legislative committee to receive the funds. So far, it’s only a recommendation. The organizations we talked to tell us no funds have been distributed yet.