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A space for inspiration: Watermark Art Center holds grand opening for new home

Lori Forshee-Donnay, executive director of the Watermark Art Center, wipes away a tear as she speaks to the crowd at the grand opening of the art center on Saturday in Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 4
The Battle River Singers perform during the grand opening of the Watermark Art Center on Saturday in Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 4
Joey Riley, carrying Iris Riley, checks out some of Marley Kaul's work at the Watermark Art Center during its grand opening Saturday in Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 4
Hundreds walked through the main hall of the new Watermark Art Center for its grand opening on Saturday. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)4 / 4

BEMIDJI—The Bemidji arts community officially has a new hub.

A few hundred people gathered Saturday at the revamped $3 million Watermark Art Center for its grand opening and community dedication—a short ceremony that was seven years in the making.

The new center boasts four galleries, including the Miikanan gallery, which is dedicated to American Indian art, a shop to sell regional artwork and an education room for workshops, classes, and more. The center's BSU gallery features art from two of the university's teaching collections.

"The opportunities with the education room, the multiple galleries, and the green space, really provides us with somewhat unlimited potential of what we can do for the arts in our area," said Lori Forshee-Donnay, the center's executive director.

At the grand opening, Forshee-Donnay thanked the myriad volunteers and organizers who worked on the building project. She also gave a thank-you to the artists whose work was on display there Saturday and those who will be displayed in the future.

"You all inspire us," Forshee-Donnay said. "And we hope that this space inspires you."

The grand opening also featured a hand drum song by Waabinoo Bines and traditional drum songs by the Battle River Singers, plus a ribbon cutting.

Before formally opening its new space, the center spent decades across the street in the Carnegie Library. Forshee-Donnay said that building's relatively small size and uncertain future prompted center leaders to look for a new home.

The center bought the old Lakeside Lueken's store in 2015 and moved into a temporary spot on Beltrami Avenue while the new gallery building was coming together.

Center staff have collected about 80 percent—$2.4 million—of the $3 million they'll ultimately need for their new digs, $525,000 of which came from artists in the community, Forshee-Donnay said. An anonymous donor put $1 million toward the cause, too.

The center itself is a member-supported nonprofit that's been in Bemidji since 1982.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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