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COVID & the Arts: 47th Annual Visiting Artist Series

Quad City Arts

Quad City Arts has launched its new collection of online educational materials for the 47th annual Visiting Artist Series. 

The site, quadcityarts.com / vas-educational-resources.html, offers exclusive content from a wide variety of professional artists and ensembles, such as ballet fusion company Hiplet, pianist Barron Ryan, steel pan artist John Patti, Mexican folk-rock quartet Jarabe Mexicano, and National Players theatre company. Their contributions include brief demonstration videos, study guides, workshop-style videos, and more. This collection replaces the traditional in-person educational residency activities for this fall and next spring.

Access to the Educational Resources site is free and open to teachers, parents, and other educators looking for supplementary arts materials and content, according to Margot Day, performing arts director for Quad City Arts. 

“It was really a huge team effort and a lot of experimentation, doing new work, just because you’ve got to.”

Two of the previously scheduled artists last spring had to be canceled because of Covid, and they are among the 11 new ones featured on the new site – John Patti and Jarabe Mexicano. The videos on the site were made for the series, and are in shorter segments than a typical in-person visit.

“We were really specific about what we wanted – we wanted to make sure it was educational, and it was pretty brief, so it fits in with the new condensed schedule for teachers.”

Day asked for three videos under 10 minutes each - usually 5 to 8 minutes, as well as two supporting educational documents or study guides. It's free, but people who use the password-protected site, including homeschooling parents, have to register.

In the last two years, she’s asked for more educational materials from artists, including biographies and study guides.

“Once you get in the school, the performance is the main focus, the main piece of quality work. Now it’s really flipped because if you’ve got a study guide piece that looks really empty, it’s not engaging, it really does stand out because that’s what you see first. The videos are meant to be complementary, but we don’t really have a way to have them on the screen at the same time, so they don’t quite match.”

She says visiting artists normally would have a 45-minute, in-person performance and engagement with students, and now they had to have something captivating and engaging in a shorter time. Instead of having artists staggered throughout the year, now all the content is available online at the same time. Day says Quad City Arts didn’t consider doing a live-streamed concert, similar to the public concert that would typically conclude each residency. 

The agency serves six counties in the region, and the series was in 14 school districts last year, serving more than 24,000 K-12 students.The residency has been about serving the students first, and the concerts have been a culminating piece. She thinks streaming concerts are not a strength of Quad City Arts.

“When we do concerts, they’re in person, they’re smaller events and it’s the culmination – that’s sort of the secondary event for us. I wanted to make sure we got the residency right first.”

She sent out a public survey to get input on the new direction for the Visiting Artist Series, and about 100 teachers and community members responded. The new site continues to give students access to high-quality arts programming with added flexibility. Videos are captioned in both English and Spanish. Teachers, students, and parents can access resources on any device connected to the internet, anytime, anywhere.

Since 1974, the series has engaged residents of all ages in quality arts experiences with professional performing artists. Artists of various disciplines present demonstrations, workshops, and master classes at pre-K sites, elementary, intermediate, and high schools, as well as college campuses and community organizations.

Quad City Arts is offering video captioning in Spanish online since it didn't have a consistent way in the past to reach Spanish-speaking students (a growing segment for years in the Q-C). Day says the new resource will continue in future seasons to complement the traditional in-person residency activities, as well as to improve local students access to the performing arts.

For more information, visit www.quadcityarts.com/vas.

A native of Detroit, Herb Trix began his radio career as a country-western disc jockey in Roswell, New Mexico (“KRSY, your superkicker in the Pecos Valley”), in 1978. After a stint at an oldies station in Topeka, Kansas (imagine getting paid to play “Louie Louie” and “Great Balls of Fire”), he wormed his way into news, first in Topeka, and then in Freeport Illinois.
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