If you haven't seen Quad City International Airport in the past six months, you will be surprised. That's already been the case for many travelers and residents. "A lot of people walking through are pretty shocked that we have something this nice," said Bruce Carter, director of aviation for the airport.

Carter is referring to a new art gallery - co-sponsored by MidCoast Fine Arts and Quad City Arts - that opened June 14 as part of the airport's ongoing expansion and renovation. More than 200 business and arts leaders attended the gallery's ribbon-cutting.

The collaboration among the three organizations has resulted in a wonderful new space for displaying art. Fortunately, you don't have to pass through a security checkpoint to enjoy it, because the gallery is around the corner and just down the hall from the gift shop.

The space, designed by Gere Dismer Architects, has a professional finish, from the highly polished wood floors to the pristine glass cases behind which the art is displayed. There are no doors to close off the space; instead, the space is defined by structural support columns, a change in the flooring from carpet to wood, and the setting of the gallery in an alcove off the main walkway. It is well-lit and will show off the art to good effect.

MidCoast's Jodean Rousey, director of rotating exhibits for the airport gallery, said the finished space is more impressive than she had envisioned looking at the plans. "You don't have the glistening of the lights and the glass on the blueprints," she said. "The lighting is beautiful. The glass is beautiful. It's top-class."

The art gallery has multiple goals. "Art has a calming effect ... in a place where your nerves are already frayed," said Dean Schroeder, executive director of MidCoast Fine Arts.

But more importantly for business leaders, the gallery is meant to be an economic-development tool to attract new workers and businesses to the Quad Cities by showing the area's commitment to culture. "The gateway [to the community] is the airport," Schroeder said. "This is a first impression: This is a community that invests in the arts."

The airport setting and the large volume of traffic required some breaks from gallery conventions. There is no desk space or accommodation for any gallery workers, so art-viewing is self-guided. This was a wise choice, giving a person ample time to linger over whatever pieces they wish, and the art is protected within glass cases.

The 1,600-square-foot gallery space has a permanent collection and a section devoted to works from regional artists. The current show at the gallery has two regional artists: Catherine Jones-Davies, a native of South Dakota currently residing in Anamosa, Iowa, displaying her oil and acrylic paintings; and Gene Anderson, a retired architect currently residing in Iowa City showing his concrete fresco sculptures. (The exhibit runs through August, and due to construction delays, a final exhibition schedule is still being made.)

Anderson's sculptures are elegant, abstract, and compelling in their simplicity and fine finish. The abstract shapes look like casually joined boulders or highly polished metal shapes. Jones-Davies' paintings use abstract impressionistic broad brushstrokes and bold colors to convey her message. Both artists demonstrate mature yet contrasting styles that transcend their media and illustrate the depth of talent our regional artists possess. For travelers from other parts of the country passing through the Quad City International Airport, these two artists' works are strong representatives of our art community's abilities and talents.

In addition to exhibits of regional artists, MidCoast and Quad City Arts are collaborating to bring rotating exhibits to the formal gallery from regional corporate and not-for-profit art collections. The John Deere Foundation donated a sculpture from its collection and a $100,000 gift for the Art at the Airport project, and artwork from its collection will be on display for the first year of gallery's existence. For displays beyond that year, Quad City Arts will be using its existing corporate relationships to start the process of selecting rotating exhibits, and MidCoast will finalize arrangements.

Quad City Arts is also spearheading the process of getting permanent artist installations at various sites throughout the airport, including the ticket area (a high-tech light-and-motion installation with a major gift from the V.O. Figge & Elizabeth Kahl Figge Foundation), the corridor connecting the airport's new concourse with the gallery area (a planned glass and light treatment funded partially with money from Genesis Health Systems), and near the airline gates in Concourse B (a heritage mural partially funded by Modern Woodmen of America). Quad City Arts is presently working on its Request for Proposals for the installations, and the organization doesn't yet have a timeline for awarding commissions. Of the $1 million budgeted for the three projects, more than half has been raised.

The Art at the Airport project is strong collaboration between the Quad City Metropolitan Airport Authority and two of the premier Quad City organizations promoting the arts. This partnership will serve as a great introduction to the possibilities that a united Quad Cities can provide to the traveling public and local residents.

Local and regional artists interested in exhibiting at the Quad City International Airport or any other MidCoast Fine Arts venue can answer the organization's Call for Entries on its Web site (http://www.midcoast.org). The deadline is August 6.

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