In 1992, through the vision of then ISD 318 superintendent Dan Kaler and the Blandin Foundation, the Edge of the Wilderness Community Center was formed as a nonprofit corporation. The project was for the EWCC to collaborate with the school district to provide enhancements to the Bigfork School that neither entity could manage on its own and in that way serve the local communities. As a nonprofit, the EWCC could apply for grants that the public schools could not; the school, however, could contribute its buildings and support network. Since its inception, the EWCC has been a force for changes and improvements in the area.
Adhering to its mission statement of "enhancing opportunities in education, recreation, and the fine arts in the Edge of the Wilderness area," the various boards of directors have accomplished many things. In the early years, the board members founded a much needed day care facility, ran it for two years, and then sold it to the day care director. During that time, various school bond referenda to improve district schools were defeated. In 1996, one was successful, paving the way for the Bigfork School's improvements, including that the building be “fine arts center ready.” That meant that once the EWCC had raised enough money, the new Bigfork School could have a fine arts facility attached to it.
Fulfilling another aspect of its mission, "enhancing opportunities in the fine arts," the EWCC founded the Art League for local visual artists and the EdgeWild Players for community theatre productions. The Art League meets weekly, working and learning together, and became independent in 2016. The EdgeWild Players have been presenting comedies, dramas, and talent shows since 1996.
The year 1998 saw the beginning of the EWCC's biggest project to date: starting to raise awareness for the value of a Fine Arts Center, as it was then called. The board hired an architect to draw a colored rendering of the proposed facility and started an educational/informational campaign to let church groups, service clubs, and school groups know what a benefit the facility would be for the communities of Effie, Bigfork, and Marcell. They also started raising money.
Under the "enhancing of opportunities in education and recreation" part of the mission statement, the EWCC was the school district’s community and family education liaison, offering community ed classes in everything from cooking to acting lessons.The board raised funds for an indoor golf driving net and facilitated the formation of the very active Bigfork School Alumni Association. The Alumni Association successfully raised funds for the Gordon Campbell Memorial Athletic Complex that includes the school's first running track.
Two significant things happened in 2000 when about $60,000 had been raised in the community. First, the EWCC signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the ISD #318, establishing that the future building would be owned by the school district and managed by the EWCC. Second, and an anonymous person donated $600,000 to the building fund! That donation continued to increase throughout the design and building phases to almost a million dollars. It was that first influx of community generosity that allowed large granting organizations to consider helping to fund the project. (This generous person said that once he died, we could name him. Orbin Holt has left the area an amazing legacy!)
Bigfork High School alumnus, Bruce Blackmer, now a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, was able to offer the services of his large architectural firm, Northwest Architectural Company, to design the building, now being called the Edge Center for the Arts, gratis. The donation of his services and those of his theatre designer, lighting specialist, and an acoustician made possible the plans for a small, 283-seat, state-of-the-art theatre facility with a visual art gallery that would also serve as the lobby for performing arts events. The location was changed from the northeast corner of the school to the south of the school's new addition.
Patricia Feld and Suanne Dullard wrote successful grants to the Blandin, Archibald Bush, McKnight, and Northland Foundations, as well as to the Bigfork Lions Club, North Itasca Electric Cooperative, Bigfork Valley, Minnesota Power, Itasca County, and The Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation, among others. Local businesses and individual contributions added to the total $2.2 million needed to complete the Edge Center.
Hammerlund Construction built the Edge Center with local plans drawn by DSGW architects. The groundbreaking ceremony in May 2004 featured a marching unit of shovellers and four choreographed caterpillar front loaders. On March12, 2005, a day after the permit of temporary occupancy was granted, the Guthrie Theatre's touring show, Kevin Kling's Freezing Paradise was performed for the Edge Center's first audience. The Grand Opening Ceremony preceded the inaugural stage production of The Music Man on September 12, 2005.
During the bidding process, some expensive exterior treatments had to be cut from the project, but the three-section "step stool" exterior still provides all the interior qualities that the EWCC required: a full fly-loft, an orchestra pit, comfortable seating, and a gallery/lobby. Formed during the bidding process, the Gallery Committee has provided a different art exhibit, including an annual juried art show, each month from May through December ever since.
The goal of building community through the arts started being fulfilled at the Edge Center immediately. The Edge Center for the Arts was in use 209 days during its first full year in operation. Besides the three local plays, the seven exhibits, and the school’s use of the theatre and gallery, the Center hosted professional touring shows and classes, a quilt exhibit, a hospital annual meeting, community education classes, and even a wedding. August of 2006 found 36 men and women and boys and girls painting 15' x 30' scenic drop for the Bigfork Centennial Celebration show that was presented in August of 2007.
Dedicated volunteers have kept the Edge flourishing. Over the years, members of the board were selected to participate in the three-year capacity building ArtsLab, a badly needed administrative assistant came to work for the Edge, and full seasons of diverse performing and visual arts have come to the communities and the school through the Edge Center.
Board Of Directors
John Hanson, President
Larry Salmela, Vice President
Kathy Champoux, Secretary
Karlyn Atkinson Berg
Marcie Lindgren, Chair
Sandy Lyytinen, Chair
Lynn Nachbar, Treasurer
Gail Blackmer, Secretary