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Niijii Radio holds gala arts festival

Visitors to the Niijii Radio Gala look over some of the artwork on display Saturday afternoon. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

Steady crowds filtered through the Historic Holmes Theatre this past Friday and Saturday for Niijii Radio’s 2nd Annual Baapinakamigad — aka the Gala Celebration of Minnesota Music & Arts.

“It’s been a really good turnout,” said Niijii Radio’s Carlee Kuhn on Saturday afternoon. “A lot of people came out to support our local artists and musicians. It’s great to see them getting their name out there, and the variety of crafts we have here.”

“It’s been a steady flow of people,” said Maggie Rousu, manager of the Callaway-based radio station known as “The Voice of the White Earth Indian Reservation.”

Rousu said she’d had “a lot of positive comments” from the vendors.

“They’ve all sold some stuff,” she added, noting, “Our performing artists have all come through quite well for us too.”

Ogema artist Rhiannon Weiss was not only making her debut at the Niijii arts festival, but her professional debut as well.

“This is my first show ever,” Weiss said. “I just got started trying to sell my work about a month ago.”

Weiss specializes in “upcycling” found objects like old signs, paint sticks, buttons and more into unique works of art.

“I will take pretty much anything and make it my own,” she said.

Her themes range from apocalyptic scenes to cupcakes.

“Cupcakes are my thing,” she said with a smile.

Weiss said she appreciated being able to start out with a smaller-scale art show, though she still spent several weeks making sure she had enough inventory to exhibit successfully.

“I learned a lot already,” she said. “I met a lot of nice artists who are helping me and giving me advice.”

Second-year exhibitor Danika Leitheiser of Detroit Lakes said she returned to the gala this year because the inaugural event was “the most successful art show I’ve ever been in,” adding that she’s been involved in a few larger-scale shows in Nashville and Minneapolis as well as in the lakes area, but the 2013 Niijii event proved particularly profitable for her budding artistic career.

“I like the setup this year,” Leitheiser added. “There are a lot of different vendors, and it’s been a good turnout.”

Unlike last year, when she was alone, Leitheiser shared her exhibit space on Friday and Saturday with her fiancée, Justin Waagmeester.

“All of the woodwork you see here, my fiancée Justin has done,” she said, noting that while she designed the exhibit space, “he built it.”

Leitheiser exhibited her drawings as well as oil, acrylic and watercolor paintings, as well as a few custom-designed items that she created using old wine bottles, such as a light fixture where bulbs were set inside three colored wine bottles with their bottoms cut off.

“I bought a bottle cutter off of Amazon,” she said.

Once the gala was over, Leitheiser said she and Waagmeester would be focusing their creative efforts on their upcoming nuptials, which are set to take place in August.

“We’re making centerpieces out of wine bottles and old Mason jars,” she said, adding with a laugh, “This is pretty much going to be a Pinterest-inspired wedding.”

Another artist making her debut at the Niijii gala was Connie Andvik of Detroit Lakes, whose work included embroidered aprons, handmade earrings and feather art.

She said she learned of the event when she asked a friend to look up local craft shows online.

“It’s been pretty good,” she said of the crowds that turned up to view her work, and even purchased a few pieces.

Second-year exhibitor Brenda Wickline said she came back because she enjoyed the atmosphere of the inaugural event so much that she wanted to try it again.

“The people are so friendly here, and it’s a really relaxed atmosphere,” she added. “We can have a good time listening to some fine music and visiting with people. It’s been fun.”

Best of all, visitors could enjoy strolling through all the art and listening to budding musicians like the Torn Roses, Breni Lou Butler, Sam Roth and the Third Ears — all free of charge, due to grant funding from the Minnesota Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.

“It’s been a great event,” Rousu said.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454