3 questions for ... Lori Forshee-Donnay Executive Director Bemidji Community Arts Center
Q: What were the changes at BCAC as a result of having received the ArtsLab grant in 2008?
A: "Two years into my tenure at BCAC, we received a three-year capacity building grant from ArtsLab, and that has been instrumental in moving our organization forward. Not only did we build capacity within the organization, how it is structured and that kind of thing, now we are 'exploding at the seams, with regards to programming and exhibit space at the Carnegie Library building," said Forshee-Donnay. "The exhibit calendar is booked through much of 2013; our exhibit calendar has grown as there is a greater demand for our space. Artists are interested in what we're doing and also in showing in the gallery. The grant came at a perfect time, 'the perfect storm,' so to speak. We were in the right place at the right time and we have grown exponentially in what we offer to the public."
Q: What changes have you seen during your tenure as executive director and what do you see as your and the board's future role?
A: "I think we've done a good job at seeking out more art," said Forshee-Donnay. "We are getting a lot of touring grants; we try to bring in exhibits from outside the area to allow people to have access to national as well as regional work. We have added The Spoken Word Series and are now doing writers' workshops. With the help of ArtsLab, we did some community surveys and just finished focus groups this spring. We talked with people and they are looking for more adult educational opportunities. We see the areas of professional development for artists, for example, intensive workshops which bring in people from outside the area to broaden the knowledge and skill of our local artists. We just had two fiber workshops which were successful. I think the changes on campus in the visual arts have created a need for us to somehow fill the void in terms of programming."
Q: How has the recent decision by the city council to advance its agenda regarding the Carnegie Library building impacted your strategic planning?
A: "We have been here since 1980 and now we are kind of testing the waters to see what people want from us," said Forshee-Donnay. "We realize the space we are in is not large enough. We are a success story in that the organization is growing, the community has expressed a need for the things we are doing and would like us to do more but we can't with our current facility. So we have been spending some of this time with ArtsLab looking for options as to what kind of facility would meet the needs of the community, and we have been looking at different spaces in town. Unfortunately we are in a position where something will happen with this building by 2013 and we have to speed up our agenda, in short, how to finance our move. That's our concern; we have approximately a year and a half to come up with a plan. We look at art as a part of tourism for the area, we are an economic driver, we support artists who are living and working in this area and we supply opportunities for kids to come and show their work (Fifth Grade Invitational and the High School Invitational).
"We are afraid that we will have to work too quickly and not be able to attain our goal of getting a suitable new home for the organization given the time crunch. For example, a building with handicapped accessibility (twice this past year, we have had to carry a person in wheelchair up the front steps for a program), easier off-street parking, more classroom and/or workshop space, more exhibit space, probably have some arts-related tenants (Region 2 Arts Council is currently our tenant), more artist lectures and presentations in-house like the Spoken Word Series and the incoming national juried exhibit "It's Only Clay." Right now we are working with an advisor from Northwest Minnesota Foundation on a business plan and a capital campaign feasibility study to see if we can go forward with our endeavor. It's kind of exciting to be a part of all this."
3 questions is a Q&A feature by Patt Rall that will be published one Sunday each month to give readers a chance to meet artists from the Bemidji area. Feedback is welcomed via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.