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Friends of the Arts: Belleveaus honored for contributions

Cate and Al Belleveau, 2013 Friends of the Arts, have been involved in theater and art in the Bemidji area for many years. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — It would be difficult to ferret out a spot in town without finding the fingerprints from one or the other of this year’s Friends of the Arts.

Their signature works include the founding of the Bemidji Sculpture Walk in 2009 to the upcoming grade school play, “Pirates Don’t Change Diapers,” at Solway School. If you haven’t guessed, the prints belong to Cate and Albert (Al) Belleveau, this year’s honorees as Friends of the Arts. The couple belongs to a select group of individuals who have given their time and talent to keep the spotlight on the arts in a town nestled away in the forest lands of northern Minnesota.

The year’s Friends of the Arts celebration, co-sponsored by First National Bank Bemidji and the Bemidji Community Arts Center, will be on May 7 at the Sanford Center. The evening begins with a social from 5:30-6:15 p.m. followed by recognition of the Belleveaus with a short program. The buffet dinner and awards ceremony begins at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $35 for BCAC members and $40 for non-members; youth tickets are $10. Contact BCAC at 426 Bemidji Ave. N. or 444-7570 for tickets no later than May 1.

The Belleveaus’ portrait now will be placed on the wall of fame at the Bemidji Public Library, where they will join others acknowledged for their efforts: Helen Gill, the first person recognized and a driving force behind the annual Bemidji Community Arts Center arts festival; the Gallaghers, who continue to be active in bringing opera to Bemidji; Beverly Everett, who brought the Bemidji Symphony Orchestra to national attention and Ann Hayes, founder of the Headwaters School of Music and the Arts. And that is just a small sample of those honored the past 25 years.

“I have lost count of all the times and ways that their contributions, both professional and volunteer, have touched my life and enriched our community with the arts,” wrote Shylan Rose in her letter of support for the Belleveaus. Her letter, along with others sent to BCAC for several years, sums up what many others have written: The Belleveaus’ enduring loyalty to the arts community in the Bemidji environs and beyond.

Their newest project — Belle Thalia Creative Arts Space — is housed on their property in Puposky and is a retreat for artists from all genre. It already has welcomed some international authors and playwrights. The retreat is just one more example of their ability to see or create a need and fulfill it.

The Bemidji Sculpture Walk probably saw its beginning back in the 1980s when “Al, Catie and their young family lived a block and a half away from my family,” wrote Ann Hayes in her letter. “Al was already crafting metal into fanciful creatures. An 8-foot T-Rex, made mostly of garden tools and found items, had taken up residence in their drive, delighting the neighborhood kids and causing the adults to scratch their heads. Al had already impacted our neighborhood’s perception of what public art was.”

The Bemidji Sculpture Walk, which took a year to get in place, had its premiere exhibit in downtown Bemidji in 2000, with Al going from site to site welding pieces onto stands in a mad dash to get them all in place before the May opening date. Al is still the major “placer” with help from Mitch Blessing, a fellow artist and the current board chair of the BSW. Each year, sculptors from across the country submit a digital photo of their work to the selection committee for placement in the walk.

But it is not all just art for art’s sake, for Abel Iron has forged the arch at Bemidji State University, the arches at the Bemidji High School ball field and the altar gates at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.

Cate is a legend around Bemidji as the founder of the Mask and Rose Women’s Theater Collective and the Fleur de Lis Gallery that brings the public back into the halls of the Masonic Lodge on Bemidji Avenue.

“I am one of many amateur community members who have had (their) first theatre experiences under her competent direction,” wrote Dr. Diane Pittman. “Always going the extra mile to make the experience richer and more professional under her competent direction.”

A BHS and BSU graduate who has achieved success in theater management and fundraising, Robert (Rob) Thomas wrote, “My first artistic interaction with Catie was as young actor in ‘The Music Man’ (at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse). I was playing a member of the boy’s band and Catie was Ethel Toffelmier.”

Thomas, and many others, noted Cate’s role as a board member of the Paul Bunyan Playhouse in saving the center from extinction.

Hence, it would appear that people have seen, through the years, the massive effort on the part of the Belleveaus in shaping the artistic culture of Bemidji, a small town in northern Minnesota that has come to national and sometimes international attention for its rich and diverse offerings.