What’s going on with those silos off the Interstate.
Sure, I tell her, I’ve seen them . . . I think.
There are more than 60 buildings, Anne says, huge, gray buildings, 110 feet high, sitting right next to the Interstate.
Not right next to the Interstate, I say.
Yes, she says, you can practically touch them.
The silos are the epitome of visual white noise — there so long, dead so long that unless you’re a neighbor or agricultural architecture fan, you probably look right past them.
Well. There’s no looking past them now.
When huge, colorful banners were hung from the buildings this week, the grain elevators seemed to shift in scale and perspective. Bigger, closer, more present on the skyline.
They’re so visually arresting that Anne, the landscape architect who’s overseeing the project, is even a little worried that people might look instead of drive.
On the other hand, think about all those eyes . . .
Anne’s goal — the goal of the Stored Potential project — is to help people see their existing landscape in a new way. To see Omaha in a new way. And to think about how our history is tied to our present. Those grain elevators may be dead, for now, but agriculture is still powerfully important and relevant in our daily life.
It’s a big goal, right?
That’s why they chose such a big canvas.
I’ll bet that Anne Trumble is already tired of seeing her name in this story. You don’t stage a major public art/architecture project like this all by yourself. Hundreds of people have been a part of Stored Potential so far.
But the project started with Anne, and it started before she even knew there was such a thing as landscape architecture.
“This is a grain elevator I’d go to as a kid, with my dad to drop off grain,” she said. The Trumbles farmed in Papillion and still have land there. Anne can remember sitting in her dad’s truck, looking up at the silos. You don’t realize how big they are, she says, until you’re right there, looking up.
That all came back to Anne when she was founding Emerging Terrain, a nonprofit organization dedicated to thinking/talking/making-art/doing-research, all about land use.
The elevators seemed like a great place to start. They’re huge, they’re in a highly visible location, and they’re intensely symbolic of Omaha’s ag past — even though they’ve been engulfed and largely abandoned by the city.
At first, the Emerging Terrain board wasn’t sure what to do with the silos. Once they’d settled on huge banners — supergraphics — the project came together very quickly.
The call for entries went out in April, and more than 150 people from all over the world submitted designs. Thirteen were chosen. All this progress came before there was any way to pay for the banners. Or for anything.
“Everything about this project has been ‘do it first and then find the funding,’ ” Anne said.
The Peter Kiewit Foundation stepped forward in July to cover the project’s operating expenses. And each of the banners will, hopefully, be sponsored by a different company. (All but four have sponsors so far. A sponsorship costs $6,000.)
There’s no real legal precedent for a project like this in Omaha, Anne said, but the city has been extremely cooperative. And people who live near the elevators have been more than cooperative — they organized cleanup days to get the area ready for visitors.
“Neighbors are excited to see the property being used again,” said Mike Battershell, president of the Hanscom Park Neighborhood Association.
The grain elevators sit at the southern end of the Field Club Trail, an area that’s long been neglected and overgrown. With plans under way to connect the Field Club Trail to the Keystone Trail, Battershell said, people were glad to see so much progress and activity.
The owners of the towers themselves, Rick Brock and Ron Safarik, immediately gave their permission. They’re planning to open a climbing facility on the site — Silo Extreme Outdoor Adventures — and appreciate the positive exposure.
“I would love to have an art project up there forever,” Brock said.
Attaching the banners won’t hurt the integrity of the silos. “You can’t hurt these things,” Anne said. “They’re insane.”
That’s why the buildings are still there. Two of the concrete-and-steel elevators were painstakingly removed in 1989 when I-80 was widened, but taking them all down . . . The owners figure it would cost $3 million, more than the land is worth.
Instead, they’d like to see the whole complex repurposed. That’s already happening in other parts of the country. Silos are being used for climbing, for condos — even for office space.
One of the winning banners, “concre(A)te synergies” by Brian Kelly of Omaha, imagines what that could look like. His banner puts windows, stairs, plants and people on the side of a silo.
You can read about all of the winning designs — and see all the entries — at the Stored Potential website, www.emergingterrain.org/storedpotential.
When choosing the designs, Anne said, the jury was looking at more than just their visual appeal. They were looking for something that would, first of all, work at 20 by 80 feet — that would still be clear and expressive at that scale.
And they wanted designs that had something to say. Each of the winning pieces tells a larger story about food, agriculture or land use. “Corn As Commodity” by Omaha native Jeremy Reding, for example, looks like a corn-shaped bar code. But if you scan a mini bar code at the bottom of the tower with a smart phone app, it will direct you to a website with more information about corn products.
Now that the banners are mostly settled, Anne and company are getting ready for the next phase of the project — a 500-person harvest dinner to be held Oct. 3 at the base of the silos. Another massive logistical undertaking.
The dinner, sold out for weeks, will feature local chefs and locally grown foods. Artists are creating large platters, so the food can be served family-style at one long table.
“It would have been really easy to stop this project with the banners,” Anne said. But the whole thing is so much about food and farming, it makes sense to celebrate it with a dinner.
Plus, the dinner gets people actually onsite.
Everyone involved with Stored Potential talks about the power of standing right next to the elevators.
“It’s different from a city building,” Anne said.
“The sheer size of them,” Mike Battershell agreed, “when you’re standing right next to them is ridiculous.”
“From the Interstate, when you’re going by at 70 every day, you don’t realize . . .”
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