Figge celebrates 4th B-day Thursday

Posted Online: Aug. 04, 2009, 9:13 pm
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By Jonathan Turner,
DAVENPORT – The Figge Art Museum has come far in four years, and it's inviting the public to celebrate its birthday Thursday.

The striking 120,000-square-foot structure at 225 W. 2nd St., Davenport, will offer discounted $4 admission all day as well as kids' activities, a downtown walking tour, an art talk, food, a cash bar and live music.

"The Quad-Cities has a world-class museum for the first time," Figge executive director Sean O'Harrow said Tuesday. "It's something they should take advantage of."

This month is an important one for Mr. O'Harrow as well, since the genial Hawaii native came to the Figge two years ago after serving as development director at the University of Cambridge in England.

"This last year, we've just been flying on all fronts," he said proudly.

Highlights include exhibits of Michelangelo model replicas, art from Davenport's own John Bloom, the opening of a renowned University of Iowa Museum of Art (UIMA) collection and an expanded focus on Regionalist art to kick off a new National Center for Midwest Art and Design.

The Figge-based center will be headed by Gregory Gilbert, director of art history at Knox College in Galesburg. The center's mission to "promote better understanding and appreciation of art and design from the Midwest," Mr. O'Harrow said.

The crowning work – added to what the Figge has in Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, and now the 13,000-piece UIMA collection – is George Rickey's 20-foot-tall mural "An Offer of Education" (1941), which reflects the history of Galesburg. It's on loan from Knox.

Mr. Gilbert's position at the Figge, including the title senior curator, is a new partnership shared with Knox.

"It gives the college access and a relationship with the museum, and its collection, and it gives the museum added academic credibility and a connection with one of the finest liberal arts colleges in the country," Mr. O'Harrow said.

It also builds on the Figge's growing commitment to collaboration with area institutions of higher learning, he said. That includes Western Illinois University's year-old master's degree in museum studies with the Figge, which has more than tripled the number of students it serves.

In 1925, the Figge was established as the first municipal art gallery in Iowa. Before the new $47-million building -- named for a $13-million gift from the V.O. Figge and Elizabeth Kahl Figge Charitable Foundation -- opened Aug. 6, 2005, the city of Davenport financed nearly all museum operations, Mr. O'Harrow said.

Now the city contributes only about a third of the museum's $2.1 million budget, he said, noting the Figge has operated at a profit in two of the past four years.

"We have a very small staff running a very large facility," Mr. O'Harrow said of the Figge's 18 full-time employees. The museum operates at a cost of about $38 per visitor, far less than most art museums, he said. While its attendance has been stable at about 62,000 a year, the Figge is on pace to exceed that this year, he said.

Thursday's party coincides with weekly "Thursdays at the Figge" events begun in June. "It has really turned out amazing," said Mr. O'Harrow, adding it's been a good way to boost attendance.

"We've found it's worked very well for us. People are really embracing it," said development director Dan McNeil. Thursday traditionally was the Figges late night, when it's open until 9 p.m.. The bar, art talk and live music on the first and third Thursdays are all free to members, as well as free with admission for non-members.

On Thursday, Figge board president Andrew Butler will speak on the value of art to the community, Mr. McNeil said.

If you go

What: Figge at Four

When: Thursday, tapas by Faithful Pilot owner Steve Rosetti from 5 to 7 p.m. ($10 for members; $12 non-members); 6 p.m. walking tour on historic downtown architecture; 7 p.m. art talk, live music by Tony Hoeppner and Jim McFarlen from 6 to 8 p.m., and bar and galleries open until 9 p.m.

Where: Figge Art Museum, 225 W. 2nd St., Davenport

Tickets: $4 admission all day (opening at 10 a.m.), free to members. For more information, visit, or call 563-326-7804.


Local events heading

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