Lincoln, Nebraska: This is for You

Artists change things. They see the way things are, and craft new realities in the recesses of their mind. In class, during their commute, on a run, in the shower.
Mitch JohnsonMitch Johnson
|13 min read
Written by the one and only Mitch Johnson
Lincoln, Nebraska: This is for You, by Mitch Johnson
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Artists change things. They see the way things are, and craft new realities in the recesses of their mind. In class, during their commute, on a run, in the shower.

We all do this. All of us have this ability to imagine something different, and we very regularly do.

I am not interested in that, and that would not make for compelling writing, or a compelling life for that matter - simply imagining a different reality.

I am however, interested in the humans that don't accept the way that things are. They connect dots. They can't sit by, letting life and their opportunity to make a difference pass them by. They must create the vision that festers in their heart, soul, mind.

They choose to challenge the status quo, and they do so with an unrelenting fervor, creativity, and energy that cannot be mistaken for anything else than a complete commitment to bring their difference to life. To give their gifts to the fullest extent for themselves, the people in their tribe, and the people that have yet to be impacted with their art, whatever medium that may be.

They feel the need, the inner obligation, to create. Similar to hunger pangs, these artists must create. They must make their difference. They must try, in the very least.

Lincoln- I am proud to say, is filled with these bright and shiny lights. These humans that create their art, and make their difference. They feel the responsibility to build a better future through their creations.

My intention with this blog is as follows:

  1. To celebrate and acknowledge a few round pegs in Lincoln, Nebraska that I look up to.
  2. To encourage you to reframe your definition of art and the artist.
  3. To empower & inspire you to give your gifts- like only you can.

But first- watch this:


Lincoln Chamber of Commerce promo that showcases the humble greatness that is, Lincoln, NE.

"Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently - they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do." - Steve Jobs, 1997

I don't know what's in the water in Lincoln. It has fostered and nurtured an environment for imagineers, creators, entrepreneurs, and artists.

Let's take a look at a few, shall we?

I have nothing but love, admiration, and respect for these local change-agents that excel at rebelling against the way things are, in order to create a more compelling future, and add color to the vibrant spirit of Lincoln in the process of shaking things up a bit.

Mike Smith

Mike Smith, executive director of The Bay, from Lincoln Nebraska Mike Smith, cheesin' hard. Executive Director for Skate For Change, Executive Director of THE BAY, TED speaker, Host of Josten's, and The Harbor TV.

I first encountered Mike's influence as a freshman in college. Unfortunately, I wasn't an audience member of one of his speaking gigs for high schools nationwide. My first contact point with Mike was a TED talk I found online while I had just began my passion for personal development around the age of 19.

Which you can watch here

A little bit about the Mike:

Mike is the Executive Director of THE BAY, one of the few non-profit skateparks in the country, he works with young people from all walks of life, encouraging them to pursue their passions and live out their dreams. He is also the Executive Director for Skate For Change (SFC), and organization that empowers young skateboarders to help the homeless in their communities. SFC chapters have now spread to major cities nationwide. Whether it's motivating students to change the culture of their school; or teaching others how to start and maintain successful organizations; or giving back to the homeless and lesser fortunate throughout the country; Mike has the experience and expertise to inspire others to be extraordinary.

Let me tell you- when Mike speaks, Mike moves people. He changes their state. He leverages stories and then uses their power to drive a message home in a sort of one-two punch combo that makes for compelling speech. What Mike crafts and creates with spoken word is an art form.

Mike, is an artist.

Turbine Flats, the building that Pixel Bakery calls home, is right next to The Bay, Mike's headquarters. We're grateful to have him in the neighborhood.

Speaking of the neighborhood, the next change agent is even closer to home for PB- his studio, Studio LNK, resides in the Flats.

Wyn Wiley

Wyn Wiley from Lincoln Nebraska Wyn Wiley, quite possibly thinking about McDonalds. 🙂

There is so much that could be said about Wyn.

Every interaction I've had with him, he showed up powerfully and playfully, curious about my life and eager to celebrate any recent wins I may have had. There is also much to be said about what he's built as a young professional.

A little bit about Wyn's, well... Wins:

A successful commercial photographer, Wyn has earned his way to make art for some big names. He has created for Martha Stewart Magazine, Human rights Campaign, Mary Kay, Adidas, Macklemore, Pepsi, amongst others.

On a much more personal level - Wyn has taught me by example that social media can be used to create and craft change in an audience. I admire Wyn's raw and real posts on Instagram where he speaks his mind, and bears his soul. He is a teacher at heart, and does not take that responsibility lightly. He chooses to add real value with his platform and influence. Whether that be in the form of an education, entertainment, or a simple demonstration of how he chooses to engage with the people and world around him.

Wyn has taught me by example that social media can be used to create and craft change in an audience

Wyn, is an artist.

These very words that I write about Wyn here feel full circle. I recall back in 2016 that I first expressed to Wyn after a presentation of his for CEO club at UNL that I desired to begin writing to create impact in Lincoln. Enthusiastically he encouraged it, pointing there to be a space for it, and here we are.

Thanks, Wyn.

Gage Mruz

Gage Mruz, founder of Greenstain, from Lincoln Nebraska Gage Mruz, Founder of greenstain. Mad guitarist, Wearer of yellow... Or is that orange?

As far as Gage Mruz, I first bonded with him while waiting for the results of pitch contest for the Engler Entrepreneurship program here in Lincoln. It was there that he described to me his venture, greenstain.

As a lover of the outdoors, Gage wanted to create a solution for the mayhem that is going on around the world with our environment. While digesting this problem during some noteworthy adventures with friends like the glass-covered lakes of Glacier, the red rocky forests of Zion, and the towering walls of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, he dreamed up his solution. Left awestruck at the beauty of our world during these experiences, he put it best, "That shit changes you."

That feeling he held onto, led to the birth of his his eco-friendly company, greenstain.

They provide an environmentally sustainable solution to the traditional negative practices of the apparel industry with eco-responsible manufacturing. 6 recycled plastic bottles go into each of our luxuriously soft tri-blend t-shirts, and on top of that, greenstain partnered with One Tree Planted, to make a dent on carbon emissions. Each shirt purchased is one more tree in the ground.

When I asked about his mentality around the concept of making a difference in the world, Gage had this to say,

"As far as the 'Be the Change. See the Change.' I believe that deep down everyone is an ethical person and that people truly do want to do good in this world. Often times people want change to happen but don't take that initial first step to make it happen. I wanted greenstain to be that path of least resistance for people to be the change they wanted to see in the world. I not only wanted to give people the tools and knowledge to be more environmentally conscious, but to provide them with the information to see the magnitude of the change they are making in the world. Whether that be through planting trees for each product we sell, recycling 6 plastic bottles and using 490 less gallons of water when manufacturing each tri-blend t-shirt, we wanted to give people real metrics to show that their impact matters."

Gage Mruz, founder of Greenstain, from Lincoln Nebraska

"So on the plane ride home from a 3 month adventure around New Zealand, it was very clear to me that in order to be the change I wished to see in the world, I would need to create something the world has never seen."

Gage Mruz, is an artist.

Pastor Tom Barber

 Pastor Tom Barber from the People City Mission in Lincoln, Nebraska Pastor Tom Barber. CEO of the People City Mission.

Pastor Tom Barber has worn many hats in his life and career. Among them would be Pastor (obviously), MBA graduate of Pepperdine University, Performer, Marketing Professor at UNL, and successful corporate businessman. A change of heart led him back into ministry, and into the shoes he chooses to fill now. As the face and heart of the People City Mission. The city's primary homeless shelter.

Today, the People's City Mission is Lincoln's primary homeless shelter housing 350 men, women, and children on an average day. PCM provides emergency and transitional housing to both men and families (including single mothers).

The Help Center, opened in 1990, takes the donations the community gives and distributes them to low-income families within the community for no cost. They collect, and then distribute food, clothing, household items, furniture, toys, and personal care items.

The PCM Free Medical Clinic opened in July 2009 to provide free medical, dental, vision, and behavioral health care to low-income Lincoln residents without medical insurance. Today the clinic sees more uninsured patients than any other medical provider in Lincoln.

Here is the thing about Pastor Tom Barber- he is a unicorn.

He combines his entrepreneurial spirit, love for people, and the PCM in a way that I can only describe as art. I worked with Pastor Tom for a season as the PCM's marketing intern, and in that short time I lessons about marketing, connecting people to causes, and loving people in a powerful way.

"Alone - you can't stop poverty. You can't stop hunger. You can't change the world, but you can change the world for someone.
& that's enough." - Pastor Tom (PT)

Pastor Tom, is an artist.

Hunter Radenslaben

Hunter Radenslaben. Speaker, Founder of AthleteNation,Partner at Creative Olsen. Hunter Radenslaben. Speaker, Founder of AthleteNation, Partner at Creative Olsen.

From the get-go it is really easy to just see a kid when you meet Hunter. I can tell you firsthand that's just not the case. Hunter and I grabbed coffee recently and I could tell within the first five minutes that I was dealing with one remarkable dude.

One with vision, and a mission on his heart to impact lives. Before he had entered his second decade, he had already completed a TED talk, spoken for approximately 15,000 students, educators, and business professionals, Founded a company, and grew a social media following into the tens of thousands by telling others' stories in a way that creates change.

P St Plaza Jun Kaneko totem in Lincoln Nebraska

Hunter, is an artist.

To cap this blog off, I want to remind you of something that your Kindergarten self knew at heart, but somewhere a long the way, you may have lost touch with it completely.

You have within you, the capacity to make art.

A barista that goes above and beyond and out of his way to connect and engage people. That is art.

A speaker who tells a story in a raw way that moves people to decide to be something more than what they've been. That is art.

A teacher that takes a moment to care and connect. That is art.

Art is anything that is above and beyond the status quo, and causes change in the process. The medium is irrelevant.

An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artist takes it personally.

Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are you Indispensable?

Look- we need you more than ever.

Our communities, schools, families, and tribes, need you and your superpower, sitting restlessly at the table, and for you to choose to shake things up like only you can.

As for PB, we will continue to choose to be chest-thumpers for Lincoln, and the culture that we are proud to be a part of, with our boots on the ground building alongside these humans and the many more we could have written about.

Now I'd like to end in a typical PB fashion with a questionably placed baking pun...

Lincoln- Let's rise.

Art by Sydni Moran on the side of the Turbine Flats building in Lincoln, NE. Art by Sydni Moran on the side of the Turbine Flats building in Lincoln, NE.

"That's the thing about Lincoln. Failure is met with empathy & success is balanced with humility. Hard work is a way of life & kindness is the language. You can see for miles, which reminds you that you're both big & small. That your presence is always valued, but that you should always care about those around you. A place that both feels like home & a place to grow."



Wyn Wiley
Turbine Flats
Tom Barber
Mike Smith
Hunter Radenslaben
Gage Mruz
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