Just as last year was unusual for the Quad City Arts Metro Arts Youth Apprenticeship Program, this summer also is unique.

Far fewer students – ages 15 to 21 – are participating, in fewer projects, and they are wearing face coverings and are social distancing, as is the current practice. That does not mean that the two outdoor murals and improvisational comedy being created over the past five weeks are any less meaningful, important or impressive.

Metro Arts students with their mural at 1516 6th Ave., Moline.

“Every Metro Arts site has a collection of masks available, if the student either doesn’t have one or has forgotten theirs that day, so we can make sure we’re following the social-distancing guidelines and keeping everybody safe,” Quad City Arts executive director Kevin Maynard said, noting the lead artists also wear masks.

“I don’t think that our social distancing guidelines have hindered the process or progress on any of these projects,” he said. “It has limited the number of apprentices. Most sites typically have 10 apprentices and a lead artist, but with the (Illinois) guidelines in phase 3 being no groups larger than 10, we did have to cut an apprentice from each project.”

Compared to 2019, when there were about 90 apprentices doing projects throughout the Quad-Cities in the spring, summer and fall, this year about 30 area youth are being provided with five-week paid summer apprenticeships.

These apprentices create projects that positively impact our community: a mural in Moline, improv comedy, and a mural in Rock Island. These projects were made possible through support from the City of Rock Island, Friendship Manor, Modern Woodmen of America, The Moline Foundation, and Renew Moline.

Metro Arts students work on improv comedy at Schwiebert Park, Rock Island.

This program allows young adults to develop new career and artistic skills, build self-confidence and creates a sense of accomplishment as they work under the supervision and mentorship of professional artists. Their mentors are accomplished, local artists who are passionate about teaching and encouraging creativity.

“This year, we obviously knew it would be a lot smaller – there were no spring projects with the pandemic going on,” said lead artist Sarah Robb of Davenport, who’s heading both new murals, at 1516 6th Ave., Moline, and on three sides of the Friendship Manor maintenance building, at Rock Island’s 11th Street and 21st Avenue.

In her 14th summer leading Metro Arts, she’s been working with eight young artists daily in Moline in the morning for four hours and nine in Rock Island in the afternoon.

If painting close together, the students are required to wear masks or face shields, and unlike previous years, do not share paint or buckets with water to rinse brushes. Masks are provided in case students forget to bring one, as well as hand sanitizer, water and sunscreen.

A classy, colorful landscape

The mural in Moline is in the courtyard on 6th Avenue next to La Primavera, on the wall of Bajas Classy Resale, a women’s clothing store across the street from the mural Robb led in 2018 for the Child Abuse Council (which was supported in part by Quad City Arts’ Arts Dollars, but wasn’t a Metro Arts project).

Metro Arts students working on the Moline mural.

The new mural (called “It’s a New Day”) is the first Metro Arts project in the city of Moline, supported by Renew Moline and The Moline Foundation. Specifically, The Tom and Karen Getz Memorial Fund was established at The Moline Foundation to support and promote civic pride, youth development and the arts. Tom and Karen served and led innumerable community organizations with energy, commitment, and heart.

“This collaborative mural project exemplifies and honors the legacy of these two truly remarkable community leaders,” said Paul Plagenz, president/CEO, Moline Foundation.

“It has a positive message during this time – hopeful, a lot of color,” Robb said. The students at both locations have been “troupers” and seamlessly adjusted to the circumstances. The Moline mural will have a ribbon-cutting Friday morning.

“Once they’re working, they’re in their own world,” Robb said. “We just look different because we have masks on. They all get it, have been cooperative and thankful they still have the opportunity.”

“The best part is the community of other artists, and we get to know their style and connect it to make one piece,” said senior Moline apprentice Rebecca Quick, a 21-year-old Moline High alum who attends Monmouth College. “We’re sweating like crazy, but keeping our distance and we’re making it work.”

“There have been a lot of changes due to the virus, but obviously things aren’t that different,” said Kamryn Linskey, a 2020 Sherrard High grad who last year did Metro Arts at the MLK Center in Rock Island. “It’s definitely the same amount of fun as last year. Working with Sarah, it’s been awesome.”

Since Friendship Manor is a larger project, which involved nearby Olivet Baptist Church, Robb will take a break after this week, and start another five weeks in late July with a new group of 11 or 12 apprentices to finish the building by the time school starts.

Kevin Maynard

“That was by design, because it is such a large project, we split it up into essentially groups and two projects,” Maynard said, noting stipends for the apprentices are $500 each; $750 for the senior apprentice, and $2,000 for lead artists.

“Most of the cost for the mural goes into the labor and materials. We do have a small administration fee, which is around 9 percent of the total cost. We typically ask building owners to come up with some of those funds,” he said, noting they typically pay at least $4,000 and an average mural costs around $10,000, based on size and number of apprentices.

In 2018, Robb led the painting of the Child Abuse Council wall facing 6th Avenue in downtown Moline between 15th and 16th streets and a new mural for Moline’s Floreciente neighborhood at 8th Street and 6th Avenue.

The CAC mural caught the attention of Pam Fisher, who owns the Bajas building, which led to the creation to that new mural. Robb in 2018 also helped a friend and fellow muralist, Heidi Sallows, paint the wall outside Fred & Ethel’s antique store at a new Rock Island pocket park at 30th Street and 14th Avenue.

She first partnered with Sallows in 2010 on the huge sea-themed wall of Cabanas at 2120 4th Ave., Rock Island. The two led several 2019 Metro Arts murals throughout the Q-C, including at the Quad City Symphony office at 4th and Brady streets, Davenport, and street murals throughout Bettendorf.

Bringing the funny outdoors

This summer’s three-student improv comedy group has met daily at Schwiebert Park in Rock Island and is led by Erin Mahr, a Rocky grad who did improv with Metro Arts in 2002.

“So it’s fun to be on the other side now,” she said. “At the time, I didn’t think I’d ever teach it. I had so much fun learning improv games at the time, and I thought it was a great opportunity to earn money while learning a fun skill like improv. I enjoyed ComedySportz, learning the different games and skills there.”

Metro Arts students Teddi White (left), Taylin Deevers and Samantha Skinner do improv at Theo’s in downtown Rock Island.

Mahr was in ComedySportz from 2010 until last year, when it disbanded, and is a performer with G.I.T. Improv.

This year, with students masked, “It’s been an interesting year,” she said. Mahr was co-lead artist last year with Patrick Adamson, at Rock Island’s former Establishment Theatre, now owned by the Center for Living Arts. They’re outside this year, partly to be safer health-wise.

“In improv, you have to work more with body language, being able to hear and understand each other,” Mahr said. “The apprentices have done a wonderful job of adapting and making the most of their experience, given the situation.”

Improv comedy translates to everyday life skills, she said. “It’s great for public speaking; it’s a great confidence builder, even just social skills.” Last week, they did a brief improv show July 2 for customers at Theo’s in downtown Rock Island.

“What I enjoy most about the improv program is the fact that I get to do something I love every day, and I also get to make new friends that otherwise wouldn’t have existed,” said Teddi White, 18, a new Bettendorf High grad in her second year of Metro Arts. “It’s a little difficult working with masks for a few reasons. It gets very hot very quickly, it’s harder to enunciate, and it’s harder to tell other’s facial expressions.”

“I love improv because it’s really flexible and free,” she said, noting she first did improv about eight years ago in a class at Davenport Junior Theatre and has been to multiple ComedySportz shows.

A virtual showcase on Thursday night

Covid also forced changes in how Metro Arts will present their annual showcase – virtually this year, at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 9 (on Facebook and the Quad City Arts YouTube channel).

Metro Arts students with their mural at Friendship Manor, Rock Island.

“In a typical year, we’d have every apprentice in the same room, on stage, with their friends and family, talking about the projects they’ve completed and showing some pictures,” Maynard said. “That’s not an option this year, so we’re bringing 3-4 people from each group to talk about their project. We would bring on everybody, but we are limited in how many we can have in the program we use, at one time.”

The showcase will display photos of the groups and their work, including recorded clips of the improv group that will be shared as well. It’ll be part of Quad City Arts’ newest video series, “7 with Kevin Live.”

For the showcase, the improv students will offer some puns (each from home), and not scene work. “It’s difficult to do that on multiple different screens at the same time,” Mahr said. Last year, there were nine apprentices doing improv.

This year, it’s smaller because it was harder to promote with school being out the last quarter. “There was a possibility we were going to have to teach online, and improv is very interactive and sometimes it works online, and others it’s more difficult to do online,” she said.

There is an additional Metro Arts project planned this fall in downtown Davenport. ​​

Tune in Thursday at 7 p.m. for 7 with Kevin LIVE!, highlighting this summer’s Metro Arts groups. You can watch the live stream through Facebook Live or YouTube and it will also be shared on the QuadCities.com Facebook page.

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Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.