There was an overpowering feeling of celebration, joy and pride Friday in the former Grand Lobby of the Putnam Museum & Science Center, 1717 W. 12th St., Davenport.

Putnam Celebrates Ribbon Cutting for New World Culture Gallery

Families assisted by World Relief Quad Cities took part in the Friday ribbon-cutting for the Putnam’s new World Culture Gallery, including World Relief director Laura Fontaine (in purple mask)

Rachael Mullins, Putnam president/CEO, welcomed about 100 guests, supporters and donors of the Quad-Cities institution for a ribbon-cutting and open house preview of the new World Culture Gallery.

“We are so appreciative of this moment after the year we’ve all shared together in our community, to have a moment of true celebration here at the Putnam,” she said.

Funded by Bechtel Trusts, Scott County Regional Authority, the Putnam Museum Guild and numerous private donors and trustees, the $300,000 project is the first of its scale since the museum’s opening of a Science Center in 2014.

The construction project expands access within the facility, connecting the former Giant Screen Theater Grand Lobby to the Putnam’s lower 1960s structure that houses the museum’s historic collection and the existing entrance since the museum reopened last July (after being closed in mid-March 2020).

The new permanent gallery has a main entrance off the large lobby (which is now considered the Putnam education annex, which will include

Putnam Celebrates Ribbon Cutting for New World Culture Gallery

The entrance to the new World Culture Gallery at the Putnam Museum & Science Center, Davenport.

classroom space in the former gift shop), as well being accessible from the old museum.

The World Culture Gallery (in the space of the former Asia Gallery near Unearthing Ancient Egypt) celebrates the diverse cultures of our community by featuring artifacts from the Putnam’s international collection. In its inaugural exhibit, visitors will learn about the symbolism of color in adornment, home and celebration. Additionally, curators worked with staff from World Relief Quad Cities to include artifacts loaned by the newest Quad Citians.

A Smithsonian Institution affiliate, the Putnam houses a collection entrusted to the museum by seven generations of Quad Citians, including objects from the world travels of some of the museum’s founders such as the Putnam, Palmer, and Figge families.

“The founders of the Putnam truly believed that this community deserved the best in the world,” Mullins said Friday. “And they traveled the globe to collect an extraordinary number of artifacts and pieces from countries, cultures – that at the time were unknown to our community.”

“In today’s age, those cultures are represented now as friends and neighbors here in the Quad-Cities region,” she said. “We’re really excited to see this blend of the old and the new represented in this gallery.”

Putnam Celebrates Ribbon Cutting for New World Culture Gallery

Visitors attending the Friday opening of the Putnam’s World Culture Gallery.

Mullins was especially thrilled about the new partnership the Putnam has with World Relief Quad Cities, which worked on assembling pieces for “The Colors of Culture” exhibit.

When the pandemic hit, the Putnam was in the midst of planning for “a more complex and global future,” Mullins said. “When we were forced to close our doors, we had one of our supporters involved in that process step forward and say, this is too important to put on hold. We want to be able to move forward with this project, and they inspired us to continue this work, and be bold at the Putnam.”

“I think you’ll see throughout this facility, we’ve been bold this last year,” she said, “redesigning the footprint, redesigning the collection and its importance in the community, and re-investing in the gallery and the visitor experience here at the Putnam.”

“There were so many partners who brought this vision to life,” Mullins said.

She thanked all the partners and supporters for the project, and elected officials in attendance included Davenport Mayor Mike Matson and Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms (both Putnam board members), and Moline Mayor Sangeetha Rayapati.

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“We’re really excited to be cutting the ribbon on our new World Culture Gallery,” Mullins said. “I like to think of the World Culture Gallery as kind of taking us back to our roots, but it definitely represents our community and also the future, with global trends that are underway around the world, and our young people who are graduating into a global economy.”

Putnam Celebrates Ribbon Cutting for New World Culture Gallery

“The Colors of Culture” exhibit explores the use of color in adornment, home and celebration.

“This is astounding; this is amazing,” said Julie Forsythe, Senior Vice President, Business & Economic Growth, for the Quad Cities Chamber.

“This is a huge assert to our region. The chamber attracts businesses to the Quad-Cities, and looks to attract talent to the Quad-Cities, and it’s assets like this that are very important,” she said.

“Everybody’s at the start line and we’re getting ready to run and come out of Covid and do some wonderful things,” Mayor Matson said. “Rachael, your organization at the Putnam, my goodness.”

“We’re running, and we can see the finish line now; we’re getting to it,” he said. “I’m so proud to just to be a piece of this community and a part of this city, that has people like you guys – that the whole focus is, let’s get going, let’s problem solve, let’s get through it. Last year’s been tough, but we’re coming out of it, we’re dealing with it, and we’re doing the right thing.

Putnam Celebrates Ribbon Cutting for New World Culture Gallery

A visitor looks over part of the new gallery.

“This, Rachael, is a special place in this community and I applaud you for all the effort you do,” Matson said.

Mayor Thoms said while the Putnam is on the west side of Davenport, it really helps the whole Q-C area.

“It educates people of what’s going on in the world,” he said. “We see the young ones here, and there’s a lot of things they need to be educated on, be exposed to. The new exhibit obviously does that, but works with adults too. And upstairs, we have activities that are hands-on.”

“I want to say thank you to the employees and staff of the Putnam, for getting  through this pandemic and helping the financial stability of the organization, to keep it alive and active for everybody in the Quad-Cities,” Thoms said.

The gallery features many items loaned from the newest Quad Citizens, and placards tell stories of their personal experiences.

Pride from refugees

Abe Mbanzamihigo, preferred communities caseworker for World Relief Quad Cities, is an immigrant from the African nation of Burundi.

“When I was coming to America, one of my biggest fears was being in a foreign place, I would have no recollection of where I came from,” he said at Friday’s reception. “Seeing this exhibit at the Putnam represents not just a piece of where I come from, but also other artifacts that

Putnam Celebrates Ribbon Cutting for New World Culture Gallery

A visitor looks over part of the new gallery.

resonate with other refugees.

“It truly is a huge honor and gives me so much pride to be part of the World Culture Gallery,” Mbanzamihigo said. “We refugees come from rich and beautiful cultures. Our stories are beautiful and we are more than just refugees. The artifacts that you see here today are so important, because they are more than just artifacts.

“To refugees and immigrants, they are a reminder of home,” he said. “I hope that by viewing this exhibit, you are open to diversity in the Quad-Cities and enjoy hearing the stories about your neighbors. Yes, we are refugees, but we have lived next to you as a neighbor in the same town, city and state for a long time.”

“That’s the power of this work,” Mullins said, choking back tears, noting the strengths and assets of the Q-C international community. “These newcomers to our community, new Americans, bring resilience, an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for hard work that we should all be proud of.”

Putnam Celebrates Ribbon Cutting for New World Culture Gallery

Visitors look at the colorful photos Friday in the gallery.

Skills of flexibility, adaptation, decision-making, and risk tolerance are ingrained in the immigrant story, she said. “Thank you to our new Quad-City families and our partners at World Relief for being here to celebrate this momentous occasion with us.”

In the new gallery, “We have all the countries that we represent at World Relief, in pictures – from Myanmar, the Congo, Burundi, Iraq,” aid Laura Fontaine, director of World Relief Q-C, who wore her dress from Rwanda. Over the years, World Relief Q-C has assisted refugees from 10 countries, since 1999.

Many of the World Relief staff are immigrants, she said, noting Abe speaks several languages, has been on staff since last summer and is also a full-time student at St. Ambrose University.

One part of the Putnam exhibit is from the Serbian refugee family of Ratko Rastovic, program director of World Relief Quad Cities, who’s been with the nonprofit 20 years now. Rastovic moved to the Q-C in 1999, and he has loaned a Serbian national soccer jersey, Serbian Orthodox icons, a wooden brandy canteen, and

Putnam Celebrates Ribbon Cutting for New World Culture Gallery

A photo from Peru in the new gallery.

wooden painted egg on a stand.

Fontaine is daughter of the retired Army Maj. Gen. Yves Fontaine (who is Belgian), former commanding general of the Army Sustainment Command at Rock Island Arsenal.

Laura said her favorite parts of the new gallery include the bright lighting and inviting nature of the exhibits. “The cases are just stunning,” Fontaine said. “It’s bright, it’s open – it’s such a friendly, warm feeling going there. Just to educate everybody here that wow, all these cultures are right at our doorstep. I think it’s phenomenal.”

“The Putnam strives to bring to life a sense of place, time and purpose to ignite human potential and inspire our diverse community to learn about and care for our world and all its people,” Mullins has said.

“Our new World Culture Gallery showcases our historic international collection, as well as raises awareness of the rich cultural diversity now found right here in our own community,” she said.

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“We are helping educate Quad Citians about where refugees have been coming from, where immigrants are coming from and not only celebrating the differences, but also how we are all alike,” Laura Fontaine said before the gallery opening, noting she worked with eight or nine families to loan clothing and other items for the exhibit.

Putnam Celebrates Ribbon Cutting for New World Culture Gallery

Photos of students from Thailand (top) and Mali, Africa (bottom).

“One of the things that we received, it’s a handmade piggy bank from Mexico – it’s beautiful pottery and like, we use those piggy banks in America,” she said. “From the refugee community, I think it’s beneficial for them to know that they are in a welcoming community; they are in an area that respects their culture and wants them to be integrated in our community.

“It’s a good partnership with the Putnam as well – Rachael is amazing,” Fontaine said. “It’s really beneficial for both groups.”

She is very impressed with the awesome breadth of the museum international collection. “The Putnam has

Putnam Celebrates Ribbon Cutting for New World Culture Gallery

A photo from Peru in the new gallery.

done a great job of considering diversity, equity, and inclusion through their new exhibits.”

Fontaine hopes people learn how the bright colors of refugees’ clothes and purses help define their culture and personality.

“We all express ourselves in some way, and I think fashion and bright colors tell the story for people,” she said. “Especially, when you’re coming from an authoritarian country, being able to wear your bright colors out, it’s showing you do have that freedom and now you’re in a democracy.”

Putnam Celebrates Ribbon Cutting for New World Culture Gallery

Visitors to the new World Culture Gallery Friday at the Putnam.

The new Putnam flooring, lighting, and ceiling updates all extend from the new World Culture Gallery through to the existing “Unearthing Ancient Egypt” exhibit. “Especially for our young people growing up, now they’re part of a global economy. They’ll be part of a global workforce and this entire

Putnam Celebrates Ribbon Cutting for New World Culture Gallery

The Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting May 21 at the new Putnam gallery.

idea of multiculturalism and global awareness is a part of the Putman’s impact in our community,” Mullins said.

“So in addition to examining our local community and the incredible diversity and international community here in the Quad-Cities region is also understanding the world, to encourage our community to understand and really care about our world and different cultures.” To see a collection of images from the new exhibit, click HERE. 

The World Culture Gallery exhibit admission is included in the price of general admission — $9 for adults, $8 for youth (ages 3-18), seniors, college students and military. Through the Putnam’s new “Museums for All” program, admission is $1 per person for households (up to 2 adults and 3 children) with the presentation of an EBT card. Admission is free for members. After Memorial Day, the museum will be open seven days a week and the theater has been open weekends since May 15.

For more information, visit www.putnam.org/Exhibits/Featured/Colors-Of-Culture.

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Putnam Celebrates Ribbon Cutting for New World Culture Gallery
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.