Painted canvases decorate the long, still room as people stand in silence and study the artwork, contemplating what type of brush strokes the artists might’ve used. If one could teleport inside the gallery without ever having seen the exterior, they might wonder if they’ve landed in an art studio on the top floor of an apartment complex or in a chic building downtown. From inside, the white walls and art exhibitions make the room appear to be like any other gallery. One step out the door, however, would tell a much different story.
The Mayflower Mobile Gallery, also known as the MaMO, is a 42-foot long semi-trailer that has been converted into a place to hang art and function as a travelling venue for community events such as concerts, drag shows and workshops. This gallery on wheels flips the script of stationary galleries by bringing art straight to the spectators.
The MaMO is operated by BFF, formerly known as Benson First Friday, an organization in Omaha that is dedicated to bringing exposure to local artists and keeping the heartland alive with culture.
Co-founder and Executive Director of BFF Alex Jochim and Gallery Manager Sara Pate were working at BFF in 2017 when they took a leap and put summer intern Laura Simpson’s idea of a mobile art gallery in motion. Pate, Jochim and the BFF crew said they wanted to turn an old trailer donated by Select Van and Storage into an interactive art experience.
With a little help from their “BFFs,” Pate and Jochim spent the next year transforming the inside of the trailer into their dream gallery.
Jochim said the experience has been one of tremendous growth as a result of learning how to operate on the fly with the aid of helping hands and internet videos.
“We had to consult YouTube, bring on experienced volunteers to train and ended up learning and building it out all ourselves,” Jochim said. “Sara Pate and I spent many hot summer days and nights working inside that trailer, when we really wanted to be at the pool.”
Despite the sweltering heat the crew faced, the project successfully reached its completion after one year. Pate, Jochim and several crew members and volunteers finished insulating the trailer, putting up drywall and transforming the aesthetic of the vehicle to make it match that of an art museum just in time for its unveiling in September of 2018. The trailer made its debut at Lincoln Calling that month.
From the beginning of the MaMO’s adventure, Pate said she was encouraged by the reactions patrons have had to the gallery.
“It’s great just to see the community respond to this,” Pate said. “[When people] look on the outside and then go in and say, ‘Holy crap, this is not what I thought it would be in a good way,’ [it’s] extremely fulfilling.”
Pate and Jochim say the innovative creation has held many noteworthy guests and events in the year it has been in operation. The MaMO has showcased DJ Joe Benson, drag queens like Molli Poppinz and artists including Bart Cargas and Hugo Zamarano. The exterior of the truck is covered with caricature-like portraits and abstract compositions by artists Dwight Brown and Tyler Emery. Pate said she thinks the colorful pop art on the outside makes the MaMO even more distinct. Bystanders might find it hard to stroll past the depiction of an older man in a bright purple shirt exclaiming in Spanish, “¿Qual viejo?” (which means, “Which old guy?”) without giving him a passing glance.
Development Director Caitlin Little said the MaMO has had several memorable experiences from Maha, two consecutive stints at Lincoln Calling, Porchfest, and many others, but reminisced about a particular rainy night at the 2019 Lincoln Calling Festival. Little said she saw one of the advantages to running a gallery out of a converted trailer.
“Everyone had to tear down their tents except us, because we were in a trailer,” Little said. “We were also the only space that still had power since we were directly plugged into a building. So our DJ, Joe Benson, kept spinning sweet rain-appropriate tunes and Queernite was like, ‘We are still going to do our show,’ … It was wild and fun and so BFF.”
The MaMO will finish its season every year when winter temperatures roll in. Pate attributed this to the fact that it’s hard to keep the vehicle cozy amidst the Nebraskan ice and snow. Though the season is soon coming to an end, Pate said she’s looking forward to the 2020 MaMO season and all it has to offer.
Pate would not reveal what surprises lie in store for the Mayflower, but assures MaMO fans the next season is something to be excited about.
The gallery has a few ideas in the works about the end of the 2019 season. Pate and Jochim hope to schedule an event soon at which artists use the MaMO as free studio space to promote their work.
“I think it’s a great concept and we’re excited to bring it to more locations,” Pate said. “[The public’s reaction] feels good after building this thing out and moving it around. People dig it.”