Up until a few days ago, the artwork on display inside the Bucktown Center for the Arts had been virtually a mystery to those passing by on 2nd Street in downtown Davenport.
MidCoast Fine Arts’ new artists market, a $60,000 renovation project at least two years in the making, is cluing people in.
MidCoast held a grand opening event on Friday for the remodeled 2,200-square-foot space, which showcases artwork made by over 30 local and regional artists.
Most importantly, according to MidCoast executive director Sherry Maurer, the artists market is on the first floor and visible, via windows, to passersby. A smaller version of the market was previously located on the second floor.
“It’s a huge difference and gives us a much livelier street presence,” Maurer said. “When people walk by and when people walk in, there’s a lot more to see.”
The space on the first floor had been vacant since 2013, when former tenant Small Wonders Photography moved to Rock Island.
Along with offering more room for art, the new market was outfitted with LED energy-efficient lighting and new walls.
When she was hired in 2014, Maurer said she remembers thinking MidCoast, a nonprofit that displays art at other sites in Moline and Rock Island, should have more of a “storefront” presence in Davenport.
“What has been going on inside the building for so many years … there’s now evidence of that on the street,” she said. “It’s a big affirmation of the vitality of Bucktown and of this part of downtown Davenport we occupy. It’s saying, ‘Yes, we’re here and we’re doing all kinds of artwork and come on in and have a look.’”
New gallery on second floor
Inside Bucktown, on the first floor, MidCoast leases space to a variety of artists studios and galleries including Boho Chic, Black Line Fine Art & Studio and Imagine That. The MidCoast Gallery at Bucktown recently moved from the second floor to suite 102 on the first level.
There’s also new sights on the second floor: GLH Galleries showcases “black art from around the world,” according to owner Gma Howze.
Howze, a first-time gallery owner, moved into the space in October and held a grand opening event on Friday for a new exhibit, featuring the glass-blown art by Andrea Johnson.
After years of being a stay-at-home as well as a math teacher at Davenport North High School, Howze said she was ready to chase a new dream. She went to graduate school at Western Illinois University and graduated with a master's degree in museum studies in December 2016.
She thought about opening a gallery space at her home. When the space became available inside the Bucktown Center for the Arts, she said "it was too good of an opportunity."
“I always had this art itch,” Howze said. “I decided it was time to do something that was my passion and all mine.”
Her gallery space, filled with pieces picked out on trips to Cuba, Brazil and even a Comic Con convention in Denver, aims to bring “black art into this community and into the mainstream," Howze said.
“I saw a deep void that needs to be filled,” she said. “I want art that is going to uplift persons in the black community and thereby the whole community.”
Howze also will offer consulting, weekly yoga sessions and art workshops.
“I’m just doing everything I ever wanted to do,” she said. “When people leave here, I want them to feel lighter and happier.”
On the move
Meanwhile, Howze and other tenants on the second floor will likely have to move in the coming months as the building’s owner plans to make room for apartments.
Howze said she had already started looking for another location.
MidCoast owned the first and second floors of the Bucktown building from 2005 to 2015. It sold its interest in the century-old building to developer Y&J Properties, which has planned to convert the upper floors of the Bucktown building into market rate loft apartments.
As reported in a December 2016 story in the Quad-City Times, 21-22 units were expected to be completed by late 2017.
Maurer said she doesn’t know an exact timeline; however, before the lofts are finished, MidCoast will move the studios currently on the second floor to a consolidated area on the ground floor. Some artists, including Howze, have expressed interest in moving to other locations outside of Bucktown, she said.
That kind of movement wouldn’t be unusual for MidCoast, which signed a 10-year lease for the first floor in 2015.
Over the years, MidCoast’s Bucktown site has served as a “stepping stone,” Maurer said, for many artists and gallery owners. For example, longtime tenant Pat Bereskin moved last year to a bigger space in Bettendorf.
“Our goal is help and serve artists, from professional to novice,” she said. “We have a strong history of artists starting here and moving on.”