BEMIDJI-The Watermark Art Center's "picture" window along Bemidji Avenue North has helped transform the organization since it moved into its new building one year ago.

Visits are way up, gift shop and exhibit sales are up, programming has increased, artists from near and far are thrilled. And the staff and board members are beaming.

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"You can't help but be attracted by it," said longtime Bemidji artist Marlon Davidson. "You can see right into the facility and the art on the walls and no doubt a lot of people have just signalled right and left and gone in there and just took a look at it. I have talked with so many people in the Bemidji area who have been in the center and have said, 'I never thought we could have such a beautiful place in our city.'"

The center will celebrate its first anniversary with a ticketed event on Sunday, Dec. 9. Attendees can enjoy food and drinks from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tickets, priced at $15, are available in advance by stopping in to Watermark or at the door on the day of the event. Each ticket purchase includes a chance to win a piece of pottery created by Dave and Jo Hamilton.

After more than three decades in the Carnegie Library building and a short stay in temporary quarters on Beltrami Avenue, the move to the former Lueken's building at 505 Bemidji Ave. N. gave the Watermark new life and visibility.

"The enthusiasm and how the community has embraced the new art center has just been overwhelming," said Lori Forshee-Donnay, the Watermark's executive director. "We knew people were excited, we knew people were wanting this, but we hit the ground running and we haven't stopped."

Lori Yourd, president of the Watermark board, echoed those sentiments.

"We had many dreams about what it would mean for the community," Yourd said. "The first year has shown us that dreams do come true, often in ways far beyond what we could have imagined."

Forshee-Donnay said she has noticed a difference in the way visitors interact with the art exhibits.

"They come in and they actually spend time with the work," she said. "The space has been so comfortable and inviting. It's expansive compared to what we had, but still has an intimate feeling so people can engage with the work and spend time with it. There is so much visual art in Bemidji. This is the space that our artists needed to share their work. This is the space that we needed to share the (Bemidji State) university collections so people in the community had access to it. It's the space that allows us to go beyond that, to bring artists from outside the area."

Artists like Davidson agree.

"The word the comes into my mind is quality," Davidson said. "The building itself and the remarkable style of it and the beauty of it, which is unusual in a city of this size, is thrilling. The addition of art show and exhibitions that have come through that also answered the need for quality. Not only for artists who live in Bemidji, but also artists from outside."

And that front window?

"The architects refer to that as a lantern effect," Forshee-Donnay said. "It's very intentional that we leave the lights on at night. After three-plus decades of being somewhat invisible in our building, to be able to have people drive by and see that, it's been like our calling card. The work brings people in. When we had Bud Burger's sculpture there we had so many people coming because they could see it through the window. It's more welcoming."