Davenport’s German American Heritage Center wins $33,000 in Iowa grants to rebound, grow

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The German American Heritage Center is at 2nd and Gaines streets, off the Centennial Bridge, Davenport.

After a challenging couple years, the German American Heritage Center and Museum (GAHC), at 2nd and Gaines streets, Davenport, is grateful for new grants from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs to help them rebound.

As part of a statewide effort to offer a needed jump-start to the arts and culture economy, the GAHC is getting $15,000 in new marketing grants and $18,000 to fund its new education and DEAI (diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion) coordinator.

Kelly Lao is executive director at German American Heritage Center and Museum.

“With that, we’ve been able to have the confidence to work towards coming back to normal,” executive director Kelly Lao said Friday. “It’s such a hard time to plan. But when you have support like that, you feel more comfort in taking steps forward, to reopen, to welcome people back to your center and also to make changes and grow and develop your organization along side of it, because we don’t want to be stagnant either. And despite the challenges, we want to continue our growth and development.”

The GAHC has had an education position in the past, but Olivia Covert left for a new job over the summer, and Jessica Gordon started a couple months ago, with the added DEAI responsibility. She is an experienced professional with a background in community organizing and advocacy. A University of Northern Iowa graduate and QC native, her experience is perfectly suited for a new era of educational outreach and DEAI initiatives, Lao said.

Jessica Gordon is the GAHC education and DEAI coordinator.

“Diversity, equity, access and inclusion — that’s a major conversation lots of Institutions across the country are having,” she said. “Specifically, German American Heritage Center, we have a very compelling story that we want to share with as many people as possible.”

Lao wants to ensure the four-story museum is accessible to all people, including those with physical challenges, such as vision and hearing impairments.

“It’s also creating connections. We have this big opportunity, as an immigrants center, where we talk about the stories of German immigration,” she said. “It’s connecting it to the same hardships, struggles, triumphs, desire, and drive that people still experience, regardless of what country they’re from.

“So we want to make sure that we’re welcoming and everyone feels comfortable coming in and that they can see a little bit of their own story within the museum walls,” Lao said.

On the education side, GAHC has to address varied educational needs, including students who are on the autism spectrum or have ADHD, or other issues. Gordon “is really familiar with that and she was a really great asset to bring her into, not only both education and our outreach, but trying to bring people in and experience the museum,” she said.

“We’re all in a learning mode. We’ve reached out to different organizations and found that everyone’s really starting to really dig in on the work of DEAI,” Lao said. “I and no one really has any solid answers, but it’s important that the conversations going and that the work is starting and being done.”

“It’s kind of a framework that goes around everything that we’re doing and working with our special events and with our students and with just the operations of the museum,” Lao said. “Just make sure that we are doing that in a correct way and our initiatives aligned with that. We’re doing some strategic planning starting with the board in January and that will be a big component of how we think about the different aspects of our strategy.”

 Increased marketing and new assistant director

The new marketing funds are mainly to “let people know that we are open and that we’re ready for visitors,” Lao said, noting the state also wanted organizations to use money in ways or for programs they couldn’t normally.

GAHC has a volunteer marketing specialist, Adrian Wille, who is from Nuremberg, Germany originally, and will put together broadcast ads for local radio stations and streaming services like Spotify and Pandora.

“We’re going to focus on the last quarter of the year,” Lao said, noting they want to boost visitors during the holiday season, especially in sales from their gift shop, full of unique holiday ornaments, treats, goodies and other merchandise for the home.

“Our gift shop is a really great way that we need to support ourselves,” she said. “We participate in the Christkindlmarkt over at the Freight House Farmers Market and sell our goods. That’s always a big day for us. We have Museum Store Sunday, which is the Sunday after Thanksgiving and we try to promote our gift shop through there. That’s just a really nice way that we’re able to create funds that help us operate and pay the bills with some fun things.”

Clare Tobin, the new assistant director for the German American Heritage Center.

Lao also recently hired a new assistant director, to replace Erika Holshoe. Clare Tobin is a museum professional with her master’s in Museum Studies from Western Illinois University and her bachelor’s in History and Art History from St. Ambrose University. She has previously worked at the Figge Art Museum and Putnam Museum and Science Center in Davenport. 

Statewide funding boosts arts and culture

In addition to the $1 million in Iowa Cultural Affairs marketing funds, 236 individuals and organizations – representing 70 communities across 56 Iowa counties – will benefit from $1.53 million in one-time grant funding, made possible through the agency’s state/federal partnerships with Arts Midwest, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities with federal funds through the American Rescue Plan Act.

The department received more than $4.1 million in requests to help support a portion of about 1,600 arts jobs, including the GAHC education/DEAI job.

The list of recipients includes individual artists, cultural centers, museums, local government and community groups, arts organizations, public libraries, historical societies, community theaters, media production organizations and more. 

Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs has a campaign to encourage visitors to return to museums, to reconnect with history, art and each other.

“It’s encouraging to see the return of the arts and culture sector, part of the broader tourism industry working to rebound after a challenging year,” Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs director Chris Kramer said. “We’re proud to be able to award these grants through our agency’s state/federal partnerships.”

“These recovery grants represent a significant investment in Iowa’s creative workforce,” Iowa Arts Council Administrator David Schmitz said. “In addition to the grants awarded directly to artists, many arts organizations received support to hire or bring back artistic personnel, many of whom lost jobs, gigs and income during the pandemic.” 

The grants coincide with a promotional campaign the department launched to encourage Iowans to “Re-imagine, Re-engage and Reconnect” with local arts and culture. With input from creative leaders across the state, the department developed a campaign toolkit to help Iowa’s arts and cultural organizations market to visitors and promote exhibitions, performances and events now and into the next year.

Included is $10,000 for Davenport’s Azubuike African American Council for the Arts to increase paid hours for its artistic staff and expand its impact by delivering more arts programs to under-represented and at-risk youth and community members. Other QC area grant recipients include:

  • Muscatine Art Center: $18,000 for marketing research for strategic plan.
  • Pearl Button Museum, Muscatine: $10,000 for assistant director position.
  • Davenport artist Joseph Lappie: $5,000 for a new work.
  • Bix Beiderbecke Museum, Davenport: $10,000 for operating support.
  • Quad City Symphony Orchestra, Davenport: $10,000 for operating support.
  • River Music Experience, Davenport: $5,000 for rebounding with live music.
  • Quad Cities Chamber: $5,000 for Iowa artists for Alternating Currents festival.
  • Figge Art Museum, Davenport: $15,000 for grants and a marketing writer.
  • Clinton artist Gabriella Torres: $5,000 for a pocket park public park exhibit.
  • Midwest Lumber Museum, Clinton: $13,000 for 10th anniversary celebration.

For more information, visit iowaculture.gov.

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