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New home for arts: Rural Development loan to transform ‘blank canvas’

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson talked Tuesday about how the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development can assist smaller communities with building projects. Peterson, while attending an open house celebrating a USDA loan to the Bemidji Community Art Center, is pictured with Lori Forshee-Donnay, the executive director of the BCAC. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer1 / 2
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BEMIDJI – U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson on Tuesday called the planned relocation of the Bemidji Community Art Center “a great example of what we do every day through Rural Development.”

The BCAC, having secured a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development program, plans to purchase the Lakeside Business Center, the former site of Lakeside Lueken’s Grocery, and relocate there from its current home inside the historic Carnegie Library.

The BCAC hosted an open house at the new location Tuesday, inviting Peterson, elected officials and community partners to celebrate the BCAC’s plans and view site drawings, done by RSP Architects of Minneapolis.

While closing on the new property is expected this month, the move is not imminent. First, the BCAC will launch a capital campaign to raise the funds necessary to rehabilitate the new location to fits its need.

“It’s kind of a blank canvas,” said Lori Forshee-Donnay, executive director of the BCAC, as she explained the project to Peterson.

Construction would begin in 2013 with the move occurring in 2014.

“It’s almost like having butterflies, like when you get excited for Christmas,” said Paula Engen, vice president of the BCAC board.

The BCAC moved into the Carnegie in the early 1980s, but has struggled with accessibility, available space and parking.

The new site is expected to address all of those concerns. Offering about 10,000 square feet versus the BCAC’s current 4,000, the new building is one level and will have ample space for galleries, conference classrooms, and office space.

It also will provide office space for other nonprofit tenants, including the Region 2 Arts Council, now located in the lower level of the Carnegie.

“Predominantly, nonprofit arts organizations will be in here as well,” said Forshee-Donnay, noting that such an arrangement would increase communication between the groups.

Peterson said the USDA Rural Development helps smaller communities accomplish bigger projects, such as a wastewater treatment plant.

“Without that, there’s no way these towns would be able to have a community center,” he said.

The budget for Rural Development, he said, comprises more of the farm bill budget than what is allocated for farmers.

“You don’t have to live in Minneapolis to be involved in the arts,” Peterson said. “You can live in Bemidji.”

Beltrami County Commissioner Joe Vene, who also attended the open house, was among those who wrote letters of support to the USDA on behalf of the BCAC.

“The Art Center serves as a kind of magnet,” Vene said, noting that people from throughout the region come to Bemidji for its arts community. “This is a destination point.”