Rendering of the Pershing Center mural in its potential new home at Wyuka cemetery and park area of Lincoln. (Courtesy of Michelle McCullough of Moment Architecture)
LINCOLN — A $1.5 million boost from Nebraska lawmakers would help give a new home to the iconic Pershing Center mural, whose more than 760,000 tile pieces today sit in a warehouse after removal last year from the old city arena.
Fans of the mammoth artwork say they’ve already secured a new spot at Lincoln’s Wyuka historical park and cemetery but are short of funds to cover relocation and rising installation costs.
Introduced Thursday, Legislative Bill 411 by State Sen. George Dungan of Lincoln would earmark $1.5 million from the state’s general fund toward the $3 million preservation project. Private and philanthropic donations are to cover the rest.
Dungan said he appreciates history and art and said he is eager to see the mural displayed in the planned interactive setting.
Local artist Liz Shea-McCoy, a leader of the preservation effort, called the Wyuka grounds a perfect fit for what she describes as “the People’s Mural.”
Wyuka, which is a Lakota Indian word meaning “to rest,” was established in 1869 as a burial ground and Lincoln’s first public park. It has since grown into roughly 140 acres.
Its website also refers to the site as a “museum without walls,” which features statuary art, monumental architecture and historical tributes to Lincoln families, war veterans and more.
“It’s just magic,” said Shea-McCoy, who partnered with the Nebraska Historical Society and Foundation. “The whole environment at Wyuka and the history of that area of our state is a magical installation area for the Pershing Mural.”
The Pershing mural also has a storied history.
For nearly a decade, Nebraskans speculated what would become of the Pershing Center and the expansive mural that spanned its facade since 1957.
Created by artists Leonard Thiessen and Bill J. Hammon, the mural’s assorted tiles depict 38 figures involved in wide-ranging activities such as sports and circus acts and historical scenes.
“It certainly holds tremendous meaning as a repository of both Nebraska history and lasting memories — and continues to be a treasure trove of ongoing support,” Shea-McCoy said.
But construction of the Pinnacle Bank Arena in 2013 helped render the Pershing Center obsolete. The area now is a future site of an affordable housing and mixed-use redevelopment project led by White Lotus Group of Omaha.
Last year, Shea-McCoy and a small team came together under a tight deadline and raised $850,000 for early phases of the preservation project. The group had to first get an expert opinion on feasibility. Then tiles were detached last August from the structure and stored in a Lincoln warehouse.
Several other relocation sites had been considered, but the magnitude of the 38-foot-by-140-foot mural posed concerns.
The Wyuka board of trustees approached Shea-McCoy, who said she jumped at the thought of installation in a green space by a planned pond adjacent to the busy O Street.
She said that the Wyuka board had been planning renovations and that the mural would offer a “perfect backdrop” for a future stage, seating area and outdoor performances.
Shea-McCoy also sees the mural as an additional source of educational programming for visitors.
If all goes as planned, construction of the mural support base could start before summer and dedication could occur later in 2024.
Shea-McCoy said efforts to save the mural reflect a “grit” that defines Nebraska.
“The effort has been embraced as both a great responsibility and special opportunity,” she said.
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