Quad City Arts celebrates 50 years serving the community
Saturday in the Arts is a comprehensive, in-depth look at a personality, issue, or trend in the Quad-Cities arts and entertainment scene, running every Saturday morning on your site for fun, free, local entertainment and features, QuadCities.com.
The Quad-Cities would not be the Quad-Cities without Quad City Arts.
Founded in August 1970 as Quad City Arts Council, the nonprofit serves a six-county area in eastern Iowa and northwestern Illinois and is celebrating its 50th anniversary, committed to making quality arts education accessible to everyone through arts opportunities, programming, and community events.
“It is an honor to be at the helm during this time,” executive director Kevin Maynard (leading the nonprofit nearly two years) said recently. “Even with everything going on that’s really unique, we’re able to pivot and kind of do some really great stuff. Being at the helm, to help the organization and general public look back at 50 years of history and 50 years of impact, it is an honor.
“It’s really cool to see where the organization started and how it’s grown and changed over the years,” he said.
Among hallmarks of Quad City Arts is the Visiting Artist Series, which started in 1974 – to present multi-disciplinary performing arts residencies in schools and community sites — and has brought in over 700 artists, 450 residencies, 10,200 school visits, more than 420 concerts, and almost 2.7 million people reached. In 2019 alone, the series impacted 24,649 K-12 students.
The Festival of Trees launched in 1986, and has served as the primary fundraiser for Quad City Arts since its inception, bringing together 3,000 volunteers each year to put on 11 days of events. The Visiting Artist Series, Festival of Trees and Quad City Arts Council officially merged into one entity in 1988.
Acting on an urban renewal opportunity in 1990, Quad City Arts began the renovation of a former department store for its offices and gallery space that became the cornerstone project in the revitalization of Rock Island’s downtown, The Arts & Entertainment District.
The Quad City Arts Center Gallery (1715 2nd Ave.) has been central to the organization for years, offering more than 2,500 square feet of space showcasing some of the most unique artwork in the area.
This popular space is frequently used for informal musical and literary performances and for special community group meetings.
Quad City Arts has expanded its programs over the years, starting with the annual High School Art Invitational in 1977; the Arts Dollars grant program in 1979; the Metro Arts Youth Apprenticeship program and Art at the Airport in 2000; and the Public Sculpture Program in 2002.
Chalk Art Fest started in 2017, and this year, the organization began taking over some MidCoast Fine Arts programming (since that nonprofit disbanded in the spring), including Riverssance Festival of Fine Art and the High School Pastel Competition. While those did not occur this year, they plan to return in 2021.
In 2019, through all its programs (including visiting artists, concerts, exhibits, and Festival of Trees), Quad City Arts attracted a total of over 304,000 people, displayed the work of 266 artists, and re-granted over $90,000 to individual artists and organizations in support of community arts projects.
“In the cultural structure of the Quad-Cities, the institutions like the Putnam, Figge and Symphony are the bricks; however, Quad City Arts is the mortar,” recent board president and longtime volunteer Chris Rayburn said. “Quad City Arts is the glue that connects the arts with the community. It is less visible than the ‘bricks,’ but it is everywhere, and it is every bit as essential.”
Former President/CEO of W.G. Block (a concrete, sand and gravel company), and a practicing artist himself, Rayburn has been part of the nonprofit for nearly 30 years and is proud of the fact he’s served two terms as board president 20 years apart.
“I am equally proud of my work curating and installing the exhibition space at the airport for so many years. It is truly a showcase for both local and regional art and artists,” he said. “Honestly, I am proud of every minute I have spent with Quad City Arts.”
Rayburn is impressed with Maynard (who began in December 2018), who he said “is leading a fantastic staff of extremely dedicated and hard-working professionals. The organization has a fantastic board of directors, is on strong financial footing and is really leaning into its future,” Rayburn said.
“There are many exciting opportunities for growing Quad City Arts’ current programs and also expanding in new directions,” he said. “The needs in the community are great, but what is exciting to me is that Quad City Arts has strong support to help meet these needs and beyond.”
“What I love most about Quad City Arts is the passion of our staff and volunteers to present art programming in many different forms to as many people as we can possibly reach,” said Dawn Wohlford-Metallo, visual arts director since 2001, who oversees the main gallery in Rock Island, and gallery at Moline’s Quad City International Airport.
“We invest time to seek out individuals who are not aware of our programs and offer access to opportunities for them — by inviting regional artists to enter work for exhibition or making sure an underprivileged child has transportation and a free ticket to a performance,” she said. “What I like most about my job is the variety. No day is just like another.”
Maynard, 32, came to Rock Island after working five years as executive director of Galesburg’s Orpheum Theatre. He attended Black Hawk College, graduated from Western Illinois University in 2011, and earned his MBA at Western in 2013.
“I knew Quad City Arts and its reputation because we were booking shows in Galesburg as well, and knew talking to agents they were working with Quad City Arts. And obviously, Festival of Trees, I knew about growing up because I grew up in Geneseo,” Maynard said.
Even though he was raised in the Q-C, he didn’t realize the far-reaching impact of the organization before working for it.
“It’s the breadth of programming, the amount in the arts that Quad City Arts is serving,” Maynard said. “It’s not just the Visiting Artist Series; it’s not just the gallery spaces. It’s the public sculpture program. It’s Metro Arts, Chalk Art Festival, and the list goes on and on.”
During the Covid-19 pandemic, which has upended society and devastated arts venues nationwide, he and Quad City Arts have had to be nimble and creative to adapt and continue its mission.
The High School Art Show, Metro Arts, and Chalk Art Fest have all continued under varied formats, and Maynard has introduced a new video series to highlight what Q-C Arts does – “7 With Kevin Live.”
“We’re constantly moving forward,” he said. “Obviously, 2020 has thrown a wrench in the mix, but we’re going to find a way to pivot and deliver on that mission, and still provide opportunities for artists in our region and really be able to provide art education opportunities through Metro Arts as well as the Visiting Artist Series. It may not look like past years, but it’s still just as important, if not more important, to deliver on that programming.”
“Especially, with the Arts Dollars program alone, we track how many grants we’ve given out since the beginning, and what those dollar amounts are, it’s amazing,” he said. “It’s a way for our entity to have an impact on smaller arts organizations that may not have a very large budget — or may not have a grant writer. Some of these national and state grants take a lot of time and effort to submit, so if they’re unable to do that or feel they don’t qualify for that, we’re here for an option so they can still get funding.
“They can still have an impact in the Quad-Cities through the arts,” Maynard said. Since 1990, Arts Dollars has given out over $1.33 million in 802 grants to 447 unique recipients.
In 2019, it distributed over $90,000 to 21 projects, each year offering funding for individual artists and nonprofits of all sizes to support arts-centered projects in the Q-C and surrounding communities. The goal is to equip individuals and organizations to engage their community, see a long-lasting benefit from completed projects and pay artists for their work in the process.
While the fourth-annual chalk fest this year moved online and was open to anyone to participate in the second half of August, Maynard was very happy with how it turned out, with 100 artists involved nationwide (the first-place winner from California).
“I am thrilled with how our Chalk Art Fest went this year. Switching to a virtual model, you really have no idea what to expect or how many people you’re actually going to engage or help get involved.”
The current “Portrait of Remarkable Women” exhibit at the airport, and related work at other gallery space throughout the area embodies the kind of arts partnerships Maynard wants to do more of in the future.
“It does highlight some of the things we are able to do in the community, by putting together the pieces – bringing arts partners together to create things like this, or seeing all the different things that are happening in the community and creating one cohesive vision around it.”
“We’re trying to continually engage folks through this unique time.”
One way Maynard has done that since the spring quarantine is his “7 With Kevin Live” video series, which debuts at 7 p.m. every other Thursday on Facebook and the Quad City Arts YouTube channel. He often interviews artists on exhibit through Quad City Arts.
“I think for some it is a replacement for gallery openings, but for us, we really looked at it as a way to continually engage with our patrons and partners and those who have a vested interest in Quad City Arts,” he said. “We also look at it as a way to tell our story, what Quad City Arts is doing, but doing it in a way we really get to highlight these incredible artists we have the benefit of partnering with and getting to know. We want to be able to share that aspect with our community.”
Artist is a dedicated volunteer
Chris Rayburn is not only a dedicated longtime volunteer for Quad City Arts. Art is in his blood.
After working several years in Brooklyn, N.Y., including the Brooklyn Museum, he exhibited his artwork in group and solo exhibitions in the East Village of Manhattan in the 1980s and in traveling exhibitions of both prints and photography.
Rayburn and his wife moved to the Q-C in 1990, and from 1995 to 2012 he was President and CEO of W.G. Block Co. and its family of businesses. He initially became involved in Quad City Arts to give back to the community by volunteering.
“I quickly learned that by being involved, Quad City Arts was in fact giving me much more in return,” he said. “Quad City Arts overlaps with so many of the things my family and I hold dearly. We believe that community matters and to make the world a better place you have to first start close to home. I have stayed involved because Quad City Arts make the Quad Cities a better place and it has done so for 50 years.”
Initially, Rayburn volunteered as a committee member, progressing to committee chair, then board member and eventually in multiple officer positions over the years. He was on the board from 1992 to 2007 and again from 2011 to 2020, and this is his last year.
Rayburn served as president in the late 1990s and again, 20 years later from 2018-2019. He also has been a member and occasional chair of the visual art and public art committees dating back to the early 1990s, and the first three “Face the River” community built and designed sculpture projects.
Rayburn also volunteered as the curator of the Art @ the Airport gallery for its first 20 years (laying out and installing over 120 exhibitions) and continues to work with Dawn Wohlford-Metallo on artist pairings and exhibition schedule for all locations.
“The greatest benefit of Quad City Arts is its ability to bring experiences to the Quad-Cities that would otherwise not happen,” he said. “This could be bringing highly acclaimed performing artists from all corners of this country to underserved classrooms, or providing budding artists in all disciplines to showcase their talents via Metro Arts or the annual High School Art Show at the Rock Island Gallery or simply placing rotating regional art and sculpture at our airport and in our public spaces.
“Beyond these interactions, Quad City Arts uses the arts to provide deeper experiences for the children of our community in the form of classroom workshops that build essential life skills like listening and respect,” Rayburn said.
An exhibit highlight he was involved with was at Moline’s airport in 2010, of photos from local aviation history, between 1910 and the 1950s. The historic photos were chosen, enlarged, and reproduced by Rayburn.
They included photos by Gabe Mosenfelder, who used to run a clothing store in downtown Rock Island.
“I had always wanted to do a show like this,” Rayburn said at the time. “I remember the old airport from when I was a kid growing up; the way cool stuff about the airport — things that don’t exist anymore.”
In a perfect twist of fate, Mosenfelder’s old building is occupied by Quad City Arts, at 1715 2nd Ave.
Rayburn’s photos have been exhibited at Quad City Arts’ Rock Island gallery in the fall of 2016, in 2019. and the Moline Public Library in the fall of 2017. His work was in a group show at the Olson-Larsen Gallery in West Des Moines, July-September 2018, and in New York City at the Bob Blackburn 20/20 Gallery.
This year has been a tumultuous one for the world and the Q-C arts community.
Late last year, Midcoast Fine Arts announced that it would be disbanding March 31, 2020, and worked with Q-C Arts to take over management of its Moline Centre Station gallery, the annual Riverssance Festival of Fine Arts, and High School Pastel Mural Competition. Then after the Covid pandemic hit, Quad City Arts had to reorganize how it did business.
Rayburn emphasized that Quad City Arts has always been scrappy and adaptable.
“It has grit. It has not been afraid to make hard decisions in the past when times were tough to protect its future and it has operated within its means,” he said. “I think this comes from its entrepreneurial arts council roots and is key to its survival.
“Luckily, Quad City Arts has grown wildly beyond its origin while at the same time maintaining its entrepreneurial essence,” Rayburn said. “Last year you saw evidence of this as Quad City Arts was in a strong position to step in and assume several of the programs and events from Midcoast in the hopes that they would carry on and continue to grow.”
“You are now seeing Quad City Arts’ adapting in real time as we all negotiate through Covid-19. It is a constant scramble and Kevin and the staff are making remarkable adjustments to keep the programs going in a safe and accessible way,” he said. “This is not easy! Performing artists are now live streaming vs. performing in person, Chalk Art Fest is going virtual versus on the streets of our cities and hundreds of volunteers had to reimagine our largest fundraiser Festival of Trees on its 35-year anniversary.
“These are monumental accomplishments all made by a relatively small but incredibly talented and dedicated staff and community volunteers.”
A short visit can affect a lifetime
“For many years, the core programming for the Visiting Artist Series was the all-school assembly, where the whole school gathered in the gym or auditorium for a 45-minute performance,” said Margot Day, who oversees the program for Quad City Arts.
“While that’s still an option for our artists in residence, we’re seeing more options for master classes and workshops from our artists, and interest in other types of artist engagements, like lectures and meet-and-greets,” she said.
“Most artists will tell us toward the end of the residency that they wish there was a program like this when they were growing up,” Day said. “They can see the benefits for the students and the community. A few artists, mostly those who grew up in Canada, tell us that they remember a school visit by a performing artist, and the impact it had on them as students and performers. Either way, it’s a really gratifying response for us to receive.”
“I have had the pleasure of being present when people (young children through nursing home residents) had the unique experience of witnessing, not merely viewing, but being in the room with highly acclaimed artists as they shared their artistry,” said Carmen Darland, CEO of Quad City Arts from 2008 to 2018.
“In schools, the performing artists explained how excellence is achieved (persistently hard work, determination, believing in yourself and never giving up). This message crosses every aspect of our lives, beyond the arts,” she said.
A personal Visiting Artist highlight for her was when multiple Grammy winner Nnenna Freelon was in town for a two-week residency and was in great demand. Her schedule was full so when a nonprofit group working with foster teens wanted to see her, the rehearsal for her final concert was the only time available.
“I met the teens and their adult leader and seated them in the darkened theater as Nnenna worked with her musicians who had flown in for the concert that night,” Darland recalled.
“When finished, she asked the students what their interest was in music. One girl replied she likes to compose; Nnenna invited her to the stage to ‘show what she’s got.’ The teen belted out an original a cappella song with skill, poise and grace.
“When done she turned quickly to exit the stage, Nnenna ordered her back to her side, took both of her hands in hers, looked in her eyes and said ‘Girl, you’ve got what it takes! You’ll do anything you want to and you’ll soar!’”
“My tears affected my ability to get my phone camera clicking,” Darland said.
The Visiting Artist Series typically brings over 200 outreach performances a year with artists of international acclaim to the Quad-City region, offering community members the opportunity to see professional performances by nationally touring artists.
One- to two-week residencies provide in-depth and often repeated contact between the artist and audience. Outreach performances take place mostly in schools, but also at business locations, social service organizations, and public facilities. Most residencies conclude with a public performance in a traditional concert hall.
Among the many outstanding artists who have had Q-C appearances include:
- Clarinetist Richard Stoltzman (1979-80)
- Author E.L. Doctorow (1984-85)
- Paul Chamber Orchestra with Pinchas Zukerman (1984-85)
- Folk singer Burl Ives (1985-86)
- Broadway director Joshua Logan (1985-86)
- Cellist Janos Starker (1985-86)
- Jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie (1986-87)
- Jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis (1987)
- Author Kurt Vonnegut (1988-89)
- Author W.P. Kinsella (1990-91)
- Vocal ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock (1990-91)
- Author Tobias Wolff (1991-92)
- Violinist Mark O’Connor (1998-99)
- S. Monk Jazz Trio (1998-99)
- Jazz singer Kurt Elling (2002-03)
- Jazz trumpeter Terrence Blanchard (2006-07)
- Jazz trumpeter Jon Faddis (2011-12)
- Folk singer Jen Chapin (2013-14)
- Turtle Island String Quartet (2018-19)
- Playwright David Henry Hwang (2019-20)
Some of the biggest names to visit the Q-C, through the series or Festival of Trees, have come about because of the fateful 1986 appearance by legendary actor Cary Grant – which put Davenport on the map worldwide.
The 82-year-old movie star died after a massive stroke on Nov. 29, 1986, suffered while staying at the Blackhawk Hotel. Grant was scheduled to give a talk at the Adler Theatre as part of the first Festival of Trees, but was unable to go on.
“People who had bought tickets were offered refunds, but most people let the money stay, and his widow didn’t take his fee,” Darland said of a residency started in 1986 in Grant’s name. Funds paid for several artists to visit and perform here.
Participants have included Joan Benny, daughter of Jack Benny; Colleen Dewhurst; Lawrence Luckenbill; Robert Cohen; Robert Falls; Anna Deavere Smith; Edward Albee, B.D. Wong, and film/TV actor John Getz (a Moline native) in November 2011.
Marty Huber, a longtime Moliner who now lives in Montana, volunteered for Festival of Trees before it began because of the quality and impact of visiting artists.
“That has been my whole thing — I believe in the project, the program, how it gets artists in the schools,” she said. “If there’s a kid you can make excited by some form of the arts, rather than the rectangular thing he holds in his hand, that’s the goal. Festival raises money for the Visiting Artist Series program.
“We’ve never hosted artists in our home, but we’ve driven them all over the place, ran errands for them,” Huber said. “We all have foundations and charities we believe in. No matter where we go, for our Quad-City community, it’s a fantastic thing. In Montana, they have seen some outstanding artist programs, but not on the same caliber of Quad City Arts.”
Painting the town with many arts
Just as last year was unusual for the Quad City Arts Metro Arts Youth Apprenticeship Program, the summer of 2020 also was unique.
Far fewer students – ages 15 to 21 – participated in fewer projects, and they wore face coverings and practiced social distancing. That does not mean that the two outdoor murals and improvisational comedy they created were any less meaningful, important or impressive.
“I don’t think that our social distancing guidelines have hindered the process or progress on any of these projects,” Maynard 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 were provided with five-week paid summer apprenticeships.
These apprentices create projects that positively impacted the 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.
Since summer 2000, Metro Arts has provided youth with paid summer apprenticeships in various arts disciplines. They work together in groups to complete projects that enhance the community through the arts. Participants learn artistic techniques and applications of their genre while developing personally and professionally.
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.
The first Metro Arts in 2000 was modeled after the successful arts-education and job-training program Gallery 37 in Chicago, which launched in 1991 with a concept that spread to cities across the nation.
Metro Arts 2000 was headed by visual artist and project coordinator Lori Roderick. A former artist-in-residence at Quad City Arts, she supervised a professional faculty of five, along with 69 students from 21 area high schools that year.
That first year (like in 2020), the projects included improvisational comedy and painted murals.
It also included a ceramic tile mural and show choir, and other years the dazzlingly diverse program has featured more murals, poetry, dance, jazz, playwriting, sculpture, creative writing, voice, mosaics, graphic novel, percussion, micro-fiction, graphic design, mixed media, and photography.
Since the beginning, Metro Arts has served 1,140 students and produced 96 varied projects.
“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 led 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 worked with eight young artists daily in Moline in the morning and Rock Island in the afternoon.
If painting close together, the students were required to wear masks or face shields, and unlike previous years, did not share paint or buckets with water to rinse brushes. Masks were provided in case students forget to bring one, as well as hand sanitizer, water and sunscreen.
“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.”
This summer’s three-student improv comedy group met daily at Schwiebert Park in Rock Island and was 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.”
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. They were 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.”
“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.”
Enriching the landscape with public art
Q-C Arts has facilitated leasing and installation of public sculpture in the area since 2002, starting with the city of Davenport – which now has nine outdoor sculptures on permanent display. The city of Rock Island has participated in the program every year since 2007 and Bettendorf, since 2008.
With plans to establish a cultural corridor along the Mississippi River on 2nd Street, Davenport saw public art as a way to draw attention to the developing cultural scene. The year-long rental of sculptures by regional artists and facilitated by Q-C Arts, continued in Davenport through 2011.
In 2007, The Downtown Rock Island Arts and Entertainment District embraced public sculpture by the renting three sculptures, funded by the City of Rock Island and placed in the downtown area. In addition to a growing number of murals, new shops, loft apartments and Riverview condos, the sculptures became a vital component of the city’s strategic plan objective to include the creation, performance, sale, and public display of art.
Moline Centre Partners joined program in 2007, by renting five sculptures for their downtown. With three of the Quad-Cities participating, a brochure was designed and marketed through the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Moline stayed in the program for two years, until the Moline Centre Partners dissolved; Renew Moline has since gotten involved.
The City of Bettendorf joined the program in 2008 and has continued to select and rent at least three sculptures per year ever since. Bettendorf has purchased five pieces for the city’s permanent collection.
The Davenport RiverCenter began leasing sculptures with the 2012-13 program year and then opted to use the “rent to own” clause to purchase two works.
“While difficult to measure the impact, public art conveys that the people who live in a city that invests in art are invested in their community,” Wohlford-Metallo said.
“The community is not a transient population, but one who is open to new ideas and willing to take risks. They take pride in their surroundings,” she said. “In addition, a city enriched with public art, and one that offers cultural amenities, is a city that attracts businesses. When Volkswagen chose Chattanooga, the arts environment was a deciding factor.”
Public art is a way to develop a downtown into a cultural destination, Wohlford-Metallo said. “People may come to see a sculpture, then stop and eat at a restaurant, shop or enjoy other cultural offerings.”
To date, 164 sculptures have been leased through the Public Sculpture Program.
This June, six sculptures in Bettendorf and four in Rock Island were replaced with new ones, featuring colorful, creative and whimsical work from artists throughout the Midwest. Each city chose to keep one sculpture from last year’s selection for another year.
For the first time, Renew Moline has joined the effort, in sponsoring sculptures.
On the riverfront near 15th Street is “Swans On the Marsh” by V. Skip Willits of Camanche, Iowa, and at the Kone building near Bass Street Landing in Moline is the blue “Metamorphosis” by Hilde DeBruyne of Cumming, Iowa.
All of the sculptures are for sale and can be purchased by individuals, businesses or the city for permanent installation after June of the following year. And they’re very popular sites for people to take selfies.
The sculptures are leased and on public display for a one-year period (each artist gets a $1,200 stipend), at which point they may be purchased for permanent installation or be replaced with new sculpture.
In 2019, Q-C Arts coordinated installation of 12 sculptures with the financial support of Rock Island and Bettendorf, Rock Island Parks & Recreation, Bettendorf Library Foundation and Ascentra Credit Union, showing their commitment to the cultural and artistic vitality of our community.
Courtney Lyon of Ballet Quad Cities loves “Growing Up” – at the foot of the Centennial Bridge in Rock Island, created by Ben Pierce of Cape Girardeau. Mo. It was installed at the visitor’s center in Rock Island last year and will remain for another year.
“I see it every day when I drive into Rock Island for work,” said Lyon, artistic director of the ballet company. “Even though my mind is typically already busy with what will be happening during the day, I always notice the sculpture. I instantly recognize that my car is crossing an area where civilization abruptly meets nature. It snaps me out of my ‘work’ brain and it makes me blink and look around and come into the present.
“The sculpture stands strong and tall, circles filled with bricks, triangles filled with blue. I think about the artist and their choice of putting the blue water in the angular container, and the red bricks in the smooth container,” she said. “ It seems so simple that by switching what seems natural, something that could have been normal and expected becomes unique and unforgettable. Would I have thought to do that?
“I realize that I just crossed over the Mighty Mississippi. Even though we built a bridge to cross it, and flood walls to protect us, the river is far more powerful than we are,” Lyon said.
“Delightfully, the blue of the sculpture pops! Sometimes it is the brightest thing around as I come off the bridge if the skies are grey, the water flat, the trees bare.”
Funding from Festival and elsewhere
Quad City Arts gets funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the states of Illinois and Iowa, and other private granting agencies.
Arts Dollars is funded mainly through the Hubbell-Waterman Foundation and the Illinois Arts Council Agency. By not being able to do a traditional Festival of Trees this year will certainly negatively affect Quad City Arts revenue.
“There definitely will be an impact by not hosting an in-person Festival of Trees this year, but we’re confident that the community is going to work with us,” Maynard said. “The Quad-Cities is an incredibly supportive and giving community. We think we’re going to be able to bring in some dollars to bridge that gap. We’re also making changes so we can still continue to offer all our programming, even with a smaller budget in mind.”
In lieu of an in-person Festival of Trees this year, it’s partnering with KWQC to present a one-hour Holiday Special to air on Saturday, Nov. 21 during the traditional parade hour, asking the community to partner for a Day of Giving on the same day.
The TV special event will consist of coverage from past parades, Center Stage acts, messages from staff, volunteers, and community members as well as a message of hope from Santa himself. The goal is to set up matching donors and sponsors who will help make donations go farther.
“The health and wellness of our community is, above all else, our first priority and we truly believe that the spirit of Festival of Trees will be preserved this year through community connection and a commitment to supporting the arts,” Maynard said.
The beloved tradition planned to celebrate its 35th year in November, with “Believe,” but the unbelievable year of 2020 and Covid-19 forced cancellation of the in-person festival, as many events have been canceled throughout the year.
In July, the nonprofit made the difficult decision not to host the Kwik Star Festival of Trees in person due to uncertainty and concern for the safety of volunteers, staff, and community as a whole regarding the Covid-19 pandemic. The Holiday Parade and all other special events will also not be held this year.
“It takes 3,000 volunteers to make the Festival of Trees happen,” Maynard said. “Over 30,000 attend annually. Thousands crowd the streets of Davenport for the Holiday Parade. It will be missed this year but will come back stronger next year.”
In addition, there will be select designs and items available for sale at the Quad City Arts Rock Island Gallery, along with other favorites like the Honor Tree and Isabel Bloom ornaments available for purchase.
Festival of Trees started in 1986 with a small group of volunteers that believed in the impact of the arts. They set out on a mission to support bringing high-quality artists here to the Q-C, inspiring a generation of students and families through access to the arts.
That first year, their purpose was to be a community celebration of the holiday season and raise funds for the Visiting Artist Series, which began in 1974 as its own organization.
Over the years, Festival has not only continued to be a major supporter of the Visiting Artist Series and Quad City Arts, but it’s also become a staple in the Q-C as unofficial kickoff to the holiday season, bringing together hundreds of sponsors and tens of thousands of supporters to experience the magic of the festival at Davenport’s RiverCenter.
Festival has raised over $5 million in support of local arts and has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Events in North America. It typically takes 3,500 volunteers, 650 designers, 3,500 CenterStage entertainers and over 100 sponsors to make Festival of Trees happen each year. It’s one of the largest community attractions in the Quad-Cities.
Longtime volunteer loves the Festival
It’s been a passion of former longtime Moliner Marty Huber since the start.
She and her husband Don lived in Moline 53 years, and they built their dream retirement home five years ago in Kalispell, Montana, to be close to their younger son and his family. They moved there full-time last year; she was a consultant for the 2019 Festival, and Huber planned to return to see Festival of Trees this year.
She got involved in the event because of the Visiting Artists program. In the mid-1980s, Huber served as Cultural Arts Chairman for the Moline Schools PTA, which would give a small donation to the Visiting Artists.
Huber wanted to find out more about the program and she started volunteering to plan and be part of Festival of Trees before the first event.
“We aren’t really big donors, but we do what can do to offer support here and there,” she said. Huber did a bit of everything for the Festival over the years, including co-chairing the gift shop for 11 years, what used to be the Zoo Tree (with stuffed animals) for five years, and she was an on-floor designer, and got a few ribbons for her designs.
Because she had a background in retail sales, she gravitated toward the gift shop. For each item she and her co-chair bought for the shop, someone had to open the box it was in, mark it for price, re-box it, store it until the time of the festival, open the box, then put the item on display. At the end of festival, an inventory had to be made, and items that did not sell had to be re-boxed, put on a truck and stored until next year. Another job Huber had was being in charge of the Zoo Tree, now the Toy Tree.
Through the years, she also served on the festival management team, the judging team and worked on the parade.
“Every sponsor I’ve had, they believed in Quad City Arts,” Huber said. “Everybody is in the same kettle of fish this year, with their events closed, they’re going to pick and choose.”
In past years, she’s treasured seeing the creativity of Festival, “seeing the sparkle, seeing all the designs on the floor — from small ornaments, stockings, doors, hearth and home, room – I’ve done most all of them,” Huber said of designs, noting one year she was part of having a red tractor on the floor. “We got a tractor group from the parade, and talked them into doing a room, and walked out with a first-place room design ribbon.”
Passionate about the parade and arts
Erin Platt of Davenport has been involved with the parade since its inception.
In 1992, Q-C Arts started the parade and she wrote articles for the Festival Times newspaper insert to gain additional community involvement for her resume. Platt interviewed the first parade director, Donna Dobbs-Goldberg, about producing a parade of that magnitude, and wrote on how the helium balloons were constructed.
“I was so excited on parade day itself to see it come to life. There was so much enthusiasm surrounding it in the community,” Platt recalled. “I watched from the sidelines as the helium balloons, bands, floats, and dance squads went by the cheering crowds. A light freezing rain started to fall toward the end, and I was very relieved the balloons had made it through the route without incident because – as I learned during my interview with the balloon company – a heavy enough ice pellet could potentially cause damage to the fabric.”
She helped compile the script for the hour-long KWQC-TV6 live broadcast, which Platt went on to do every year since. That entails making sure every single parade entry has key information included, so that the anchors can talk about it as it appears on the TV screen.
“Most people don’t realize that what they see on their television screen during a live broadcast is not necessarily what the anchors and other production team members see due to the large number of monitors and camera angles needed for the broadcast,” Platt said.
“There are hundreds of volunteers tirelessly handling the behind-the-scenes details to bring the parade and the entire Festival of Trees to life for our community,” she said. “I have an enormous sense of pride being involved with something of this magnitude. We’re elevating arts funding but in such a way that brings joy to families, boosts our economy, and shows off our region by attracting backyard and out-of-town tourists alike.”
“In addition to the volunteers, the staff at both Quad City Arts and KWQC — who broadcasts the parade each year — have been phenomenal to work with,” Platt added.
The scope and schedule for the Visiting Artist Series during this unusual school year are yet to be announced. For more information on Quad City Arts’ history and programs, visit www.quadcityarts.com/blog.