Both Old and New: Bemidji Community Arts Center

Older gentleman weaving at 150 year old loom

Bemidji Community Arts Center enjoys a 43-year track record of providing a hugely successful summer art and craft festival. This July, more than 100 artists and 4,000 participants attended Art in the Park, a two-day event at Bemidji, a northern Minnesota town of 12,000.

The enviable longevity of the Arts Center is due in part to signature programs––its annual festival and year-round art exhibitions. But an established institution risks stagnancy if it rests on its laurels. Staying strong and relevant requires renewal.. Four years ago, with hiring a new Executive Director, Lori Forshee-Donnay, the organization began a phase of revitalizing leadership, activities, and relationship with the community. The board recruited new directors, sought professional development, and eventually established a committee structure for fundraising and other engagement.

Acceptance into ArtsLab came at the perfect time to support a trajectory of change. “We soaked up learning,” Lori explained. “Webinars, workshops, colleagues, and consultants empowered and energized board and staff.” The Arts Council has added spoken word and literary arts events to its program agenda, extended time frames for visual art shows to attract larger attendance, developed off-site shows in accessible locations, and forged partnerships with Northern Clay Center and other quality organizations. This fall, a survey of artists and community members will further inform and inspire Bemidji Community Arts Center to respond to the hopes and expectations of its “customers.”