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Marilyn and Jim Heltzer selected for Friends of the Arts Award

Marilyn and Jim Heltzer were selected as this year's recipients of the Friends of the Arts Award for their support of many local artists. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Sometimes there are people who arrive at a place and ignore what needs to be addressed, and sometimes there are people who arrive and get to work.

Those whose imaginations run to better parks, walking trails and bike trails make sure that these dreams come to fruition. And then there are those who dream of public art, classical music over the air waves, providing financial support to the arts with donations to fledgling arts organizations and scholarships to students who wish to follow a career in the arts. Last Sunday afternoon, March 6, the Bemidji community had the opportunity to see and hear two young string players perform with the Bemidji Symphony Orchestra. One of them, Sarah Hamrin formerly received a scholarship to help pay for music lessons from the Bemidji Area Arts Endowment.

Do you know what couple was a part of the founding of the Bemidji Area Arts Endowment? The answer is Marilyn and Jim Heltzer, chosen to be honored as the 2011 Friends of the Arts recipients, a couple who have given countless volunteer hours toward making Bemidji "The First City of the Arts."

The Heltzers will be honored by the sponsor of the award, the Bemidji Community Arts Center, at a dinner and reception beginning at 6 p.m. with a social hour with hors d'oeuvres and a sit-down formal dinner at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 7 at WindSong Catered Living Apartments, 1010 Anne St. N.W. Bemidji. The menu for the dinner is salad, walleye with wild rice and green beans and carrot cake and coffee prepared by Chef Ed.

"We are honored to receive this award. While others who 'do art' may indeed be the best Friends of the Arts, we are happy to represent those who simply consume and appreciate art, in all of its forms, in this great place," said the Heltzers upon hearing of being named the 2011 Friends of the Arts.

As Marilyn Heltzer wrote in her open letter to artists published in the Bemidji Pioneer, "Thank you for your generosity of spirit, for sharing a piece of your soul, for the hours you devote to creative work, and for soldiering on even when your work doesn't get the recognition it deserves."

It was a long letter, but it speaks for so many of us who appreciate the creative spirit of the arts community around us, or as Marilyn penned, "I want the chance to stand in a gallery and feel the light in your watercolor suffusing my heart with calm...I want to hear your sweet voice singing that song, I want to wrap the shawl that you have woven around my shoulders.....and I want to hear that long, sweet, mournful note on the cello that you play only in private."

The Heltzers recognized early on in their move to Bemidji about 20 years ago, that the arts are the soul of a community. They have worked tirelessly to nourish that soul not only by financial support but by purchasing the work of others. Jim is well known for his penchant to purchase quilts from local artisans to hang on the walls of their home. A large sculpture of a dragon fly stands regally in their yard, and in their home is a gallery of paintings from mostly local artists.

In her letter of support to the nominating committee, Sandy Kaul wrote, "It seems that every time I open a program for an arts performance or read the annual donors to arts organizations Jim and Marilyn's names are there, and usually toward the top!"

When Kaul, a former Friend of the Arts, started the Bemidji Area Arts Endowment back in 1998, she turned to the Heltzers as one of the initial donors to the fund whose goal is to preserve the arts community in Bemidji. This same organization, BAAE, yearly grants money for string studies, children's performances, arts cruises, shows at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse and so on. This year they will distribute $10,000 in separate grants to the Bemidji arts community.

While Jim Heltzer focused on keeping the dream of the Headwaters School of Music and the Arts alive by serving on the board and as chair, Marilyn turned her expertise toward the Bemidji Symphony Orchestra fundraising efforts. She was instrumental in raising funds for the BSO from corporate sponsors. Summer residents and visitors enjoy the free BSO concert held during the Art in the Park weekend.

Those who go to the county administration building can thank Jim for being a proponent of including public art in the new edifice. Students at Bemidji State University can thank the Heltzers for yearly scholarships, especially the one given to a music student.

Kristi Booth, regional network director of MPR in Bemidji, summed up what others of us are saying, "The Bemidji area is fortunate to have Friends of the Arts like Jim and Marilyn Heltzer. They have worked tirelessly in support of the arts in our community. We have all benefitted from their commitment to what makes Bemidji a truly great place to live, work and play."

Tickets for the event April 7 are $25 for BCAC members and $30 for non-members and may be purchased in advance until Friday, March 25, at BCAC, 426 Bemidji Ave. N. Call 444-7570 or go to for information and to reserve a seat. The BCAC thanks Sustaining Business Partner and WoodsEdge Senior Living Campus for hosting this event.

A portion of the proceeds goes to support programming at the BCAC and is tax-deductable.