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Endearing endowment: The Bemidji Area Arts Endowment helps sustain local arts community

submitted photo Winners of this year’s Everett Wilimek Endowment for Orchestral String Studies are Giovanni Allosso (left) and Summer Crow.They were congratulated by MaryAnn and Gregg Wilimek at the annual BAAE Donor Recognition Event in June.

This past spring, the Bemidji Area Arts Endowment awarded $16,285 in grants, setting a record disbursement (last year’s total was $11,000).

The BAAE is a component fund of the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, and its sole purpose is to fundraise in support of the arts community in Bemidji.

The money they raise comes from the public through gifts, endowments and the yearly fundraiser — OomPah for the Arts.

The endowment fund started in 1998 when a group of concerned citizens petitioned the Northwest Minnesota Foundation to become a component fund of the NWF with a vision statement of “creating a community in which the arts flourish and enhance our lives.”

Sandy Kaul took a lead role in the project and gathered together a group of arts supporters to form the endowment’s first board, including Marlon Davidson, Terri Widman, Connie Jacobson and Sylvia Wildgen.

That first board had nine members and organizers wanted a mix of backgrounds, including artists, arts administrators and the business community. The board wrote the following values for the fund:

● The active presence of the arts in a community is an indication of a healthy community

● The arts are a vehicle through which we understand and respect each other, our environment, and ourselves.  

● The integration of artists into the working life in of a community suggests the likelihood of creative problem solving on a civic level.

● The arts help our community to transcend barriers and lastly the arts are a positive economic force in our community.

● The mission statement of BAAE is “to create a community in which the arts flourish and enhance our lives.

One of the original endowments under the BAAE umbrella is the North Star Arts Fund for arts programming for adults who have been diagnosed as developmentally disabled and administered by the Headwaters School of Music and the Arts.

HSMA is also the recipient of the Frederick Marshall Fund devoted to upkeep and administration.

The Everett Wilimek Endowment for Orchestral String Studies awards two scholarships a year to young string players.  Another of the early individual funds is the H.B. and Ina Roholt Family Fund for the Arts and later the Sandy Kaul Fund for the Arts.

As time passed, other nonprofits came under the BAAE tutelage but wanted the focus of their fund for a specific purpose such as the Richard and Pam Nelson Family Fund for the Visual Arts or the Ernie Rall Children’s Performing Arts Fund.

Other funds were added: Paul Bunyan Playhouse, Lake Bemidji Summer Opera Festival Fund, Bemidji Chorale Endowment and Project Fund, the (BCAC) Watermark Center Fund, Bemidji Community Theater Fund, Bemidji Symphony Orchestra, Elaine J. Hazard Bemidji Symphony Orchestra Fund and the Eugene Dalzotto Fund for the Arts, which has a wide range of possible grant opportunities.

Outgoing board president Marilyn Miller is proud of the job she and her board have done during her term.

“We have done really well the last couple of years and this year is the most we’ve ever done,” she said.

Miller plans to stay on the board for a third term and former board president Mike Tangen has consented to returning to the board as president this year.

The OomPah for the Arts, BAAE’s annual fundraiser, will be replaced this year by the Ooh La La event from 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 5 at Sparkling Waters, 124 Paul Bunyan Drive. Cost is $50, with $40 going directly to the BAAE.