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A Midwest Mecca for the Arts PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Editorials
Tuesday, 29 August 2000 18:00
We have the makings of a Midwest Arts Mecca here in the Quad Cities. As this week’s cover story points out, we have more than 4,600 arts-related events occurring throughout the year in our communities. The recognized importance of the arts to our region’s quality of life is beginning to reach critical mass. The crucial role of the arts in urban renewal is being borne out by downtown redevelopment on both sides of the river that includes arts-related businesses and programming. Bettendorf and Davenport have made the arts central to their redevelopment plans, with the construction of a world-class museum of art, an expanded Adler Theatre, and a new IMAX theatre in Davenport, and a state-of-the-art performing-arts facility in Bettendorf. Ten years ago, the Rock Island District began to build its current reputation and brand-name awareness on the moniker of “The Arts and Entertainment District.”

These are just the big-ticket, high-profile projects. Beyond the phenomenal base of activities (Remember the 4,600 events? And that’s only from the not-for-profit sector), there are dozens of small and medium-sized arts-related projects percolating throughout the community at all times.

Some examples: River Action continues to implement public art projects including combining the talents of watershed-management experts and an abstract sculptor. MidCoast Fine Arts recently opened an exhibition gallery inside the MARK of the Quad Cities. Tom Chateau is honing his vision of opening the only kaleidoscope museum in North America in downtown Davenport.

More than a dozen local artists exhibit and sell their works in galleries from Santa Fe to Chicago. Young graffiti artists will strut their stuff at Paint Louis this weekend in St. Louis; five miles of flood-wall will be descended upon by spray painters from all over the world. Sculptors Skip Willits and Eric Mart are being juried into international public shows from Sculpture on Second in Cedar Rapids to Peace Arch Park on the U.S.-Canadian border.

Quad City Arts Visiting Artist Series was given the pinnacle of recognition last year with the 1999 Wiliam Dawson Award. This program continuously brings in world-class talent such as T.S. Monk to give public performances as well as workshops in community schools. Ten thousand dollars of local art was auctioned off last Halloween at the MidCoast Fine Arts Great Mask Auction, in less than four hours.

Augustana College professor, Rebecca Wee was awarded the prestigious Hayden Carruth Award from over 700 poet appilicants. Visiting literai from Andre Codrescu to Robert Pinski have been authors-in-residence here through Quad City Arts efforts. The Davenport Museum of Art recently achieved affiliate status from the Smithosonian Museum, making it eligible to borrow works of art from the world-renowned institute. Glass Impact opened a full-service glass studio and gallery in the Rock Island District, complete with a “hot shop” for blowing glass and a mezzanine-style layout for watching artists while they work.

The Quad Cities International Airport has made arts a priority in its new $15 million expansion, enlisting the aid of Quad City Arts and MidCoast to present public art sculptures and murals as well as a rotating gallery of local and corporately collected works. Gallery Hops continue to grow in attendance in the Rock Island District four times each year with more than 25 art sites along the tour. Davenport One initiated ArtStroll in downtown, bringing together for the first time at one event, presentations from every major arts organization in the area.

The list does go on, but I think you get the idea. This doesn’t even take into account the dozens of annual arts-related events throughout the region, from four major arts fairs to successful music festivals of nearly every genre. Where to go from here? Can it get any better? Besides making our lives more enjoyable and providing an outlet for the creative expression of our individual and collective visions, what do we want the arts to do for our community?

Below is a list of suggested initiatives, ideas for enhancing the growth and sustainable vitality of the arts in our region. If you find merit in any of these, contact your local arts organization and share the idea with them. Call your alderman and share the idea. We’d love to hear your ideas and input as well, so write or email and tell us what you think.

1) midwestARTSmecca.org: a (nearly no-cost) joint marketing agreement between the 20-plus arts presenters in the Quad Cities area. For three to five years every arts organization agrees to include in its collateral marketing materials and efforts, both internal and external, the slogan/logo “midwestARTSmecca.org” to successfully brand our region as a Mecca for the arts. A web site with links to the presenters’ sites and further information on the Quad Cities would need to be created. The effect would be twofold: citizens here will begin to pick up on the theme and be more cognizant of the arts all around them; and businesses and families considering locating here, tourists, and travelers will recognize the area for its arts equity. A national press conference, with assistance from the Iowa Cable Network, could be arranged with an unprecedented seating of more than 20 arts-organization representatives, mayors of five or more cities, and governors of two states all signing a declaration citing the importance of the arts in our region and agreeing to jointly market the region as an Arts Mecca.

2) One percent for the arts: One percent of major government construction projects would be earmarked for art in and/or around new or expanded facilities. The University of Iowa Hospitals has a program such as this and as a result features a world-class collection of art that greatly enhances its visitors’ stays. Many private corporations set aside money for art, but publicly funded projects are often built with little if any consideration of incorporating art into their designs. The Quad Cities airport has informally set this standard with their arts initiative.

3) Community Cultural Planning Commission: Much like the Quad City Development Group serves as an overarching organization for big-picture issues regarding regional economic development, this commission would ensure fluid communication between arts presenters and organizations – a clearinghouse for ideas and networking. It would provide connections between arts organizations, helping to find volunteers or provide technical and logistical assistance. In addition, it could focus on regional and national arts-related initiatives such as grant-writing for marketing the Quad Cities as a Midwest Arts Mecca, assisting local arts organizations in recruiting national and regional conventions and conferences to the QCs, and launching Quad Cities-wide art initiatives such as the hugely successful Cows on Parade in Chicago. Quad City Arts is a candidate for this role. However, its focus has traditionally been on creating and funding, very successfully, their own performing, literary, and visual arts programming.

4) Arts Literacy: Arts groups must make a concentrated effort to empower parents and employers to lobby curriculum decision-makers in the community to make music, theatre, and the visual arts part of the core curriculum from kindergarten through high school. It’s well documented how effective arts curriculum is in increasing cognitive-thinking skills, teamwork, and problem-solving – not to mention boosting college test scores. This idea speaks to the goals and missions of state and county workforce-development initiatives and will need the support of the business community, the PTAs, and the chambers of commerce to succeed. In larger metro areas, families relocating scout the schools’ music programs before choosing in which community they want to buy a home. In this information age and high-tech marketplace, visual and spatial skills will be at a premium in the job market. The arts play a crucial role in this arena, and the decision-makers at our schools are only going to begin listening when parents and employers begin demanding they be included in the curriculum.

5) Arts Gifting: When you get ready to go to the mail-order catalog or the big-box chain store to buy that wedding or birthday gift, think arts and think local. Buy a season subscription to Galvin Fine Arts, the Music Guild, or the Quad City Symphony. Get a gift certificate at one of the dozen local arts galleries. Buy a membership to the Davenport Museum of Art or the Family Museum of Arts and Science. Any of these gifts will show that you put some thought into what the recipient would enjoy. Give the gift of an arts experience.

6) Volunteer: If you want to know more about area arts offerings and how organizations choose their programming, get involved as a volunteer. If you’d like to have a voice in the choice of presentations available, volunteering is a great way to get your foot in the door. New perspectives and fresh energy are always needed at all arts organizations, especially if they want to remain relevant to their audiences.
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