Watermark Art Festival to unveil new additions for 54th annual event
The Watermark Art Festival will be held from 10 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 16, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, July 17, at Library Park and across the street outside of Watermark Art Center.
BEMIDJI — Big changes are in store for this year’s Watermark Art Festival, previously known as Art in the Park, as artists from all over the state gather to display their work for one of the most anticipated events of the summer.
Held along the shores of Lake Bemidji for the last 54 years, the two-day fine art and craft festival draws thousands of visitors to Bemidji’s downtown area each year.
The event will be held from 10 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 16, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, July 17, at Library Park and across the street outside of Watermark Art Center, 505 Bemidji Ave. N.
According to Watermark Executive Director Lori Forshee-Donnay, the event’s previous name didn’t quite fit the theme this year as the board, volunteers and community sponsors expanded one of the most popular events in the area.
“We looked at rebranding a little bit because there is so much more that’s going on compared to previous years, it was a golden opportunity to take (this event) to the next level,” Forshee-Donnay explained. “The word ‘festival’ just fits what we're doing and how this event has evolved. We wanted people to know that it’s our event by putting the name in the title.”
As a summer highlight for Minnesota natives and tourists since 1967, it’s also one of the biggest fundraisers for the Watermark Art Center and a great opportunity to support creators.
“The festival is something that meets our mission by providing people access to visual arts and supporting artists,” Forshee-Donnay said. “Many artists do this because they love it, and others do it because this is a big part of how they make their living. It’s a great opportunity for people to buy directly from the artists and I think that's why it’s so exciting, they get to meet the creators.”
Along with bringing an extra buzz to downtown Bemidji, Forshee-Donnay also described the festival as a reunion, a chance to catch up with old friends, neighbors and long-time veterans of the event.
“It's just a perfect setting on the lakefront by the trees and the water that provides a unique setting and draws a lot of people to the community for that weekend,” she said. “We see a lot of local community members that come every year, they’re really loyal about that. It’s a great opportunity for them to connect with neighbors and it’s like a little reunion for some people.”
Part of the enhancement of events features two different music stages, one at Library Park and the other outside of Watermark, just across the street, for live music performances on both Saturday and Sunday.
“We are putting up a big tent with seating right by one of the music stages so people have the opportunity to grab a bite to eat, relax and listen to music,” Forshee-Donnay said. “Then we have the food court again on the north side with more vendors and food trucks.”
Other tents, which will be available throughout the event, will be dedicated to demonstrations by the artists who are a part of the Watermark Art Center’s retail store, Shop 505 , along with a variety of hands-on activities for children.
“The artists will rotate throughout the day demonstrating painting, beeding, stone sculpting, wood carving and a whole host of other things,” Forshee-Donnay said. “We’ve also added more activities for the kids as well, there’s a group that will be doing minnow races and other fun activities for families to enjoy.”
Due to the expansion of events this year, the Watermark Art Center committee wanted to ensure people looking for information about the art center, the event, a certain booth or artist can easily find direction at the information booth.
“We’ve improved our information booth along with wayfinding signage throughout the event,” Forshee-Donnay said. “We’ve been working with a Technology Art and Design professor and one of their students from (Bemidji State University) to make sure people know where the amenities are and help people find whatever they need.”
One thing that remains the same, though, is vendors selling a wide variety of items including hand-crafted woodwork, ceramics, apparel, jewelry, photography, metalworking, greeting cards, homemade preserves, soaps, stained glass, original paintings, garden art and more.
According to Forshee-Donnay, one of the artists has been a participant of the event for almost 50 years, but they are always looking to bring new artists and offerings to the festival.
“It’s really fun to find new artists who are interested and bring them to our vendors, but we still have some past-year favorites returning as well and (the event-goers) are going to find a little bit of everything this year,” she said. “From wood carvings, clothing, beading and paintings, we also have Indigenous artists who will be presenting contemporary and traditional work, it’s just really exciting to see all the varieties.”