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Committee to seek grant funds for new Chief Bemidji statue

The Bemidji City Council has officially given its support to an ongoing effort to commission a new Chief Bemidji statue for the Lake Bemidji waterfront area.

The Chief Bemidji statue committee has been meeting since November 2009. It hopes to commission a high-quality, life-sized and realistic statue of Chief Bemidji, who was named Shaynowishkung, made of stone or bronze and locate it in Library Park.

The council voted 5-0 Monday to approve the project and the committee's plans to seek grant funding. Councilors Greg Negard and Kevin Waldhausen were absent.

The current Chief Bemidji statue sits in Library Park between the Bemidji Avenue North roadway and a Library Park trail, looking south over Lake Bemidji.

Carolyn Jacobs, representing the Chief Bemidji Subcommittee, told the council that the committee is not seeking city funds. It will seek $116,500 in grants from the Region 2 Arts Council, George W. Neilson Foundation, First National Bank Foundation and Bemidji Area Arts Endowment.

None of the grants requires a local match.

The scope of the project is three-tiered, Jacobs said. It involves commissioning a new statute, developing an educational brochure about the previous and current Chief Bemidji sculptures and the period of history during which Shaynowishkung lived, and a dedication ceremony during which the new statue would be unveiled and contributors thanked.

"The committee had thought of bronze," Jacobs said of the material from which a new statue might be made. "However, we have many local native stone sculptors, and we heard from several of them. ... We recognized that what we wanted was durable and permanent and we wanted realistic.

"And that can be accomplished by the right artist in stone or in bronze."

Jacobs said the committee will apply for grants and expects to hear if they are awarded in April or May. Meanwhile, the committee will release a request for proposals from artists, but the project will not go forward unless and until funding sources are identified.

"We won't go any further with any artist with any commitment until we know we have secured the funds," Jacobs said.

The statue committee is a subcommittee of the Bemidji Parks and Trails Commission and is composed of 19 individuals, including area American Indians; descendants of Shaynowishkung; Bemidji Sculpture Walk representatives; Parks and Trails representatives; and a city councilor.

Public meetings on the current statue and the proposal to replace it have been held within the Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth reservations and in Bemidji.

The current statue, done by Eric Boe, would likely be relocated to the Bemidji County History Center for educational and exhibit purposes.

Jacobs said the family of Shaynowishkung expressed its desire to have the new sculpture placed in about the same location of the current statue.

The statue now is positioned to be looking south toward the Mississippi River inlet, near the location where Shaynowishkung was known to have resided, Jacobs noted.

The committee does, however, plan to locate a new sculpture, if funded, on the side of the path closer to the lake, farther away from the roadway.

Councilor Ron Johnson said the city plans to improve Library Park and Paul Bunyan Park (the Lake Bemidji waterfront area) with sales-tax funds, once work in North Country Park is complete.

He wondered if a site for the new statue should be considered in tandem with that planning process.

Marcia Larson, the city's parks and recreation director, said planning for the Library Park and waterfront area will intensify in coming seasons.

"I think as part of this process, once the location is kind of decided, it will go back to the Parks and Trails Commission and they will be looking at whether the site will work within the park," Larson said.

Basically, the park can be designed around the location of the new statue, she explained.