Sculpture by Dusty Hanson

Sculpture by Dusty Hanson of Mudd Puddle Studio

The One State Together in the Arts conference is a total immersion experience. For two full days you are surrounded by music, dance, sculpture, theater and other artistic endeavors. Just to reach the registration desk, you pass a working potter and a chamber quartet.

The time feels much longer, and it feels way too short.

The biennial event is co-sponsored by Arts Alliance Illinois and the Illinois Arts Council. The 2013 conference was held in the Quad Cities, Illinois and Iowa, along the Mississippi River. Its multiple objectives are to showcase innovative artists and art programs throughout the state, offer new ideas for bringing more art into the lives of others, and reinforce the notion that not all great Illinois art happens in Chicago. This year’s theme was Arts and Community: The speakers challenged us–an audience of artists, art educators and leaders of arts organizations–to involve our communities in our art rather than merely produce art for art’s sake.

Kicking off the conference was a reception hosted by John Deere, which is headquarters in the Quad Cities. The company’s lime-green tractors are internationally recognized, but its mammoth art collection is lesser known. Corporate docents led us on a tour through the office complex and pointed out works by Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso, Grant Wood and others.

The main doings took ┬áplace on the floor of a sports arena that was bordered on three sides with massive sculptures and hand-stitched quilts. Before and during meals we were accompanied by local entertainers. Folk guitarist Ellis Kell sang about life on the river and seeing his daughter’s face in the moon. Step dancers and a drum line from the Metropolitan Youth Program showed off their practiced precision.

Performance artist and real estate developer Theater Gates was the keynote speaker. As a student, he majored in urban development, and then relieved his frustrations in clay. At One State, he showed how neglected communities can be transformed by combining both interests. “Good development can be a byproduct of art,” he said.

Other speakers furthered the theme of community. Donna Neuwirth and Jay Salinas moved to a Wisconsin farm they named “Wormfarm” and launched an artist residency program there. Gail Rost opened an art supply store that carries only items that are headed for the waste-stream; proceeds help support the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation. Pablo Korona is documenting on film the personal stories of those who live in his beloved but economically-challenged hometown of Rockford.

An art crawl on the second night took us to art galleries, a music venue and the Figge Art Museum. Thanks for the hospitality, Quad Cities!

Wrapping up the conference was a performance of interpretive dance and spoken prose that captured the essence of the previous two days.

And then it was time for us all to turn inspiration into action. Indeed.

Figge Art Museum, Davenport

Figge Art Museum, Davenport