Making the Quad Cities cool

For students who work feverishly on sculpture and wood bench projects each summer as part of the Quad City Arts Metro Youth Apprenticeship Program, it is always a rush to the very end. "They always say they wish they had a little more time," said Margot Day, Community Engagement Specialist at Quad City Arts. "It's crunch time."

Meeting deadlines is just one of the many lessons the high school and college students learn each summer through the apprenticeship program, which was started in 2000 and has provided area youth 15-21 years old with paid summer apprenticeships in the arts. For five weeks, the students work together in groups to complete art projects under the mentorship of professional artists, completing art sculptures for Davenport and repurposed benches for Rock Island.

This year, the project was supported by the Quad Cities Community Foundation through a Q2030 Grant, a perfect fit Day said, because of the way it draws youth together from different backgrounds, schools and both sides of the river. "It is students interacting with a professional artist and with other students from different schools on both sides of the river," she said.

"The program is a wonderful example of an effort that makes the entire Quad Cities cool, one of the pillars of the Q2030 Regional Action Plan," said Dana Berggren, Program Associate at the Community Foundation. "Multiple organizations collaborate to provide a wide range of experiences that provide youth the chance to expand their art experiences."

"The students work with a professional artist, on a deadline, with a budget, and they have clients," she said. "It is teaching them that they have to see the project through to completion."

Additionally, she said, their work is public. "It is out in the plaza downtown," she said. "The public sees it. There are lots of people involved and it is a fairly grown-up thing to do. You have to answer to the city in some cases."

At the beginning of the project each year, participants are often quiet and keep to themselves during the first few days, Day said. That quickly changes and they start working side by side, bouncing ideas off each other and realizing they share the same love of the arts. "They start to see, you get it and you get me," she said. "They have a shared purpose."

The students are learning, in a professional setting, how to cooperate, problem-solve and discuss their work. "How else do we teach that—those soft skills?" she asked.

The project also relies greatly on the collaboration of the community, not only local professionals who are willing to lead, but the city, local organizations and small businesses. Ballet Quad Cities and the city both provide studio locations for the students to work. "We don't have a space," she said. "We have an office and a gallery so we have to find spots."

This year, artist Sarah Robb and nine apprentices painted new designs on refurbished benches in The District of Rock Island. Artist Steve Banks worked with nine other youth to create sculptures from repurposed and recycled materials, which were exhibited at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport in late August. To have the work exhibited in a formal setting is transformational for the students, Day said. "It is neat for them to get that exposure," she said. "They get that ownership that comes from shared work."

She said they hope to expand the program, possibly moving the schedule into the fall. "We could do more if we had flexibility," she said.

The support from the Community Foundation has been encouraging. "They recognize our mission," she said. "We had a goal and they supported it. To have the funding to go with it says that they think it is worthy. They see that at the end, it is going to be good for our community." 

Learn more about our Q2030 Grant Program here.