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Upgrade for Art: Watermark Art Center announces fundraising campaign

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Pat Rice, left, embraces Chris Keenan, Watermark Steering Committee Co-Chair, as they discuss the Watermark Art Center's fundraising campaign that was announced on Thursday. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 2 / 4
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BEMIDJI -- Bemidji is known as a regional hub for retail, healthcare and education.

You can add “the arts” to that list.

On Thursday, officials from the Watermark Art Center announced the $3 million “Make Your Mark” campaign, an effort to reinvent the new center as one of the largest facilities of its kind in the region.

The fundraising effort to renovate the center has already raised $1.8 million from donors, including art patrons, area philanthropists, artists and one anonymous donor.

The Watermark Art Center moved to its new location at 505 Bemidji Ave. N in October after being in the Carnegie Library for more than 30 years. The new center is the site of the former Lakeside Lueken’s store.

“Our move across the street has already created change for the Watermark,” said Lori Forshee-Donnay, Watermark’s executive director, at a press conference on Thursday. “We have seen a significant increase in visitors in the gallery and shop as well as field trips from our area schoolkids.”

After renovations, the new Watermark will feature increased gallery space for exhibit opportunities, including a gallery dedicated to Native American contemporary art and traditional craft. BSU will also host a gallery on site to showcase work from their ceramic art and print collections. The updated Watermark also plans to offer enhanced classroom experiences, as well as indoor and outdoor space for literary and musical collaborations and art-related events.

Forshee-Donnay said that the site currently struggles with accessibility and safety, space limitations, lack of climate control, inadequate parking and classroom space.

Marilyn Miller, Watermark Steering Committee co-chair, said more than 50 area artists and art leaders have pledged $280,000 to the “Make Your Mark” campaign and the Neilson Foundation also committed support with a $150,000 grant.

“This is a transformational project, which will turn what was an underutilized corner of the city into a vibrant center of activity, which is accessible to all,” Miller said.

Chris Keenan, the other Watermark Steering Committee co-chair, also announced that the fundraising matched a $350,000 grant challenge from the Lueken Family Foundation.  

“This is an incredible building and this is an incredible place,” Keenan said.

Fundraising opportunities will continue through the next year, including naming opportunities, matching gifts and multiple-year pledging, but the renovation process of the art center will begin in fall.

The public can donate to the “Make Your Mark” campaign online through the Northwest Minnesota Foundation or by mailing a check to the Watermark Art Center at 505 Bemidji Ave. N. More information about the campaign can be found at

Jillian Gandsey

Jillian Gandsey is the Multimedia Editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. She is an Iron Range native and a 2013 graduate of Bemidji State University. Follow Jillian on Twitter and Instagram @jilliangandsey. Contact her at 218-333-9786, 218-996-1216 or at 

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