One of the best ways to get to know a town is through their art. Bellingham and Whatcom County are home to hundreds of artists. From sculptors to painters, photographers and potters, there are so many ways to appreciate the visual arts. One of the best ways to take it all in is through art walks. Luckily, you can catch one at least twice a month all year long in our area.
Local artists display their work inside clustered local businesses and theaters, allowing visitors to stroll by for a look, free of charge. Visitors can appreciate the art, check out the business and often meet a small business owner or two.
Art walks are so much more than the art too. Venues often offer demonstrations by local artists, live music and performances and a range of free refreshments. Its the perfect activity before or after dinner or paired with a show or nightcap.
Art walks also make great family activities. When my sons were little, they got some exercise while I got to feel like a grown-up, and the snacks at each venue kept them moving forward. Now that they’re teens, they have opinions about the work and I’m thankful for (and sometimes surprised by) the conversations we have about art, culture, politics and whatever tangent the art inspires.
Here is a brief overview with links to help you plan your next stroll through Whatcom County’s Art Walks.
Downtown Art Walk
First Friday of Each Month
Hosted by the Downtown Bellingham Partnership, Downtown Art Walk is the perfect Friday night kick off to your weekend. At your own pace, you and your friends can explore galleries, studios, museums, shops and restaurants that showcase the creative talent of the area.
Clustered reasonably close together in the downtown Bellingham Arts District, this art walk is fun and well attended by locals and visitors alike. Business owners get into it, offering something different each month. That means even if you went two months in a row, you’d likely not see the same works or eat the same tasty treat twice.
I often park along Railroad or Holly Streets or in the Commercial Street parking garage since they are in the center of town. Walking from there is easy and also takes you past a number of savory restaurants.
The map is updated each month as venues are added, but there are usually signs and balloons to guide you.
Fairhaven Art Walk
Fourth Friday of Each Month
Fairhaven Fourth Friday Art Walk in Historic Fairhaven was until recently limited to just once or twice a year around the holidays and as Summer Solstice Art Walk. Since July 2017 it has become a monthly event. It is a product of a partnership by Whatcom Art Market and Historic Fairhaven Association. It occurs on the fourth Friday of each month year round, except in December, from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in more than a dozen businesses in historic Fairhaven. The up-scale businesses are clustered within a block or two of Harris Avenue for easy walking and the parking is free.
There are new works each month and new venues are being added. They conveniently update the map and artists each month so its easy to plan your evening. There are a number of restaurants with great food and atmosphere in Fairhaven so plan to have dinner before or after your stroll. I also get drawn in by the cute shops themselves. I usually walk away from the shops near Historic Harris Avenue like Current and Furbish with a gift for a girlfriend or a new book club option from Village Books.
In the months with more evening light I also enjoy the view between Art Walk venues. You can usually catch the sun setting over Bellingham Bay easily from a sidewalk in Fairhaven. The trail connects Fairhaven with Taylor Street Dock making an afternoon or evening walk an easy option.
Every time I go, I discover a new business or local artist that I’ve never seen before, despite having lived here for almost 25 years. Several pieces I bought during an art walk hang on my walls at home and in the homes of friends. It feels good knowing that the pieces I enjoy also supported the livelihood of my artist neighbors.
Annual Children’s Art Walk
In the Month of May
Hilary Parker has written a great Insider Blog about art walking with children. When my kids were younger I often took them to the Annual Children’s Art Walk, hosted by Allied Arts of Whatcom County since 2000. It proudly showcases the work of hundreds of Whatcom County students in local businesses and galleries. The start date varies from year to year, but usually is the first Friday in May. The works remain up throughout the month of May in honor of the statewide Arts Education Month.
The inaugural evening of the Art Walk includes exciting events at multiple venues and performances by the students. Lots of kid-friendly treats are offered at venues too.
I believe that if children see the artwork of other children, they will not only gain inspiration, but they’ll also have more confidence and perhaps judge their own work less. My kids always went home with at least two new techniques they wanted to try. In my book, that is a huge success for a family outing.
No matter what kind of art you appreciate, there will be something that catches your eye during the year-round art walks in Bellingham and Whatcom County. The family-friendly, free events are a great way to get to know our town better, whether you’re visiting for the day, a weekend or more. Even long-time locals like me will discover something new and captivating while supporting the creativity of hundreds of local artists that call this place their home.