BEMIDJI — In the words of Bemidji Mayor Jorge Prince, Friday was a phenomenal, beautiful day to host the first-ever Anishinaabe Art Festival at the Sanford Center.
With anticipation of the Indigenous art, traditional food tastings, demonstrations and entertainment that would proliferate throughout the day and Saturday, hundreds of attendees filed into the cultural oasis that the Sanford Center had been transformed into.
An opening ceremony kicked off Friday’s activities, which began with an invocation and welcome by emcee Rob Fairbanks.
“I just want to say thank you to all of our organizers, our sponsors for making this possible,” Fairbanks said while addressing the crowd. “Thank you to all of our vendors and entertainers, and you guys for coming out and supporting us.”
Following an honor song, Sharon James, executive director of
plugged the various donors and partners who made the art festival possible.
In particular, the
provided grants to kickstart their planning process and bring their idea to life.
Local sponsors included Paul Bunyan Communications, First National Bank of Bemidji and the Blandin Foundation.
Along with a core partnership between 4-Directions Development,
the festival’s goal of expanding market opportunities for Indigenous artists and sharing this part of cultural heritage outside of tribal nations could be realized.
“We really appreciate the support and we hope you enjoy the festivities that will be provided to you. There are a lot of art vendors, so I hope you brought deep pockets,” James said as laughter broke through the crowd.
Prince spoke on behalf of the city, noting the exceptional turn-out and sense of community very much present during the sunny morning.
“We’re just so excited and honored that this is happening here. We want to support every artist here and all the good people who did so much work to make this happen,” Prince said. “We know this is the first annual, so we’re open to having many, many more.”
With oversized scissors in hand, a group of event planners cut the red ribbon that effectively welcomed all attendees inside.
Around 70 vendors hosted an eclectic array of goods and art pieces ranging from beadwork to paintings and graphics to clothing.
If somebody’s pockets weren’t deep enough to purchase artwork, they could still take part in interactive demonstrations throughout the day.
Activities throughout Friday included birch bark basketry, jingle dress making and hand drum making. Saturday’s demonstrations would cover beading earrings, black ash basketry and ribbon skirt making.
If hunger ever got the better of anybody, “Indian tacos” would waft from the concession area and authentic Indigenous foods could also be sampled as part of “Traditional Flavors Tasting Tables.”
Friday evening would conclude with a fashion show to showcase wearable art, both traditional and contemporary, from several artists. A performing arts show will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday.
With Saturday evening concluding with a travel song and exit procession at 5 p.m., it will be one short year before the second annual Anishinaabe Art Festival carries on the mission that its founders had in mind.
“A Red Lake elder was talking with us, and he said, ‘We need to wake up our ancestors in our youth.’ He continued to explain that our young ones are each given a gift, but in today’s world, our young are too busy to see what that gift is meant to be,” the festival website says. “We need to share with them, show them the beauty inside of them so they can carry our teachings and traditions on to the next generations.”
More information can be found at
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