Teacher, Former Student Planting Art Seed in Central Nebraska

Marco Garcia and Jerome Dubas at the UNDRground Gallery in Grand Island, Nebraska. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)
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June 29, 2018 - 6:45am

A high school student with a dream and an art teacher with the know-how have combined to open a brand new contemporary art gallery in the basement of an old building in downtown Grand Island. It’s an unlikely pairing and an even more unusual location. The gallery helps fill a void in central Nebraska.


With the sounds and smells from the Azteca Market along Third Street in downtown Grand Island filtering through the walls, Jerome Dubas is ready to show-off a hidden gem. He calls it a gift to the city.  He’s an art teacher at Grand Island Senior High School, but more recently has spent most of his free time here with his former student, Marco Garcia. It’s the UNDRground Art Gallery, in a building owned by Garcia's parents. Dubas first saw it at Marco's 16th birthday party.  

"When I showed up, Marco said you have to come see this space,” Dubas said. “I’m really excited, because he talked about the lack of art available for serious work that could inspire and could show what art could be, you know.”  

Walking down the stairs from street level into the gallery quickly takes visitors from the old-school charm of Grand Island into a sleek, modern gallery.

UNDRground Gallery in Grand Island, Nebraska. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)

“We renovated the space. The kids in the high school came and turned what was just a room down in the basement into a pretty nice looking gallery,” Dubas said.    

At about 1,200 square feet, the gallery features white walls, a black ceiling, wood floors and a couple of dozen paintings and sculptures from central Nebraska artists. It’s been in the works for a couple of years, a dream that was a bit harder to realize than Dubas and Garcia imagined.

“Marco was young. He was excited, he showed me. I didn’t know much about running a business or anything,” Dubas said.  “We thought, oh yeah, we can turn this into an art gallery. So we thought, we’ll just slap some artwork up on the wall and away we go and then realized, oh, that was a little naïve you know.”   

They quickly learned there was a lot more to opening and operating an art gallery. Garcia, who’s since graduated, knew there was potential in the old basement.         

“We just started to know a lot more and just being in different spaces, meeting different people, talking to different people, things started to change, my ideas started to change and became a little bit more sophisticated,” Garcia said. “Definitely, I saw the transition from being something really naïve to something very serious and something very professional.”

Stairs to UNDRground Gallery in Grand Island. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News) 

It’s a non-profit and there’s no admission, so they can’t afford to change shows every month. Garcia runs the gallery with local high school students and Dubas is an advisor.

“We take trips where we go to different art venues so students can see that the missions of these different galleries are different. Not all galleries have the same purpose,” Dubas said. “We wanted a gallery with this purpose to exist in Grand Island, one that will showcase emerging and established artists locally.”    

The walls aren’t completely covered, but that’s by design. Garcia doesn’t want clutter. He wants visitors to be able to compare and appreciate the artwork. He points to sculptures by Hastings artist Aaron Badham and Kearney artist Katrina McCarter.

“It’s very unique and different because you have two sculpture artists and they’re still within the same realms of sculpture but they’re definitely different, how those two work and how their work is,” Garcia said. “It’s interesting to see Aaron and Katrina side by side.”  

There aren’t many contemporary art galleries in central Nebraska, but people like Tammy Morris would like to change that. She’s part of the Grow Grand Island initiative and is on the organization’s arts and humanities committee. She says the gallery is exactly the kind of thing that’s needed to jump start interest in contemporary art in the city.

“I think the thing that’s neat about it is that one, it highlights local artists, and two, it gives our young talented artists a place to really showcase their talent and passion for the arts,” Morris said.  

In a building that’s more than 100 years old, Dubas and Garcia have tapped into something new. Dubas says they’re doing their part to help Grand Island and central Nebraska evolve into a place where young people want to put down roots.

“You’d like to think that it’s this huge thing that we’re doing and it’s probably not, but the fact that we’ve added to it, that we’ve contributed to it and we’ve done that through the youth, it’s just been amazingly rewarding,” Dubas said.    

Garcia’s parents donated the space for the gallery. The Grand Island Public Schools Foundation also donated $2,000 to help with the renovation.  

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