Great art can offer an illuminating window into our world, and that’s what four Quad Cities students are doing with their cooperative painting on a park building in northwest Davenport.

As part of the annual Quad City Arts Metro Arts summer apprenticeship program, Grace Doucette, Clare Phares, Atticus Norman and Arata Ketner are working with lead artist Heidi Sallows to create a mural on one side of a storage/restroom building at Northwest Park (near 34th and Pacific streets, west of Division), reflecting the diversity and life of the local Mississippi River watershed.

Metro Arts students (L-R) Grace Doucette, Clare Phares, Atticus Norman and Arata Ketner work on a new mural at Northwest Park, Davenport, on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023 (photos by Jonathan Turner).

Sallows is an accomplished muralist and Metro Arts veteran (with her Mural Soup partner Sarah Robb), who has worked on two other water-themed murals this summer – at Davenport’s Junge Park and Marquette Park (done by early July).

Partners of Scott County Watersheds has been partnering with and supporting the murals, to raise public awareness about the Mississippi River watershed in the area, Sallows said. The students researched the plants featured in the murals.

A watershed is the area drained by a river and its tributaries. The Mississippi River drains an area of about 1.2 million square miles, including all or parts of 32 states and two Canadian provinces, about 40% of the continental U.S., according to the National Park Service. The Mississippi River watershed is the fourth largest in the world.

Heidi Sallows paints part of the new mural, on the artists’ third day of work, Aug. 9, 2023.

“All the work that I do, seems like it has an eco edge to it,” Sallows said, noting her volunteering for the Living Lands & Waters Barge Party, public murals, and her new nonprofit group Siren Ship.

“Since we live by the river, I feel as an artist, the river is always some kind of background in anything,” she said this week. The Scott County Watersheds group chose the locations for the Metro Arts murals, and recommended plants and concepts, working with Davenport Parks & Recreation.

The students involved have worked on all three Davenport murals this summer, with lead artist Clare Phares, a Scott Community College student. Phares designed the Northwest Park mural.

Atticus Norman (a Black Hawk College student) did the design for Junge Park.

Clare Phares works on painting the Northwest Park mural.

“Our instructions were to somehow let people know that a watershed is not a fancy name for a toilet,” Sallows said. “You are in a watershed now. The Mississippi watershed is so huge, it’s nice to think about it in smaller terms. We’re learning a lot about local plants.”

The artists will put names of the plants on the park building.

“You learn a lot with projects like this, about your environment,” Sallows said.

“My biggest passion”

“Art has always been my biggest passion, since I was in kindergarten, when I could start drawing,” said Norman, a Moline High graduate.

He’s been doing the Metro Arts program since 2019. His favorite one was at Friendship Manor, Rock Island, in 2020 – a mural nine feet tall by 27 feet long on a maintenance building. There were 10 students working on that.

Atticus Norman works on painting the new mural.

“At first, it wasn’t my favorite thing in the world,” Norman said of several students painting a mural together. “Now I’ve learned to definitely appreciate it a lot more, having all the different minds coming together for it, rather than just my own. It’s definitely beneficial for the entire project.”

Before this, he didn’t know what a watershed was.

“It’s cool to be aware of just knowing what you’re contributing to the environment around you,” Norman said. “The educational part I really enjoy too. I’m a big nature lover, so opening my eyes up a little bit to things is nice.”

His favorite thing about Metro Arts is creating artwork that the public can see for years to come.

“Just bringing joy and something different to people’s lives every day,” Norman said.

Clare Phares plans to apply to study at the school of the Art Institute of Chicago. A graduate of Alleman High School in Rock Island, she said art class has always been her favorite.

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been in love with creating things,” Phares said, noting she’s done Metro Arts for five years. She designed the giant under the downtown Davenport railroad bridge at 4th and Pershing, for a 2022 Metro Arts mural.

Part of the 2022 mural at 4th Street and Pershing Avenue in downtown Davenport that Clare Phares designed.

“The person in the mural is supposed to be from Black Hawk’s tribe, so I wanted to bring some representation of who lived here first,” Phares said. “That was the favorite mural I’ve worked on.”

Murals serve as a reminder to the community, for people to see themselves represented and their area, she said. “They can look at it and learn a little bit – I didn’t know these things were native here.”

For Northwest Park, she did research about the area native plants, and the mural represents 14 different plants.

“Anything you flush down the toilet, stormwater, that all affects the watershed,” Phares said.

Doucette, left, and Phares work on Wednesday morning, Aug. 9, 2023.

“I personally, I like to take control and be in charge of things,” she said of painting. “Doing a mural on my own is very fun and rewarding for myself, but working with other people, I look forward to it more. You can have conversations while you paint; we get closer too.”

Phares also worked on Junge and Marquette Park murals, in separate weeks. This is the first summer she’s been a lead artist.

She said she’s grown tremendously as an artist over her time with Metro Arts.

“I have gotten so much more confident, with my brush strokes,” Phares said. “I used to just like make one stroke and go, ‘I don’t know if that’s right.’ Now, I just do it.”

Norman, left, and Ketner paint the new mural at Northwest Park (near 34th and Pacific streets, Davenport), to be finished next week.

Since summer 2000, Metro Arts has provided area youth 15-21 years old with paid summer apprenticeships in various arts disciplines. The program provides opportunities for youth and enhances the community through the arts.

To learn more about Partners of Scott County Watersheds, click HERE.