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Innovative public-art project wraps up PDF Print E-mail
Art - Reviews
Monday, 24 July 2000 18:00
After more than a year of planning, Quad City Arts is unleashing the creativity of area youth with Metro Arts 2000, a program in which area high-school students plan and execute public art, including murals and performances, while earning money and getting job skills. “We are bringing together artistically talented or interested teenagers and providing them with productive, creative, paid apprenticeships in the arts,” said project media coordinator Naomi Hancock.

The one-month-long Metro Arts 2000, which closes July 20 with a performance and mural dedication at noon in Arts Alley in downtown Rock Island, was modeled after the successful arts-education and job-training program Gallery 37 in Chicago. Gallery 37 was started in 1991 and now has a $1 million dollar annual budget from the City of Chicago. The concept has spread to cities and communities around the nation and Great Britain.

Metro Arts 2000 is headed by visual artist and project coordinator Lori Roderick. An artist-in-residence at Quad City Arts, she oversees a professional faculty of five along with 69 students from 21 area high schools. About 80 students applied for Metro Arts. Students had to list two references, but they didn’t need to have any previous job experience, and there were no artistic criteria.

Nearly half of the program’s $80,000 budget he program’s budget goes to students, who are paid $5.50 an hour. The rest of the funds go to pay faculty, buy supplies, and rent tents.

The response to Metro Arts 2000 has been so positive that plans are already being made for next year, organizers say. The program, which began June 19, occupies five tents in downtown Rock Island and Davenport .

The students report to work at 8:30 each weekday morning and toil until 12:30, when many of them leave for other, more conventional summer jobs. The youth are divided into five different teams, led by faculty members, as they independently develop their part of the larger project.

The most zany tent belongs to instructor Angela Rathman, who leads the Improvisational Theater group in Rock Island. One morning session saw the Poetry group sitting in to pick up some presentation technique. The two groups will be performing at the formal closing ceremony. The Poetry group, led by Tracy White of DeWitt, will also be publishing an anthology of poems.

Visitors to downtown Rock Island might have been struck by the contrast of the two tents. The improv group often had the appearance of kids goofing off, while the poets looked every bit like scholarly types as they filled their notebooks.

Getting the most attention from pedestrian traffic at the Rock Island site is the Ceramic Tile Mural tent. “We are a factory, generating all the tiles to be assembled into a painting,” instructor Lynda Foster explains. The tile mural, to be permanently displayed in Arts Alley, is a collaborative effort. The mural theme – the culture and heritage of the Quad City area – was determined by consensus after a three-round voting session.

Unlike art classes, Metro Arts 2000 brings together a more diverse student group, which presents challenges and opportunities. “It is wonderful,” Foster gushes. “I’m so excited I can hardly stand it. The kids with experience are diving right into it. The others bring a fresh perspective. ... They don’t know they can’t do it!”

Rich Washam, a Davenport Central senior, responded to a newspaper ad for the program and now says, “I’m getting paid to have fun while I broaden my experience.” Fellow mural apprentice Tifany Carr, a Geneseo High graduate, was encouraged to apply by friends and her art teacher. “I’m really glad I signed up. It is good problem-solving experience.” Tifany plans to pursue a career in interior design at the Art Institute of Chicago following Scott Community College, where she is headed this fall.

Across the river in Davenport, it’s hard to pass the sidewalk risers without peeking at the Show Choir practice. Instructor Ryan Riewerts, who is also associate director of choirs at Davenport North, praises the apprentice students. “They show up early and work hard. Each of them wants to be here. Unlike school, where the pressures of peers put demands on their time and attention, these students are totally focused. There are no attitudes here.”

The Show Choir members are working on their performance, which will include a half-dozen songs of unity and celebration. The purpose of the sidewalk risers, where the dance numbers are practiced, is to help with shyness. “Some of these kids are great musicians and march in school bands but they are shy about using their body,” Riewerts said. “The show choir is a way for them to more fully express themselves.” Confirming Riewerts assertion is Moline High senior Laurel Allen: “I’m getting paid to learn to dance!”

The Painted Mural tent seems to have attracted some of the freest spirits. Designed as a portable 40-foot mural, its theme was inspired by a Helen Hendrickson mural at the Davenport Museum of Art, showing the first hundred years of Davenport history. The Metro Arts 2000 mural will have as its theme the Mississippi River and the history of America since John F. Kennedy’s presidency. Artist Patrick Collins oversees the pictorial timeline while the students work in acrylic paint.

While working on the mural panels, one of the apprentices asked if they could also paint the back side. Artist assistant Katrin Hustedde, a student at Cardinal Strich University who’s from Davenport, was tasked with guiding the “hidden mural” into existence. “The flip side of the mural will allow the students to portray their own style, whether it be pessimistic and dark or optimistic, to make a statement concerning life as they see it,” Katrin explains. “There will be a collaborative story line – heaven and hell.”

One of the “flip side” art students is Jacob Cowan of Bettendorf. “This is a great summer job; you don’t have to be trained, you just get started and be paid to have fun.” As Jacob contemplated his mural contribution, he eschewed sketch pad and pencil. “If I draw it first and then try to redo it on the panel, it is no longer an original creation,” he said. “I can’t do it twice.” When asked how he will attempt to fill the space without any sketch to work from, Jacob declares, “The sketch is already on the board, even if it looks blank.”

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