The Quad City Arts Visiting Artist Series has been an inspiring, educational component of our sprawling community outreach since it launched in 1974.
Through the generosity of our supporters and funding partners (especially Festival of Trees since 1986), we’ve been able to bring in over 700 artists, 450 residencies, 10,200 school visits, more than 420 concerts, and almost 2.7 million reached.
Winner of the 1999 William Dawson Award for Programmatic Excellence, from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, this nationally recognized residency program has brought distinguished artists and ensembles to Scott, Clinton and Muscatine counties in Iowa, and Henry, Mercer and Rock Island counties in Illinois.
“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 tell us that they remember a school visit by a performing artist, and the impact it had on them as students and performers. 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.
Quad City Arts also convenes artists, and those who value their experiences with diverse genres of artistic endeavor, in numerous ways. Participants (visual artists showing in the galleries, Metro Arts students, chalk art participants) get to explore their talent in a supportive way that encourages future appreciation if not participation.
Darland said Quad City Arts consistently has showcased positive aspects of creative life locally and the visual and performing arts to various segments of the population who might not otherwise encounter such opportunities.
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.
Former Davenport Community Schools superintendent Art Tate said of the series in 2013: “We believe in extracurricular activities that engage our students in the educational environment. We also believe that we must never limit our students…Exposure to the arts broadens their horizons and, for some students, their interest in the arts may lead them to a deeper engagement in other areas of study."
"The program is very valuable for our students," Deb Singley, assistant superintendent in the Moline school district said that year, noting Quad City Arts covered at least 75 percent of the cost of every visit.
"Students are exposed to cultures, genres, instruments and professions that they would not have had the opportunity to experience and appreciate without these presentations," Singley said. "Many times, the artists share personal stories of their own experiences and background that inspire the students to work hard, practice, be open-minded and to follow their dreams."
She said principals, teachers and students have told her the artists "are the most appreciated performances or assemblies of the year. These performances are certainly experiences that we could not provide for our students without the coordination, dedication, and financial support of Quad City Arts."
Jeff Martin, music teacher for the Rock Island Center for Math & Science, said: "Our students get to experience performances that many of them would otherwise never get to see."
In some cases, "they find out that they really like certain genres of music that they didn't think they would," he said. "It is extremely important to have these artists perform for, and interact with, our students. It shows our kids what hard work, determination and passion can produce in one's life.
"Most of the artists we have had at our school are very passionate and dedicated to their craft and this comes across to the kids as they listen to the performance and to the comments that are made by the performers," Martin said.
"Most of the artists make what they do look easy, but they talk with the kids about their education, when they started learning their skills, who influenced them, and how often they had to practice to get to where they are now," he said.
"Kids need to know that it takes hard work and drive to achieve as a performer. I think these visiting artist experiences give the kids a glimpse of this and, I hope, may inspire some of them to want to do the same as they grow up."
“There’s no other series like the Visiting Artist Series anywhere in the country,” said Susan Wahlmann, former Performing Arts & Arts-in-Education Director for Quad City Arts. “Other presenters sponsor short-term residencies a few times a season in conjunction with a main-stage concert, but no one else hosts the number of residencies or reaches as many sites as we do in a season.
“It wasn’t until I started directing the series in 2003 and attending nationwide booking conferences that I realized we're the only ones who have been doing this for so long.”
Quad City Arts has a vision of reaching every student in Scott and Rock Island counties through the Visiting Artist Series, with at least one arts or cultural experience a year. So far, we have reached 70 percent of this vision.
Among the many outstanding artists who have had Q-C appearances include:
Some of the biggest names to visit the Quad-Cities, 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 since the 1987-88 season.
The purpose of the Cary Grant Residency was to present theatrical artists in memory of Mr. Grant, according to Quad City Arts.
Participants have included Joan Benny, daughter of Jack Benny; Colleen Dewhurst; Lawrence Luckenbill; Robert Cohen; Robert Falls; Seattle Mime Theatre; Guy Davis; 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.”
The Performing Arts Signature Series, also known as PASS, is Quad City Arts’ premier subscriber series featuring select performing artists from the Visiting Artists Series. The season usually consists of six parties from September to April.
Parties are hosted at unique venues throughout the Quad-Cities. Subscribers enjoy an evening of hors d’oeuvres and cocktails along with a performance followed by Q&A and chance to meet the artist.
Kathleen Medhus and her husband Glenn, now in their 90s, have been subscribers to that series since the beginning, founded as Vanguard. They hosted a half dozen parties over the years.
“The group has provided exposure to so many school children who otherwise would not know that world existed -- experiences to cling to,” Kathy said of Visiting Artist Series.
She treasures a long-ago memory of a subscriber party at the Gold Room at Hotel Blackhawk.
“The trumpet players came after us and escorted us to the dinner event with the Getzes (Tom and Karen) on the lead. The dining room was exquisite,” Medhus said. “I still remember the centerpieces! Tall -- like 16-inch tall, slender vases -- of white flowers and of course candles. I remember somebody gave us a centerpiece to take home once. We went every year to this event.”
They value the program so much that they both have life insurance policies in the name of Quad City Arts, to benefit their mission, she said.
In the last school year, the artist series reached 24,649 K-12 students in the region. This total would have been higher, but the season was shortened when the last two residencies were cancelled due to the coronavirus. The schedule and scope of the 2020-21 Visiting Artist Series will be announced soon.