Hitting Magic Population Number Transforms Lincoln into a Real City

It’s something of a truism that when a city’s population hits the 250,000 mark, it starts to be come a real city. That’s not a city as defined by the numbers — that bar is far lower. Rather, it’s defined by its arts and cultural scene, that it has become a place with enough to offer in entertainment and arts events, dining and drinking establishments that make for a real and vibrant city. In Lincoln’s case, the truism comes with validation. In 2000, the Capital City had a population of 225,000 and was to some degree a large but sleepy college/government town. A decade later, the population hit the 250,000 mark and an arts and cultural expansion began. Lincoln’s 2017 population is an estimated 273,000 — and it feels like a real city. Some of that feeling is quantifiable.

Adding to the art collection

Some elements in Lincoln‘s art and cultural expansion were present well before the city’s population hit the magic number. The Sheldon Museum of Art has been one of the top university art museums for decades, internationally known for its collection of 20th century American art. And its outdoor sculpture collection, with pieces by Richard Serra, Claes Oldenburg, Coosje van Bruggen and Michael Heizer, has been a draw since its expansion in the 1980s and ’90s under director George Neubert. But the city, with the urging of Mayor Chris Beutler and the work of a group devoted to public art, has gradually increased the number of public art pieces on the streets and in the parks. A good number of art galleries have opened in the past decade, most notably the move of Kiechel Fine Art from Williamsburg to a remodeled downtown building, where it is now the largest commercial gallery in the region. The increase in arts and cultural events and concerts has helped trigger an increase in dining options in Lincoln, particularly downtown. “I go to concerts at the arena, I go to Sheldon openings, I’m at the Lied Center all the time,” Boring said. “You want to go out before or after. People get used to coming downtown and that brings in restaurants and bars and the whole scene.”

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