As we continue to explore new ways of bringing the arts to our community, we also want to take a step back and celebrate an important milestone in our organization’s rich history.
This fall, Quad City Arts is celebrating its 50th anniversary, dedicated to enriching the quality of life in the Quad-City region through the arts.
Looking back at the impact, the Quad-Cities would not be the Quad-Cities without Quad City Arts.
Founded in August 1970 as Quad City Arts Council, we are a nonprofit arts organization serving a six-county area in eastern Iowa and northwestern Illinois.
We are passionate about the growth and vitality of the Q-C region through the arts and for the past 50 years, have been committed to making quality arts education accessible to everyone through arts opportunities, programming, and community events.
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 us more than 600 artists, 424 residencies, 10,000 school visits, 400 concerts, and over 2.6 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 (including a 98-member steering committee). 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 has been central to the organization for 27 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 2008.
Chalk Art Fest started in 2017, and this year, we started 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, we do plan to continue them in 2021.
In 2019, through all its public 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 especially impressed with executive director Kevin 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 at 1715 2nd Ave., 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 we do – “7 With Kevin Live” (which debuts every other Thursday).
“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. Our goal is to equip individuals and organizations to engage their community, see a long-lasting benefit from the completed projects and pay artists for their work in the process.
Quad City Arts gets funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the states of Illinois and Iowa, and other private granting agencies. “We intend to continue working with those agencies, so that we can continue to provide those grants,” he said.
Arts Dollars is funded mainly through the Hubbell-Waterman Foundation and the Illinois Arts Council. 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.”
The five-week Metro Arts summer apprenticeship program often creates public murals by students ages 15-21, and this year included improv comedy. The program has served 1,140 students since it started (with 96 varied projects), and stipends for apprentices are $500 each; $750 for the senior apprentice, and $2,000 for the professional lead artists.
In lieu of an in-person Festival of Trees this year, we are partnering with KWQC to present a fun-filled one-hour Holiday Special to air on Saturday, Nov. 21st 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.
Just like we’ve done for 50 years.