Turn on your heart light – Lincoln art project highlights ‘Nebraska by Heart’

“The Heartland” recognizes the state from east to west. The front portion covers the western side of Nebraska, including Buffalo Bill’s ranch and Chimney Rock. The backside features Omaha’s skyline among other attractions.

Hearts beat strongly this year in Lincoln, Nebraska. And I’m not talking about the pounding hearts of Nebraska football fans as the team strives to return to greatness. More than 80 heart statues are scattered around Nebraska’s capital city as part of a fundraiser.

“Nebraska by Heart” features 6-foot tall fiberglass hearts on a base in the shape of Nebraska. The art project celebrates the state’s 150th birthday in 2017. An artist has decorated each heart. Some are state-related.

Each Nebraska county is featured in “93” by Gillian Jenkins.

Hearts are primarily located around downtown Lincoln (including the Haymarket and Railroad Districts) and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campuses. Two hearts greet people arriving to the Lincoln airport.

Finding the 83 hearts provides an entertaining and sometimes challenging affair. We spent a day searching for them. Lisa and I agreed beforehand that we’d be happy with the overall number, but I really wanted to find all of them. In the end, we found more than 50, before our feet and time gave out. We logged about seven miles walking around looking at the hearts. The challenging part consisted of reading the map correctly. Some of our steps resulted from having to turn around and walk in the opposite direction to get to the hearts.

“Out of the Park” by Emilie Alles is located outside Haymarket Park. It was a short jaunt from the entertainment district to the baseball stadium.

Artists’ interpretations

We enjoyed hunting down the hearts. Some were easy to find, as they stood out around the Haymarket and Railroad areas. As we moved around downtown, we needed to focus on street names and numbers in order to locate the next heart on our list.

Street musicians perform near the heart at the Burkholder Project gallery in Haymarket.

Artists’ interpretations and creations amazed us. Several artists added props to their creations, including mannequins, music sheets and wires. Artists Bri Murphy and Katelyn Farneth turned their heart into a model of an actual heart.

The artist had a “literal” meaning of the heart project, no?

State heritage

Some of our favorites promoted Nebraska’s history, as well as western heritage. “Everything Nice in Nebraska” was artist Patrick Gauthier’s look at Nebraska’s rural life, featuring farms and small town scenes.

“Everything Nice in Nebraska.”

Roberta Barnes designed “Western Gothic” to honor the Sandhills in western Nebraska. Anyone who has been to the Sandhills understands her affection for the area. If you haven’t been yet, put it on your travel bucket list. Western Gothic’s location stood out, near the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Haymarket.

“Western Gothic.”

“Agriculture: The Heartbeat of Nebraska” highlights the role corn plays in the state, says artist Diane O’Neel. People can’t help but notice the tall corn stalks as you drive almost anywhere around the state. Plus, our state university uses corn as its nickname – the Cornhuskers.

Corn – the heartbeat of Nebraska.

Campus hearts

The University of Nebraska located hearts around the campuses. Several were found along the Greek Life street. Fraternities and sororities had them displayed in their yards. One in particular stood out (possibly due to the upcoming solar eclipse at the time) – “Star Crossed Lovers” featured the sun and moon as lovers. Artist Elley Coffin created the piece because of her feelings for the moon, according to the project’s website.

“Star Crossed Lovers” is located on the University of Nebraska campus.

The university’s visitors center features a piece near and dear to our hearts – the Sandhill cranes. “Sandhill Cranes at Sunset” by Ian Laing symbolizes the iconic time of day as thousands of cranes fly back to their roosts on sandbars along the waterways of central Nebraska. The thunderous calls the birds make as they envelope the setting light must be heard in person to truly understand the love people have of these birds. The crane migration occurs over about a six-week period in late winter and early spring.

The Sandhill cranes heart features models of cranes on and above the sculpture.


We love art projects such as Nebraska by Heart. Cities use these art projects to help spread information and bring awareness to the issues. The Nebraska by Heart project serves two targets – Lead Up and Sadie Dog Fund. Lead Up strives to connect youths with college. It focuses on mentors, peer groups and academic support to help underrepresented students. The Sadie Dog Fund seeks to help the human-animal relationship by providing care and programs designed to help dogs with special needs stay at home with their families rather than face neglect, surrender or euthanasia.