How does it feel when you’re at the point of realizing your dream? In early November, I spoke with Lori Forshee-Donnay, Watermark Art Center’s Executive Director, and she shared the excitement of five years of hard work. Watermark started at the beginning with their organizational mission statement, identity work and outreach to underserved members of the area’s arts communities. Along the way, the arts center received wonderful support and long hours by many volunteers and committee members, and generosity of area residents and donors who embrace a new arts center in downtown Bemidji. All this culminates in a brand-new building with four galleries and a start on a new generation of arts programming for the region. So, how does it feel? It feels good!
Opening day is this week with a public ribbon cutting scheduled for Saturday, December 2, 2017. The public is invited to tour the new facility and view the inaugural exhibits from 1-4 p.m. At 2 p.m. there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring hand-drum singing by Waabinoo Bines and drum songs by Battle River Singers, plus remarks from art center officials and guests.
Arts in the Region
Lori and I talked mostly about the new Miikanan Gallery because through our collaboration on the Pine to Prairie Fiber Arts Trail, I’m familiar with several of the Native American artists who will have their work exhibited in the new space. First, I asked Lori how to pronounce Miikanan (Mee-ka-nan) and then I asked about its meaning as many Ojibwe words (at least the really long ones) can describe a whole process or concept. Miikanan means “many paths.” Indeed, Bemidji is a crossroads, centrally located between the White Earth, Leech Lake and Red Lake reservations. Not only will Miikanan Gallery provide a dedicated showcase for Native American arts, something until now only found in Duluth, Fargo and the Twin Cities, the on-going outreach, artist registry and educational programs will continue to develop the strong interest in both traditional and contemporary Native American art.
The Miikanan Gallery will welcome and promote contemporary and traditional work of Indigenous artists by providing ongoing exhibitions, retail opportunities and educational events for the region. –(www.watermarkartcenter.org)
According to the Creative MN Study, the Region 2 Arts Area, which includes Beltrami, Hubbard, Clearwater, Lake Of The Woods, Mahnomen counties, the annual total economic impact by all arts and organizations tallies at almost $11 million dollars. That includes spending by artists, arts organizations and attendees. Part of money spent includes grants for artists, exhibits and arts, cultural and heritage educational programs for the community. Opportunities are growing because the people in the Bemidji area want their city to be a flagship arts-centered community. Tom Stillday, who is a member of the Red Lake Nation, was the first recipient of the Anishinaabe Arts Initiative Fellowship from Region 2 Arts Council in April, 2017. Tom will also have his beadwork in the inaugural exhibit at Miikanan. Here’s a little bit about Tom.
Thomas Stillday has been doing beadwork for 35 years, since he learned from his mother, father, and grandmother. He has gained a reputation in the region as a very gifted beadwork artist for his exquisite designs, his brilliant use of color and texture in blending both modern and antique style beads, and in his superb attention to detail in both his stitching and in the way he covers the entire surface of the bag with beads. He says of his own work “I was born to bead. From a very early age I traveled to powwows with my family and was always checking out other people’s beadwork and had a burning desire inside me to create and design my own work. I come from a family of beading artists who taught me how to sew and bead with great pride, good feelings and to create the best work that I am able to do. I am constantly pushing myself as an artist to design distinctive Ojibwe patterns that let others know my tribal affiliation through my beadwork. I am proud to represent my culture.”
The first exhibit at Miikanan is named Aazhoomon Indigenous Art Exhibition and uses the Ojibwe word ‘aazhoomon’ because it means convergence. It is new beginning for a cultural and artist exchange; a crossroads and meeting place. It is a place and time to bring people together.
Karen Goulet, Program Manager at Miikanan
I first met Karen during the Pine to Prairie Fiber Arts event in April 2016. Four of her star quilts and a mixed media piece lined the walls of Watermark’s interim gallery. Vibrant colors told stories of her grandmother’s garden and Karen’s Ojibwe heritage. An enrolled member of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation, Karen plays an important role as the start-up Program Manager for Miikanan Gallery. Thanks to Karen’s network, experience, collaborative and generous nature, Miikanan Gallery is a reality. Karen is also an exhibiting artist, who for the last ten years has focused on needle arts, quilt making, surface design, weaving, mixed media and knitting. Karen received her BA from The Evergreen State College in Fine Arts and Cultural Education, her MFA in Sculpture from The University of Wisconsin – Madison, and her M Ed from University of Minnesota Duluth. She has worked primarily in Education and most often with Indigenous institutions and programs. Experiences have included instruction, program initiation and curriculum development.
Grand Opening Exhibits
After Lori and I talked awhile about many possibilities for Watermark’s new space, I ventured the question, “have you outgrown it already?” A pause and a soft laugh said maybe not quite yet, but it’s not going to be long. There are four galleries in the new Watermark building, each one with its own purpose. The four galleries will feature the following exhibits through the end of January, 2018:
- Fresh and Faded Memories: Paintings by Marley Kaul in the Marley and Sandy Kaul Gallery
- Aazhoomon Indigenous Art Exhibition in the Miikanan Gallery
- Musings, Messengers and Monoprints by Terry Garrett in the Lakeview Gallery
- A Lasting Gift in the Bemidji State University Gallery. This exhibit will show a range of modern and traditional print and ceramic pieces from their Harlow and Kleven collections.
Watermark’s new art center also includes an outdoor space, an education room, a gift shop, administrative space and tenant space for Region 2 Arts Council.
“The grand opening of the Watermark features work by regional, national and even international artists,” said Forshee-Donnay. “It really sets the tone for the future of the Watermark with the variety and level of programming we wish to present.” It feels good!
Watermark Art Center location: 505 Bemidji Ave., Bemidji, MN 56601 | Website: www.watermarkartcenter.org | Phone: 218-444-7570