Last week the Davenport City Council voted 7-3 in favor of an additional $3.5 million in funding for the proposed relocation of the Davenport Museum of Art into downtown. This brings the city's contribution to $6.5 million, which will ostensibly leverage an additional $23.5 million in private contributions toward what is now being called the "new arts center." An announcement of major private donations toward that goal is expected within the next month but was on hold until the city's contribution was firmly established at $6.5 million.

Ironically, the museum's most vocal critics, the Living Arts Advocates (LAA), were the very group asked to speak in support of the $3.5 million before the council during a public hearing at last Monday's committee of the whole. The LAA have been meeting frequently for over a year amongst themselves, with city officials, and museum board and staff to press the question, "Whom is the museum for and whom will the new museum serve?" Detractors of the LAA have said the group is merely a vocal minority and can't possibly speak for the whole Quad Cities artistic community. Nevertheless, if not for the persistent and direct efforts of the LAA, last week's vote would not have been as positive as museum leadership needed it to be.

What did the LAA have to do with it? Over the past year, members of the LAA have helped successfully encourage the current DMA board leadership to: a) evaluate and expand the current museum mission statement to become more inspiring and community-minded; b) consider the merits of an "arts center" model versus a "museum" model; and c) establish a community-based Programming Development Forum to get broader input about what dynamic and integrated programs the public will most likely embrace at a new facility. The combined efforts of numerous leaders on the museum's boards, the LAA, and participating citizens have moved this process along to create the positive energy and broader vision that helped the majority of the city council vote in good faith for the additional $3.5 million.
None of this would have happened had not a couple dozen practicing area artists and arts supporters persistently asked the question, "Whom is the museum for?" The LAA have been the DMA's most vocal critics but clearly proved they can also be the new art center's most effective supporters. Perhaps the last-minute flurry of email and phone calls from LAA and related supporters to elected officials had something to do with it. Perhaps the assurance from these artist-activists that the city's additional $3.5 million was well-spent on a newly expanded vision and programming at the museum had something to do with it. Certainly this was evidenced at the public hearing where four of the six persons asked to speak in favor of the spending were Living Arts Advocates.

So, what do the LAA want next, recognition - a gold star? No, just follow-through. Cathy Bolkcom, a local artist and activist, said it best last Monday before the City Council, "This is just the beginning. We must be diligent in ensuring that this is an open process and that the expanded program and vision of the new arts center are carried out to serve the entire community." Now that the city has cast its lot to the tune of $6.5 million, there is even more reason to pay attention to the decisions that are being made on the design, programming, and staffing at the new arts center.

Let's hope that those entrusted with guiding this project through continue to ask themselves, "Whom is the museum for?"

Todd McGreevy is a local artist and a member of the LAA, and currently serves on the Board of Trustees for the Davenport Museum of Art.

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