Note: As part of Arts Week celebration, The Herald-Whig will be running a four-part series highlighting the impact local artists and the arts have on Quincy as a community, its schools, its businesses, and its people. This is the first part of that series.
On Thursday, Sept. 19, various artists and advocates for the arts and culture industry will be on WGEM Radio to discuss the arts. In addition, Arts Quincy will also be launching its annual membership drive during the radio program. To discuss membership options, those interested are asked to call 217-222-3432.
QUINCY -- Terry Shaw drove 115 miles from his home in central Missouri to be in Quincy during Q-Fest in June.
Shaw, a furniture maker who specializes in using natural woods to make midcentury decor and furniture, described Quincy as a kind of haven for artists of all mediums.
"I knew of Quincy from some friends who had told me it was a really fun place," Shaw said. "I've heard nothing but good things about Quincy. After being here, I can tell you that Quincy is all about art."
Arts Quincy Executive Director Laura Sievert echoed Shaw's comments in an interview celebrating Arts Week in Quincy. Arts Quincy, previously known as the Quincy Society of Fine Arts, was founded in 1947 and bills itself as America's oldest community arts council.
"Quincy is a very artistic place, with music, theater and art on nearly every corner," Sievert said. "I mean, we have Muddy River Opera Company here in Quincy and how many communities of our size can say they have an opera company? I can tell you, not many. For people to get exposure to an opera performance they normally have to go much larger cities, but we are able to give them that experience right here in Quincy."
Sievert and Arts Quincy Marketing Manager Jenna Seaborn said those discussions about the arts are important.
"Maybe the average Quincyan does not realize just how much art and culture opportunities we have in Quincy," Sievert said. "The art and culture community in Quincy is quite bigger than people realize. While they may not know that, I believe they can look at their calendars and see the impact a robust arts community has on their calendars. When you look at our calendar of events, there are over 600 art and culture events in Quincy, and the majority are free to attend. So our community's calendars are jampacked of activities for the entire family."
Quincy has earned the distinction of being named "America's Most Artistic Town" by travel company Expedia two years in a row.
"You don't really receive that kind of recognition without having a lot of amazing things happening in your community," said Joi Austin, who works in marketing and communications for the Great River Economic Development Foundation. "Quincy is absolutely a haven for artists when you consider all of the different types of artists and art we have here."
Quincy's art and culture community is extensive, with dozens of groups representing visual, performance and music arts. Those groups include, but are not limited to, the American Guild of Organists, the Muddy River Opera Company, the Quincy Artists Guild, the Quincy Community Theatre, the Quincy Civic Music Association, the Great River Watercolor Society, the Quincy Concert Band, the Quincy Park Band, the Quincy Symphony Orchestra Association, the Quincy Woodworkers Guild and the Quinsippi Needleworkers.
This does not include the number of museums operating in and around Quincy, which includes: the All Wars Museum on the campus of the Illinois Veterans Home, the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County, which operates two museums including the Governor John Wood Mansion and the History Museum on the Washington Park Square; the Quincy Brewery Arts District, which offers tours of the historic Dick Brothers Brewery; and the Quincy Museum on Maine Street. In addition, there are the historic sites in Quincy that are maintained by various boards and committees. Those sites include the Dr. Richard Eells House, which was a known stop on the Underground Railroad; the Villa Kathrine, which overlooks the Mississippi River; the Woodland Cemetery, which includes the final resting place for many famed Quincy-area residents; the Log Cabin Village on Quinsippi Island and the Washington Theater.
Additional art can be found in galleries at Quincy University and John Wood Community College.
"When you look at Quincy, you see that we have a lot of different stand-out artists who have put down roots here and who have made this vibrant arts community that we enjoy today a reality," said Maggie Strong, who is a consultant hired by the city to help implement the Quincy Next Strategic Plan. The plan includes numerous proposals related to public art installations, murals, live music and theater events.
Sievert said she is often asked by newcomers about how the Quincy developed such a robust arts community that she says features "world-class musicians, performers, and artists."
She said her answer is a combination of a history lesson and a reminder of what can be done when people rally around a common purpose. Recently that common purpose has collectively been about providing access to the arts to those who might otherwise not be able to afford or know how to access them.
"A lot of people don't know that a lot of art events are free or very low cost," Sievert said. "For example, a program that I love is that tickets to the Quincy Symphony Orchestra are free to anyone 18 years old or younger. If someone is a new season ticket buyer, then for each ticket they purchase, they get one free. So a family in Quincy could get the opportunity to see 12 or 13 performances from the Quincy Symphony Orchestra for $70. Or we have the Quincy Concert Band, which is a nationally recognized band, and all of their performances are free. I would love to pack every theater because I believe it is just so fun, if not magical, to see a live performance from people who are passionate about what they are doing."
Joe Conover, a local artist and retired editor of The Herald-Whig, agreed with Sievert. He added that Quincy's reputation as a haven for the arts rests with the city's location and with local people becoming advocates for the arts.
"Quincy was the largest medical, educational and commercial center for more than 100 miles," said Conover, who specializes in a type of art known as Encaustic painting, or painting with hot wax. "Some things started on their own, because people wanted them. However, we also had individuals who were very interested in promoting the arts."
One of those advocates was George Irwin, who founded the QSFA.
The organization came about because "it is very important for smaller communities to take their limited resources in the arts and really put it together so they can provide services," Irwin told The Herald-Whig in 2015.
Conover described Irwin as the "impetus for a lot of the institutions that support the arts" today in Quincy.
Since 2014, Irwin's name is the namesake of Arts Quincy's annual awards for the arts.