In two vacant storefronts along Rock Island's 2nd Avenue, vibrant vinyl prints have replaced "For Lease" signs and views into empty rooms. They depict designs of new businesses, including a community center, anime lounge and cat cafe.
Passersby may think these pieces, vinyl wraps placed in 1608 and 1808 2nd Ave., are signs of businesses coming to downtown Rock Island, but they're not — yet. That all depends on if they entice someone inspired by the ideas presented to move into the empty space.
"I'm always down for a cat cafe," University of Dubuque student and Long Grove native Casey Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen and eight other apprentices created the vinyl wraps during their five-week stint in the Quad City Arts' Metro Arts graphic design program. The group brainstormed ideas for what they'd like to see downtown then used Adobe Creative Cloud to design the prints.
Black Hawk College provided facilities and software for the group to work with during the program, and arts instructor Annie Oldenburg was lead artist. Graphic design company Edwards Creative in Milan donated materials, printed the pieces, installed them and took the apprentices on a tour of their facility.
The graphic design program came from a need to create more accessible projects in the Metro Arts program, Quad City Arts Executive Director Kevin Maynard said. While projects like murals are popular, many young people aren't able to receive the training needed to be qualified to work on one.
Graphic design is a good skill to learn, but it is also more accessible in terms of education and prevalence in different areas of life and work. Apprentices spent the first week of the program learning about each other and the software they were working with, then spent the rest of the time on the project.
"Seeing what they were able to create in just a five-week program was amazing," Maynard said.
It was interesting to see all the pieces together, Rasmussen said, and she was happy with how they all turned out. The digital art and design major said each student worked on individual aspects of the different pieces, then combined them.
Each of the concepts hanging in vacant windows would bring something creative and unique to Rock Island and the Quad-Cities, especially the anime lounge and cat cafe. They may also help some kids who always complain about their town having nothing to do, Rasmussen joked.
"It's so cool because they're such big projects, and most people don't get to work on that kind of scale," she said.
Theo's Java Club barista Myah Ackerland is working against the clock and competition to buy the shop and keep it serving Rock Island.
On each piece is a QR code leading to the property listing, giving interested parties a quick and easy way to access information to potentially lease or buy the space. They may even feel inspired to bring an idea or two to life, Downtown Rock Island Director Jack Cullen said. The greatest measure of the program's success would be getting the buildings filled again.
"They would be great additions to the community," Cullen said.
Cullen said Quad City Arts reached out to him about contacting owners of vacant businesses and more than just two expressed interest. There aren't any current plans to create more designs, but Cullen said he would like to bring more art to empty windows if it's possible.
"Right now there are no other designs, but we're actively seeking opportunities to continue with it," Cullen said.