QC arts and culture vital to improving quality of life, local economy

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Quad City Arts executive director Kevin Maynard speaks to a morning network meeting Wednesday of the Quad Cities Chamber at Rhythm City Casino, Davenport.

Arts and culture not only feed our souls, but the growing Quad Cities arts scene feeds families, tax revenues, the positive reputation of the region, and ability for local leaders to attract more residents and employers.

Quad City Arts executive director Kevin Maynard and River Music Experience executive director Tyson Danner drove home that message Wednesday morning. They were featured speakers at a Quad Cities Chamber AMp Up morning network meeting at the Rhythm City Casino Resort, Davenport.

“Why does it matter that the Quad Cities has a vibrant arts and culture scene?” Maynard asked. “It’s not just because I think the arts have the power to save the world, which I do. It’s because whether you realize it or not, the arts are touching every aspect of your life and our community. The arts will lead us to an economic recovery.”

Students involved in the arts lead to higher college graduation rates, SAT scores, and more civic-minded young adults, he noted. “The arts are important; the arts are a powerful tool in and out of school.”

Exposure to arts has shown to increase empathy, understanding and acceptance of other cultures, and to reduce stress, Maynard said. Among older adults, the arts decrease depression and the risk of dementia, he said.

In the U.S., the arts generate 4.2 percent of annual GDP, or $736 billion, and employs over 4.9 million people — a larger share than construction or farming. While it will take a while for the sector to rebound from Covid, “it will rebound,” Maynard said.

Locally, nonprofit arts organizations have an economic impact of over $71 million a year (according to 2015 data), outpacing sports in our region, he said, noting updated numbers will soon be compiled.

“Creativity is a top-three desired skill,” Maynard said. “It is not surprising that 90 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs participated in the arts in their schools. It’s also why businesses want to relocate to areas that a vibrant arts community — not only because they are seeking that creativity, but they want their employees to have entertainment options in their community.”

Two-thirds of all tourism in the U.S. is driven by arts and culture, he added. “Cultural tourists spend twice as much when they are visiting. Think of a place you want to visit or a place you want to move, and odds are they have a great art community — whether it’s murals ad sculptures, museums and galleries, music in public spaces, performances and theater.”

Younger workers are putting greater emphasis on the arts when they decide where to live and work, Maynard said. “In short, everyone wants to live in a cool place. And arts and culture is the ticket to get there.”

Quad City Arts helped up the “cool” factor in the QC during last month’s four-day Alternating Currents festival, in downtown Davenport, Rock Island and Moline. The nonprofit organized the popular Silent Disco and Squonk, in and around the Davenport Skybridge.

Part of the Squonk “Hand to Hand” event at Davenport Skybridge on Aug. 21 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

As part of its extensive public art program, Quad City Arts is reaching out to neighborhood residents to get their input on what art they want to see in their area.

Placemaking is taking a front-and-center position at the Chamber of Commerce, and parts of the chamber have already had success, Maynard said. He noted working with new downtown Rock Island director Jack Cullen on recently unveiling a new mural off 20th Street by 16-year-old Rocky student Riley Jones (done with two professional artists), and are discussing future murals and the possibility of incorporating arts into infrastructure projects.

The Downtown Davenport Partnership has formed a public art committee and has a placemaking plan, also including art in infrastructure designs. Moline recently adopted a public art and placemaking plan that makes “significant investments” in arts, including public funding — and spending 2 percent of capital improvement projects on arts, as well as 1 percent in private development along identified corridors.

“It’s a bold plan and Moline leadership should be commended for it,” Maynard said.

He recommended that the public make financial commitments to local arts groups and artists; attend free and paid events, and help promote the arts through social media and word of mouth.

“Support local artists — buy their art, purchase their album, tip the band that’s playing at your favorite bar,” he said. “Also, let’s end the idea of creating or doing something for exposure. Let’s pay artists their worth — remember, there’s a reason you reached out to them to play at your event, create your logo, etc. They add value to your business. “

“The more we do that supports artists in our community, the more artists will want to be in our community,” Maynard said.

Many local artists will be part of the return of the Riverssance Festival of Fine Art this weekend in Lindsay Park, Village of East Davenport, the first time it’s under the Quad City Arts umbrella.

Using music to change lives and the QC

“The workers you’re trying to hire, that you’re having a hard time trying to find, they’re prioritizing culture when they make their decisions about where they want to live,” RME boss Tyson Danner told the chamber meeting. “Our communities don’t succeed without strong culture.”

Tyson Danner, executive director of River Music Experience, speaking at Rhythm City Casino Wednesday morning (photo by Jonathan Turner).

It’s about workforce development, talent attraction and retention, he said. “We want the creative thinkers in our community; we want the collaborators. We want explorers that are going to come up with the next big idea, and we can’t have those without a thriving cultural scene and robust music and arts education.”

RME also worked with the chamber’s Jack Cullen to bring in the world-renowned New Orleans style jazz band Tuba Skinny, for a free NOLA Block Party this Saturday on Rock Island’s Great River Plaza.

Tuba Skinny will perform at the free NOLA Block Party in downtown Rock Island Saturday.

It’s important to note the majority of music activity in the area is for-profit, Danner said, so the $71-million arts economic impact only represents the nonprofit sector.

“Multiply that many, many times to understand the true value of arts and culture in our community,” he said. “Arts and cultural organizations, they’re industries in their own right.”

Those businesses rely on local and touring artists to drive their economic success, to increase state and local revenues, and boost fortunes of neighboring businesses like bars, restaurants and hotels, Danner said. Building a strong, diverse culture requires active, frequent and funded programming, he said.

The Q2030 strategic plan has a focus on improving the “cool and creative” nature of the region. “As we recover, we need to put our foot on the gas pedal, because the arts are going to lead our recovery, bring the talent we need and create the economic success we’re looking for.”

Music and the arts are not luxuries or frills, Danner emphasized.

“They’re successful industries in their own right; they’re economic engines and attractors,” he said. “They’re not ‘nice’ to have; they are necessary to have to be a successful community.”

In addition to supporting local artists and organizations, people should vote for candidates that prioritize arts spending and policies that can build the sector better, Danner said. “Because music and the arts are core to what makes our community seen, culturally and economically, and they’re going to be the key to our future.”

In its ever expanding list of programming (which includes music camps and school outreach), RME is starting a new African-American music mentorship program with Project Renewal at Davenport’s Lincoln Center. To help promote the wide diversity of local music in the area, RME also started a new website in early June, theechoqc.com (which has a comprehensive calendar of events that links with Visit Quad Cities).

One of the things the pandemic taught RME was to focus on what is absolutely necessary, and to provide stronger outreach and connections with the public, Danner said. That also applied to Quad City Arts, which offered a lot of online programming in 2020-21, to make it more accessible to everyone.

During pandemic shutdowns, “we leaned on arts and culture,” Maynard said. “Think about how much Netflix did we all watch, and how much did we stream on YouTube, or music and things? We leaned on that, and I think now is the time to support that locally.”

On Oct. 7, RME and Quad City Arts are partnering to present a free RME Guest List concert at the Redstone Room, with African drummer Paa Kow. For more information on RME, visit rivermusicexperience.org. For more on Quad City Arts, visit quadcityarts.com.

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