South High Magnet continues to make progress in its capital campaign for a new visual and performing arts addition to the school. Donations have been made in honor of Dr. Toni Turnquist, for whom the new art gallery will be named. South Omaha is a section of the city known historically as the home of the stockyards and immigrants. The neighborhood is rich in varied cultural lineages. This melting pot originally attracted the Czech, Lithuanian, Polish and Irish. The Hispanic and Sudanese have joined the mix in recent decades. It is a treasure trove of architectural history with thirty-two buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a kaleidoscopic community of many hues. What better place for an art gallery? This gallery will not only feature student works and faculty exhibits, but will also be a welcoming home for community artists. The Turnquist Gallery, named for a champion of the arts and South High, will strengthen the bond between this colorful community and its magnet school for the visual and performing arts.
Antoinette E. (Toni) Turnquist spent most of her distinguished teaching career at South High. During those years, she served as a visual arts teacher, department chair for visual arts, foreign language, and ESL, and finally department chair of the merged Fine Arts Department, which included visual arts, performing arts, women’s studies, and humanities. For ten years, she served concurrently as a part-time instructor of drawing and painting at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Dr. Turnquist advocated passionately for arts education, doubling the course offerings and teaching staff to ensure that students were not only educated in necessary artistic skills but in aesthetics, art criticism, and art history. In 1969, she created the area’s first high school art history course, Art Appreciation, open to all students. Students were uniquely qualified to understand the meaning of the aesthetic experience and to develop as visual communicators with informed philosophies of breadth and depth. Her admonition to students was always that, “You cannot be an artist if you have nothing in your head about which to be an artist.”