But the downtown Davenport landmark still has a lot of work to do to repair gaps inside and outside the glass-paneled museum. The Figge is in the midst of raising $100,000 for a new Art Diversity and Equity Fund intended to combat systemic inequality in the art world. The fund was launched with a lead gift from locals Jim and Michelle Russell of Russell Construction.
Last week, the museum also announced an initiative that’s raised $1,625 in support of art experiences in the Quad Cities. Community members were invited to visit https://www.mightycause.com/story/Safe-Community to contribute. Thanks to the generous support of Brad Fugate, financial representative for Modern Woodmen of America, donations will be doubled up to $2,000.
“It was deeply troubling to experience the damage we received to the exterior of our building, and we are incredibly grateful that no one was injured,” Michelle Hargrave, the Figge’s executive director and CEO, said.
“We recognize that our community isn’t always so lucky. At the Figge, our staff and board are keenly aware of the role that arts and the Figge play within the community, specifically how our work of bringing art and people together improves lives, empowers individuals, and makes the Quad Cities a stronger and safer place.”
Around 1:30 a.m. June 6, police were called from the Redstone parking ramp at the intersection of 2nd and Brady streets. Police said dozens of shots were fired when they responded to an active shooter situation.
About 80 shell casings were recovered from a shootout at the parking ramp, which (across Main Street) shot out 10 windows of the Figge. Davenport Mayor Mike Matson (who was just re-elected Tuesday) formed a community task to address gun violence, and East Moline Glass replaced the windows last week at a cost of $30,000.
“So they needed to be custom-fabricated, and that required special materials and special processing in order to make them match the rest of the building,” Hargrave said, noting that’s why the process took months. “We’re quite happy to have the Figge whole again.”
Last week, the museum also announced plans to improve outreach to the community, to help prevent further violence.
“Anything that we can do to turn the tide to really fight the systemic issues, including unequal access to education and economic opportunities,” Hargrave said recently. “Education has always been part of our mission. And in recent years, we’ve really made special efforts to reach students and kids who need the support the most, including low-income youth and at-risk youth.”
The Figge wants to help break the cycle of hardship and inequality through art.
“There’s extensive research that has shown that interactions with art, including through our diverse range of programs and exhibitions, fosters creativity; understanding critical thinking; improves empathy, expands perspectives, improves school performance, teaches communication skills, and mood control and relieves stress and anxiety,” Hargrave said.
Students in lower-income schools are less likely to receive arts instruction than kids attending schools with higher incomes. “So that’s why we’re so committed to providing meaningful art experiences, to help students learn – to build creativity and confidence, improve mental well-being and open up their eyes to possibilities for the future,” she said.
Enlarging the Big Picture
The Figge’s educational programs serve all ages and reach 65,000 community members a year, supporting eight school districts and eight partner colleges and universities along with over 40 other educational and social service partners, such as Humility Homes and Services, Spring Forward Learning, and Safer Foundation’s Youth Empowerment Program.
The Big Picture outreach program brings Figge staff to schools within 60 miles of the museum to lead presentations and discussions that use art to explore subjects across the curriculum, from math and science to language arts and social studies. The program also reaches audiences outside the traditional school settings, like the Scott County Juvenile Detention Center, Humility Homes and Services, and Hand-in-Hand.
“We truly believe that art can transform lives,” said Melissa Mohr, the Figge’s director of education. “When we help individuals build creativity and confidence, we help them see all the wonderful things they’re capable of accomplishing. Our hope is those skills, along with all the others we teach through art, help them take steps forward, toward their brightest possible futures.”
In recent years, the Figge has made efforts to reach students who most need support, including sharing art kits with kids and adults temporarily residing at Humility Homes, bringing Big Picture and collaborative mural projects to the Scott County Juvenile Detention Center, and piloting a program to promote positive educational outcomes for at-risk students in the Rock Island-Milan School District.
In its pilot year, through a grant from the Windgate Foundation, Figge educator Laura Wriedt is working with at-risk students to broaden their exposure to the museum, working artists and the variety of artforms they can personally engage in to inspire their future.
The Windgate Foundation grant is $40,000 each year for at least two years, Hargrave said.
“It’s important that we do address systemic issues, including the unequal access to educational and economic opportunities that are preventing all residents of the Quad Cities from thriving and there is an equity gap in arts education,” she said.
“We are committed to championing art in all its many forms to help turn the tide on the root causes of the recent violence, and safety issues that we’ve been experiencing in our region,” Hargrave said. “We want to make sure that everyone feels that this is their museum; that we are accessible to all and we are representing the experiences, the cultures of everyone within the Quad Cities, and that they see themselves on our walls.”
Increasing diversity on the walls
This past August, the Figge announced it acquired a Kehinde Wiley 1998 painting this past year, as part of its broad effort to diversify its collection. Wiley is the African-American artist best known for doing the official presidential portrait of Barack Obama.
In July, the Figge showcased the ’98 painting in the Grand Lobby, when the museum announced creation of the Art Diversity and Equity Fund, dedicated to the acquisition and preservation of artworks for the Figge’s permanent collection that represent artists from underserved and marginalized groups.
The groups that the $100,000 fund will impact are Black artists, artists of African, Native American, Hispanic, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, Indigenous and Middle Eastern descent as well as works from women, LBGTQA+, and any other artists that are subsequently identified as marginalized, oppressed, or underrepresented in the museum’s permanent collection.
“We spent 98% of our acquisition dollars on works by female artists or artists from underrepresented and historically marginalized communities,” Hargrave said of the 2020-21 fiscal year, noting the Wiley was one of those works. “We’ve made some significant progress with the fund, but are still in the process of fundraising for it in order to meet our goal.”
“We’re committed to diversifying our collection, to making it more inclusive,” she said recently. “People want to see themselves represented…We want to make sure that people have an opportunity to have higher grades, to have in place what they need to motivate them to attend college, and to have those experiences that will drive to make them more inclined to engage in civic-minded behavior, like volunteering, voting and participating in politics.”
“It’s important that everyone feels like this is their art museum,” Hargrave said, noting the Figge has focused on diversifying its collection for several years.
“It wasn’t a causal relationship – it wasn’t that the shooting happened and we thought, okay, let’s try to expand our collection,” she said. “It just reinforced our diversification of our collection, making the museum more equitable and inclusive. And our outreach within the community are both important.”
The Figge is currently celebrating the life and work of Robert Blackburn (1920-2003), an influential Black artist, teacher and master printmaker, through Jan. 9, 2022. The exhibit has over 75 artworks, including lithographs, woodcuts and watercolors that trace Blackburn’s evolution from figurative work to highly colored abstraction, alongside art of his contemporaries.
“Off The Wall” auction fundraiser
A major way the museum is boosting its educational outreach is Friday, Nov. 5, when the Figge will host one of its oldest events of the year, Art Off the Wall.
This unique cocktail party features both a silent and live auction of donated one-of-a-kind, high-quality collectible art, antiques, jewelry, furniture, and more. The proceeds from this event supports the Figge’s mission of bringing art and people together.
This year’s auction will include exceptional art pieces for all tastes and interests including a soapstone piece from Haiti and a diamond necklace from Tom Allard auction. Over 50 pieces will be available for auction from well-known, local, and national artists such as Isabel Bloom, John Bloom, J.R. Lewis, Barbie Priester, John Schmits, and many more. A prime silent auction item was for two Broadway tickets to a new “Music Man” production starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, Jan. 15, 2022 (bidding has closed for those).
For more information, visit figgeartmuseum.org.