Tessa Beck is excited about the Nemeth Art Center opening to the public for the first time since being appointed as its executive director in late 2020.
Previously the NAC’s gallery director, she worked closely with previous executive director Nicolle LaFleur.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Beck said, “things really shifted with us,” and she gradually took on more responsibility as LaFleur stepped back.
Beck grew up in Hillsboro, N.D. and studied at North Dakota State University in Fargo. She spent a summer abroad in Berlin.
“I actually started in journalism and writing,” she said, “and then eventually transitioned to more focus being art history and studio practice. I make photographs, works on paper.”
Her art gallery experience started at Ecce Gallery in Fargo, where she served as an assistant to founding director Mark Weiler.
“I learned the lay of the land in that role,” she said, “doing shows, working with local and regional artists, and floating the idea of creating a market, but also an arts community, in a more rural place. I come from a small town, so that’s also a component that’s really dear to my heart.”
Beck also interned with galleries in New York and Minneapolis.
“I definitely feel comfortable on the gallery side of things,” she said. “What was exciting about the Nemeth role, and makes it different from my previous experience, is the executive component of it, and the nonprofit side of it.”
She said there’s a nice balance between feeling she can bring experience to the role and learning from it at the same time.
Old stomping grounds
Coming to Park Rapids brought back part of her childhood. Beck’s grandparents have a lake cabin on Bad Medicine Lake, where she spent many summers as a child.
“I feel a place like the Nemeth is such a rare and hidden gem,” she said. “Park Rapids, as a town itself, is just ripe for possibilities.”
Besides the vibrant, local arts community, she said the tourist element and the scenic landscape “really appeals to me.”
She voiced a hope that she can help raise the visibility of the area, “making it more well-known as a center, more of a destination regionally.”
Toward that end, Beck has worked on updating the NAC’s website and helping with its rebranding. She also acknowledges that the center has a mission to bring thoughtful and sometimes challenging art to town, not only to serve residence but to draw visitors and build relationships between young people and artists in the area.
For example, artist T.L. Solien, whose exhibit “See the Sky” is on view at the Nemeth through July 17, will teach a youth class on the morning of July 10, the day of his show’s closing reception.
Although Solien’s show was supposed to open the Nemeth’s 2020 season doesn’t change Beck feels it was a good fit for returning to normal after COVID-19.
“I’m noticing this with the guests that we’ve had in so far and also myself personally,” she said. “I just think it’s the perfect show to come back to a more regular viewing setting and the communal aspect of the art. It’s a show full of big, colorful, emotional paintings.”
Beck is also exited about pairing Twin Cities-based photographer Alec Soth’s show “Paris-Minnesota” with emerging Minneapolis artist Rachel Collier’s “Soft Landing,” starting July 22 and running through September.
“As far as his recognition and the level that he’s at in his career, (Soth is) definitely one of the biggest artists that we’ve shown here,” she said.
Uptick in traffic
So far, the summer season has been going well. Even in May, Beck said, “people were really ready to get back to seeing things in person, versus on a screen. I think they’re ready to feel a part of a more communal, social environment.”
She said this led to May gallery traffic comparing well to previous years, with guests visiting from as far away as Green Bay, Wis. and Missouri.
“It didn’t seem possible even a few months ago,” she said, “but I’m starting to feel appreciative of the way things are going.”
Beck still lives in Fargo, but during the summer season she enjoys a “dual-city lifestyle,” staying at the Two Inlets home of Aaron Spangler and Amy Thielen.
The setting continues to inspire her own artwork – “that energy that’s surrounded here,” she called it. “It’s influenced the way I think. It’s much more based in natural materials and compositions. It’s definitely leaving an impression on me.”