Watermark Art Festival to Unveil New Additions for 54th Annual Bemidji Pioneer Event

BEMIDJI — Big changes are coming for this year’s Watermark Arts Festival, formerly known as Art in the Park, as artists from across the state come together to showcase their work for one of the summer’s most anticipated events.

Held along the shores of Lake Bemidji for the past 54 years, the two-day arts and crafts festival draws thousands of visitors to downtown Bemidji each year.

The event will be held from 10 a.m. 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 from the 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 area’s most popular events.

“We looked at rebranding a bit because there’s so much more going on compared to previous years, it was a golden opportunity to take (this event) to the next level,” explained Forshey-Doney. “The word ‘festival’ fits exactly what we do and how this event has developed. We wanted people to know it was our event by putting the name in the title.”

A summer highlight for Minnesota locals and tourists since 1967, it’s also one of the Watermark Art Center’s largest fundraisers and a great opportunity to support artists.

“The festival is something that lives up to our mission by giving people access to the visual arts and supporting artists,” said Forshey-Doney. “A lot of artists do it because they love it, and others do it because it’s a big part of how they make a living. It’s a great opportunity for people to buy directly from the artists and I think that’s so exciting, they get to meet the creators.”

Along with bringing some extra buzz to downtown Bemidji, Forshee-Donnay describes the festival as a gathering, a chance to catch up with old friends, neighbors and longtime veterans of the event.

Festival goers walk through Art in the Park on July 17, 2021 at Bemidji Library Park.

(Jillian Gandsey/Bemidji Pioneer)

“It’s just a perfect lakefront setting next to the trees and the water that provides a unique setting and brings a lot of people into the community for this weekend,” she said. “We see a lot of local community members who come every year, they’re really loyal about it. It’s a great opportunity for them to connect with neighbors and it’s like a little reunion for some people.”

Part of the events upgrade includes two different music stages, one in Library Park and the other outside the Watermark, directly across the street, for live music on both Saturday and Sunday.

“We’re putting up a big marquee with seating right next to one of the music stages so people have a chance to eat, relax and listen to music,” Forshey-Doney said. “Then again we have a food court on the north side with more vendors and food trucks.”

Other tents that will be available during the event will be dedicated to demonstrations by the artists that are part of the Watermark Art Center’s shop, Shop 505, along with a variety of hands-on activities for children.

“The artists will rotate throughout the day demonstrating painting, jewelry making, stone sculpture, wood carving and a whole host of other things,” Forshey-Doney said. “We’ve also added more activities for the kids, 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 that people looking for information about the art center, the event, a particular booth or artist could easily find their way to the information booth.

“We have improved our information booth along with wayfinding signs throughout the event,” said Forshey-Doney. “We’re 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 everything they need.”

One thing that remains the same, however, are the vendors selling a wide variety of items including handmade joinery, ceramics, clothing, jewelry, photography, metalwork, greeting cards, homemade preserves, soaps, stained glass, original paintings, garden art and more ▼.


Shannon Lucas-Westrum talks to Art in the Park attendees about her work on July 17, 2021 at the Bemidji Library Park.

(Jillian Gandsey/Bemidji Pioneer)

According to Forshee-Donnay, one of the artists has been a participant in 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 that are interested and bring them to our vendors, but we still have some favorites from last year that are returning as well, and (event goers) will find a little bit of everything this year, ” she said. “From carvings, clothing, beadwork and paintings, we also have local artists who will be presenting contemporary and traditional work, it’s just really exciting to see all the variety.”

For more information, visit the Watermark website at watermarkcenter.org, call (218) 444-7570 or email [email protected]

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