Maha festival also a stage for city’s nonprofit groups

Fans entertain themselves with beach balls before Matt & Kim take the stage Saturday at Maha.

Not long after Sara Suganuma and Jessica Freeman arrived at Maha Music Festival Saturday afternoon, they headed away from the stage, toward the tents on the east side of Stinson Park.

“I was looking for free stuff,” Freeman said.

They found that, at least some of it. The Omaha Community Foundation gave away packets of flower seeds; Bellevue University handed out sunglasses.

Freeman, 23, of Fremont and Suganuma, 24, of Lincoln also found art projects. One of their first stops was Joslyn Art Museum’s booth, where they painted cardboard triangles, which became pieces of a huge geometric sculpture that slowly took shape as the day passed.

Festivalgoers also could make love bead necklaces and customized T-shirts and tote bags. They could paint a mannequin and write messages on paper lanterns.

The series of tents, called the Community Campus, was occupied entirely by local nonprofits, and its purpose was twofold, said co-curator Leslie Spethman.

Maha itself is a nonprofit, Spethman pointed out, and festival organizers wanted to give other nonprofits a forum during the daylong series of shows.

At the same time, she said, organizers figured the Community Campus, which was sponsored this year by Bellevue University, would make Maha “more festivally,” as Spethman put it.

It also made it more family-friendly. Bob Mould and The Flaming Lips, for example, have been around for a while, and many of their fans have children. As parents waited for their favorite bands to take the stage, their kids could pass the time, say, making a tote bag from a recycled T-shirt (which Spethman’s own daughter did, as her mom waited for Bob Mould).

Inclusive Communities, a 75-year-old organization that aims to confront bigotry and prejudice, invited the Maha crowd to write their hopes for justice and inclusion on paper lanterns. Festivalgoers hoped for more bike lanes, more dog parks, equal employment opportunities and marriage equality, among other things.

Volunteers hung the lanterns on trees throughout the park, with plans to light them after dark, said the organization’s executive director, Beth Riley.

Community Campus is in its second year, and this was Inclusive Communities’ first year participating. It was among the 35 local nonprofits who applied for 16 spots at this year’s festival (last year’s had 12).

Goodwill participated both years. Last year, volunteers put together a shirt-stenciling booth, where festival attendees could customize T-shirts that hadn’t sold in Goodwill stores. This year, Goodwill again recycled unsold shirts, this time helping guests convert them into tote bags, which they could use to store water bottles, free sunglasses and other things they picked up during the day.

Rebecca Armstrong, marketing and development administrative assistant for Goodwill, said she hoped the bags inspired those who made them to think about repurposing other things, too.

As she looked across the festival, she was glad to see people using them.

“People like the bags,” she said.

Back at the Joslyn booth, Suganuma and Freeman painted their cardboard triangles as Sons of Fathers played in the background and the women waited for Thao and the Get Down Stay Down and The Flaming Lips.

Not far away, 10-year-old Jude Ryan of Council Bluffs carefully finished his own triangle as his parents waited for Bob Mould.

Ryan likes art, but he said that wasn’t why he attended.

“I came here because I wanted to listen to some music,” he said.

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