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Beltrami County approves $100,000 in grants

BEMIDJI – This is the year for visual arts.

The Beltrami County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday voted to support an allotment of development funds toward the Watermark Art Center, formerly known as the Bemidji Community Art Center, as it develops plans to relocate to 505 Bemidji Ave. N, the former site of Lakeside Lueken’s, thus increasing its programming space from less than 2,000 square feet to 7,000 square feet.

The Watermark was one of seven organizations to receive support from commissioners in a work session as they planned out the allocation of $100,000 in development funds, those derived from proceeds from timber sales from county-managed lands.

Funds, according to state statute, must go toward activities that support tourism, agricultural development or industrial development. They should not be used to pay salaries or ongoing operational costs.

Commissioners supported the following allocations:

  • $35,000 to the Beltrami County Agricultural Association for fairground improvements.

  • $25,000 to the Watermark Art Center for phase II of its art center plan.

  • $20,000 to Greater Bemidji for its skills gap pilot project and woody biomass development initiative.

  • $7,000 to the Small Business Development Center for a cash match requirement.

  • $5,000 to the Headwaters Shooting Sports Association for project management of the planned sports park.

  • $5,000 to Save the Carnegie for interior improvements planned in tandem with the preservation of the historic building.

  • $3,000 to the Blackduck Area History and Art Center for a membership drive and newsletter.

Fourteen organizations submitted applications requesting more than $387,000. Commissioners earlier this month had decided to limit disbursements this year to $100,000.

“I wish we were not as constrained as we are,” Joe Vene, county commissioner, said Tuesday.

As they considered proposals, commissioners first excluded those they felt did not meet requirements and then discussed their preferences, considering the number of times they have supported repeat applicants.

The Bemidji Area Boys & Girls Club, for example, had requested nearly $14,000 in funding for a tunnel garden and nutrition program.

Commissioner Jack Frost said Beltrami County had already significantly supported the nonprofit in the past as it was first established and took up residence in the former Bemidji High School.

“They’re doing great things and I understand the initiative and the tunnel garden,” he said. “It’s a great project and what those kids are learning.”

Another application not fulfilled was a $55,000 request from the Paul Bunyan Playhouse for building improvements.

“I think what is kind of unveiling itself is that you’ve got two arts proposals, one is performing and one is visual, and the performing arts one is one that’s been funded for three years straight now,” said Kay Mack, county administrator, referencing previous allocations given to the Playhouse, including $25,000 in 2013, $10,000 in 2012 and $5,400 in 2011.

Frost agreed that he chose to support the Watermark this year as the county had supported the Playhouse in recent years.

“We are blessed to have the arts community that we have,” he said.

Afterward, Lorie Yourd, president of the Watermark board, thanked county commissioners for their support.

“We understand the huge job before the (county board),” she said. “We want to express our thanks for considering all the proposals as well as ours. This funding means a great deal to everyone who receives it.”

The Beltrami County Agricultural Association and the Blackduck history and art center were the only two reported to have received funding the past three years that again received support from the county board.

“I think we need to assist not necessarily the same (organizations) every year unless they definitely fall under perhaps two or three of the areas,” said commissioner Richard Anderson. “As I looked at the Beltrami County Ag Association, I do believe that that one … falls under tourism, industrialization and also agriculture.”