Before the summer began, Marissa Shell, 17, had only picked up a paintbrush a handful of times.

Now, Shell and other area students, have nearly completed a 85-foot mural in Fejervary Park, Davenport.

For the rising senior at Assumption High School in Davenport, who specializes in drawing and sketching, this season is one of firsts.

“This is my first job and it’s something I love to do,” Shell said. “And it's one of the first times I get to see somewhat of what it might be like to do art in the future.”

She has Quad-City Arts to thank. The nonprofit presents the annual five-week Quad-City Metro Arts Summer Youth Program, which wraps up next week with a showcase at the Figge Art Museum. Other apprentices are taking on projects related to graphic design, improvisational comedy and public sculptures as part of the program.

Twelve students, ages 17-21, were hired to craft a nursery rhyme-themed mural, with guidance from Davenport-based artist Sarah Robb. The mural contains several panels adorned with scenes from nursery rhymes including “Hey Diddle Diddle” “Hickory Dickory Dock” and “Jack and Jill.” Students also are painting large adirondack chairs that will be placed at sites such as Vander Veer Botanical Park.

“Davenport Parks and Recreation had a strong idea for concept for us to play with,” she said. “That works out well for us to hit the ground running with it.”

Robb, who returned for her 11th summer with Metro Arts, said the program offers something rare for students who want to pursue art: Practical experience.

“They are all coming here and applying for this because they already have an interest in art,” Robb said. “It shows them what a work environment might be like, out in the sun and the labor part of it. It’s getting the experience of working on a project of this scale.”

That experience has been more than a formidable resume builder for students such as Will Young, 19, and Carolyn Pham, 20, who are studying art at the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Northern Iowa, respectively.

“From small stuff like technique to big things like working with other artists and growing as an artist, you learn a lot,” Pham said. “You see art as a possibility, not just some pipe dream.”

“This has been one of the most influential art programs in my life,” Will Young said. “It helped me be confident in my art and my concepts. It's probably one of the deciding factors of why I got into the Art Institute.”

For Margot Day, Quad-City Arts’ community engagement director, those are signs of success for Metro Arts, which has been around since 2000. She calls the paid summer apprenticeship a “professional push” for students.

“It’s the only thing like this in the Quad-Cities,” she said. “They get a professional learning experience so they get to see what it’s like to take their skills they learn in school and apply them to a real world setting. They have to come up with a proposal, meet the client’s needs, they have to constantly revise that idea they had on the fly.”

After Shell's glimpse into the real world, she isn't looking back.

“I've already learned so much,” she said. “It's really cool. People will walk in here and see something we made.”

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