1000 Print SummerSanford Center

The Sanford Center (formerly the Bemidji Regional Event Center) is a state-funded conference center and hockey arena for the city of Bemidji and Bemidji State University. Because of a state percent-for-art mandate, the city was allowed to dedicate a small portion of the overall project budget to artwork integrated into the building. The city hired Forecast Public Art as a consultant to review the building plans, evaluate potential sites, make recommendations on appropriate types of projects and facilitate the artist selection process. The most impactful site was the 20,000 square foot floor of the event center, which was designed to be terrazzo, and the other sites were the air space above the entrances to the building. Two artists—Barb Keith and Alexander Tylevich—were eventually selected—one to design terrazzo floor and one to create two suspended sculptures for the entryways. The floor is one of the largest public art projects in the state.

The Sanford Center (formerly the Bemidji Regional Event Center) is a project that started with a site and a budget and the idea generation was up to the artist. Being a state funded facility in a region with a percent-for-art mandate, the City of Bemidji needed assistance in determining the best fit for their dollars. For this project Forecast worked with a public art advisory committee to first conduct a site analysis of the construction plans to create a list of possible options for public art projects. From and exterior iconic sculpture to interior murals the committee generated ideas and voiced desires. The committee determined that hanging sculptures and an artist-designed terrazzo floor design would serve the users of the event center most effectively. Forecast then conducted a call for artists, and commissioned six artists to produce preliminary designs. Two artists were finally selected for commissioning.

“I thought about what is important to the area. Nature was at the top of the list, with the lakes and fishing, the beginning of the Mississippi nearby, deer and other animals. I looked at the native Ojibwe culture and found out more about the Ojibwe Woodlands School of Art, which I loved. I decided to use this style for all of the animals, using bold outlines and different colors within, as well as geometric designs within. The entire design tells a story, and the viewer is encouraged to walk the entire floor to take it in.”

-Terrazzo floor artist Barb Keith

Barb Keith Floorplan proposal

For the Bemidji Regional Event Center, a consultant worked closely with a public art committee to discuss what kind of art might serve their goals, and what spaces would strategically address the criteria they established. Several possible projects and sites were considered, including an exterior paving design outside the front entrance and art as wayfinding signage for the building. The group had no shortage of ideas but needed help prioritizing options to address their desired impact and budgetary restraints. Working with the project architect, Forecast staff studied the building plans, listened to the ideas generated by the committee and recommended three sites. The terrazzo floor in the main concourse was obvious. While the architect had already picked a fabricator to install a plain terrazzo floor, Forecast suggested that the fabricator might be willing to work with an artist on the design. The floor, which had a significant budget beyond the art budget, could become a low-maintenance, permanent art fixture at the event center enjoyed by all, seamlessly integrated into the architecture of the building. The other locations were the two entrances to the event center. It made sense to commission one artist to create two hanging sculptures and take advantage of the high ceilings. These sites were originally targeted for chandeliers, but the architect was willing to replace them with artworks. They would provide a welcoming accent and greet visitors in a unique way. Both projects (the floor and the hanging sculptures) responded to environmental elements of the surrounding landscape.


Because the commissioning agency essentially was the city for the Bemidji Regional Event Center and the process was done in close collaboration with the architect, contractor, and city representatives there were no major issues involved with securing the site. Building permits, etc were all done as part of the construction process. This can be a benefit to planning a public art project in conjunction with new developments. When the artist is at the table early on in the design process the result can be beautifully integrated and capitalize on equipment, building budgets, and other aspects that are already in place. It is also less expensive to add electrical power or plumbing early on in the construction process, rather than add it later.


Percent-for-art funding was essential to the Bemidji Regional Event Center. In one sense it was the driver of the project. While many developments are designed and constructed without giving a thought to the aesthetic value or community involvement, percent-for-art funding often causes the process to slow down and consider meaningful integration of public art. Because the event center had dedicated funds for art, an art committee was formed to oversee the process. No additional fundraising was needed but the committee, along with the architect, developer and Forecast, devised ways to leverage additional funds for the art by tapping into related construction budgets, such as the terrazzo floor and the chandeliers.

While putting my design together, I contacted several sources to get a good handle on the budget. I used the full budget allotted, with most of the cost going towards the terrazzo company for the extra work it would take to make such a complicated design, as well as the brass fabricator, who cut out all of the animals and some other features. – Terrazzo floor designer Barb Keith

For the Bemidji Regional Event Center, the City of Bemidji hired Forecast to facilitate an RFQ process. It was very important to the artist selection committee to open up the opportunity to local artists and to not extend the call for artists beyond the state.  The committee also felt strongly that outreach should be made to local native artists. Forecast consulted its organizational artist roster and connected with the regional arts council to get recommendations for local artists. Forecast also asked area arts groups for recommendations. Since the call had such a strong regional focus there were many applicants that were new to public art. Forecast spent a great deal of time consulting with applicants on the expectations of the committee and offering advice and information pertaining to the RFQ. Artists submitted work samples and written information and Forecast facilitated the review in which committee members narrowed the pool to three finalists for each of the two projects. Finalists came from around the state and from the region. The group settled on one artist for each project and contracted with them independently of Forecast. The panel review process was considered a great experience for everyone and the panel was very serious in its commitment to represent the community they were chosen to represent. There was not 100 % agreement the transparent and organized selection process—with lots of space for discussion—helped the panelists feel confident in their decision making process. It was also useful to collect comments and feedback to pass back to the artists who are not selected. This information, which they rarely get, helps them understand why they may not have been a good fit for the project and helps them improve their chances with future presentations.

The art for the Bemidji Regional Event Center required the artists to establish close collaboration with the building architect and construction crew. Barb Keith worked closely with the terrazzo floor company to ensure that her design would be realized.

Both the terrazzo company and the brass fabricator were wonderful to work with. They really came through with beautiful, high quality work. The construction guys were great, and the city was very supportive. We struggled a little when writing up the contract so that everyone was happy (that's a lot of people to satisfy), but once that was done, it was smooth sailing!

– floor designer Barb Keith

The Bemidji Regional Event Center was an excellent example of utilizing social media to keep the community energized and excited about their new building. Weekly Facebook posts shared images of the floor as it was installed and updated everyone on the progress of the art installations. Tours have been given of the artwork as well to inform the community about the work and the stories behind them. Community interaction was designed into the artwork itself at the request of the art committee and the final design for the terrazzo floor was selected in part because of the great opportunities for the public to seek out shapes and objects embedded in the floor.

“I was at the ribbon cutting, and I was near tears seeing people pointing at the ground, children hopping "up" trees, and overhearing all the warm comments!”

–floor designer, Barb Keith

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