The Omaha Mural Project Fertile Ground is a creation of internationally renowned mural artist Meg Saligman. Saligman’s work tells the story of Omaha’s past, present, and future by featuring historical references, present-day communitites, and portraying the passage of time with a unique “back to front” rather than “left to right” composition. At 32,500 sq ft, the mural is the largest public art project in the history of the city of Omaha as well as the largest singly funded mural in the nation. Located on the east and north walls of the NRG Energy building at 13th and Mike Fahey Street, creation of Omaha’s newest cultural monument began in early June of 2008, and was completed in June 2009.
The Peter Kiewit Foundation initiated the project in 2006. The foundation partnered with the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts for consulting and project management. After conducting a nationwide artist search, Meg Saligman, renowned Philadelphia muralist, was commissioned to design and execute a world-class mural in downtown Omaha and the NRG Energy building was selected for its canvas. The project was funded entirely by the Peter Kiewit Foundation as a gift to the people of Nebraska and the city of Omaha.
Saligman spent hundreds of hours in Omaha during 2007 conducting extensive local research to develop a unique design that reflects the Omaha community: its landscape, its history, its people, its culture, and its values. The artist visited the archives of the Durham Museum, the Douglas County Historical Society, and the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center to gather historical photos and data about Omaha. She also interviewed dozens of Omaha residents, historians, business people, and education and community leaders to refine her design concept for the mural. The title of the mural, Fertile Ground, is a reference to Omaha as a place with depth of character and as a modern city that has deep roots, both in nature and in the community. The mural features nearly 50 Omahans who were photographed at locations across the city. Each mural character symbolizes an aspect of life in Omaha.
Work to prepare the NRG Energy building for painting began in June, 2008. Saligman and a team of assisting artists spent six months during 2008 and 2009 completing the mural. Work was conducted during warm weather months, as cold weather prevented work on the mural from progressing.
With Fertile Ground, Saligman used a two-step approach to painting the mural. The first step is a computer aided grid-system that allowed the artists to block the mural design directly onto the NRG Energy building wall, ensuring the mural images would remain in proper scale. Through this process, the paint was applied directly to the mural wall. The second method employed the use of applying paint to acrylic non-woven fabric using a process similar to “paint-by-numbers” allowing artists and volunteers of all skill levels to assist with the preliminary painting. Once the image was painted onto the fabric, the material was adhered to the wall using acrylic gel. Meg and her team of artists then blended the fabric sections with the surrounding image and added details and finishing touches.
The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts continues to manage of maintenance of the completed mural. Meg Saligman and assisting artists returned to Omaha July–August 2017 to restore the mural, bringing the iconic public art back to its original vibrancy. The Peter Kiewit Foundation funded the restoration of the cultural monument.