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N.D. 125th celebration planners look forward to Nov. 2 finale

BISMARCK — After a soggy event Saturday that proved North Dakotans won’t let a little rain ruin a good party, those in charge of the 125th celebration of statehood are looking forward to the official Nov. 2 commemoration.

“It’s going to be a good event,” Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley said. “But thank goodness it will be inside.”

Wrigley, who led the celebration’s planning committee, said that despite the rain, an estimated 3,300 people took in Saturday’s homegrown musical acts, speakers and vendors on the Capitol grounds. About 5,000 to 7,000 people also went through the expanded North Dakota Heritage Center, he said.

It rained most of the afternoon, and while some people gave up and left, many stuck around and more showed up as the rain ended and temperatures warmed into the evening, Wrigley said.

“It just blossomed into a really, really fun event,” he said.

Planners booked plenty of acts – including rising country duo Tigirlily and singer-songwriters Jessie Veeder and Chuck Suchy – and spent a fair chunk of change to make sure people were entertained. The budget for Saturday’s event was $130,000, including entertainment, advertising and promotional materials, according to State Historical Society Assistant Director David Skalsky.

Wrigley thanked media outlets for spreading the word about the event, and he praised the performers, a number of whom played for a reduced rate.

To pay for the yearlong quasquicentennial celebration, the Historical Society received one-time legislative appropriations totaling $150,000. The state Office of Management and Budget also received $40,000 for a 125th coordinator position, events and travel.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s executive budget for 2013-15 had also recommended $450,000 for items such as traveling exhibits for the new Governors Gallery in the expanded Heritage Center, historic site exhibits, a technology coordinator position and the 125th celebration.

Instead, the Legislature removed the governor’s recommendation and approved a $950,000 “project pool” appropriation, giving the Historical Society authority to determine how it would be used. Among the allowable uses specified by lawmakers were the 125th celebration and the purchase and operation of the homestead near Strasburg where North Dakota native son and famous bandleader Lawrence Welk grew up.

So far, none of the $950,000 has been spent on the 125th celebration, and there are no plans to tap into the pool, Wrigley and Skalsky said.

“We’re comfortable with what we’ve done so far,” Wrigley said.

The Nov. 2 commemoration will be a more formal and less expensive affair, with a budget of $30,000 to $40,000, Wrigley said. A ribbon-cutting will mark the completion of the $51.7 million renovation and expansion of the Heritage Center and the opening of its final two galleries, the Inspiration Gallery and the Governors Gallery.

Wrigley said he expects a strong turnout.

“I think we’ve got a pretty good foundation for people being well aware of that event,” he said.

Between now and then, the Heritage Center will host “Under the Dakota Sky: An Exhibition Celebrating 125 Years of     Statehood,” featuring photography, sculptures, paintings, pottery and other artwork from more than 70 North Dakota artists.

Mike Nowatzki
Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.
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