Wednesday, June 6th, 2018
Celebrating Diversity at the Whatcom Cultural Arts Festival
Lorraine Wilde

Consistently listed as one of the top places to live and visit in America, Bellingham and Whatcom County are experiencing rapid population growth. For example, the area’s Hispanic and Sikh populations have significantly increased in the past few years. This growth has not only stimulated our local economy but also resulted in a greater awareness of cultural and ethnic diversity in the northwest corner of Washington State.

Whatcom Cultural Arts Festival Bellingham Native Arts Collective

Part of the Native Arts Collective. Photo Courtesy of Allied Arts.

The new Whatcom Cultural Arts Festival, launching June 22 and 23, 2018 in Bellingham’s Historic Fairhaven District showcases the variety and abundance of diverse art, culture and heritage that’s located right here in beautiful Whatcom County.

Linda Hurst Bharatanatyam dancers Humanities Washington Whatcom cultural arts festival

Bharatanatyam dancers. Photo by Linda Hurst, courtesy Humanities Washington, who will be present at the Cultural Arts Festival.

Celebrating and Honoring Diversity

This exciting new free festival is a collaboration between the Historic Fairhaven Association, Bellingham/Whatcom Tourism Bureau, Sculptures NW, Native Arts Collective, the Whatcom Artist Guild and more. The event is also funded in part by City of Bellingham, Whatcom County, Whatcom Community Foundation Project Neighborly Grants, and other local contributions.

Whatcom cultural arts festival Diana Guza Wells New Zealand Art Deco

Diana Guza Wells’ paintings are of New Zealand Art Deco era will be among the festival booths.¬†Photo courtesy of Allied Arts.

The festival was created by a long-standing Whatcom arts organization, Allied Arts of Whatcom County. For over 30 years, the nonprofit has been fostering and supporting the local arts scene through community events, exhibits and extensive arts education programs. I recently spoke with Allied Arts Executive Director Kelly Hart to get the inside scoop on this exciting new festival.


Shodo Fumiko Kimura Humanities Washington Whatcom Cultural Arts Festival

Shodo demonstration by Fumiko Kimura. Photo courtesy Humanities Washington.

What to Expect

Although not limited to a single cultural heritage, each year the festival will emphasize one in particular. The 2018 event emphasizes the Coast Salish Peoples, who have inhabited the region for more than a thousand years. Those participating in the festival need not be of the emphasized culture, but it includes those whose art, traditions and cultures have been influenced by it.

Native Arts Collective Whatcom Cultural Arts Festival

Part of the Native Arts Collective. Photo Courtesy of Allied Arts.

Conveniently scheduled to coincide with the existing Fairhaven Fourth Friday Art Walk, this all-ages weekend will be chock full of visual and performance artists sharing and selling their creations with the public. Many of the activities will take place on the Fairhaven Village Green, a festive community space in the center of the village of Fairhaven. In the heart of the area, the Green is surrounded by area businesses and hotels and is connected to the extensive City trails and Rails to Trails with spectacular views and sunsets of Bellingham Bay.

Swil Kanim Whatcom Cultural Arts Festival Bellingham Lummi

Swil Kanim’s compositions incorporate classical influences as well as musical interpretations of his personal journey from depression and despair as an early foster child to spiritual and emotional freedom in later life.¬†Photo courtesy of Allied Arts.

The Village Green celebration will be full of more than 13 different booths representing a wide variety of local folk and traditional arts and cultural organizations. The 2018 booths include the Finlandia Foundation, Community to Community Development and the Native Arts Collective to name just a few.

Visitors will also be dazzled by live music and dance performances by a variety of groups including:

  • Millie and the Mentshn featuring world music that ranges from Prokofiev to Gershwin to Latin to raucous Klezmer,
  • Swil Kanim, a US Army Veteran, classically trained violinist, native storyteller and actor, and member of the Lummi Nation and
  • Caixa Seattle¬†presenting the classic Afro-Brazilian samba heritage. Their show will feature sambas, bossa novas, boleros, tangos, Portuguese fados, as well as other European and middle-eastern styles of music.
Cultural Arts Festival, Caixa Whatcom Seattle

Caixa Seattle presents Afro-Brazillian music and dance as well as European and middle-eastern styles of music. Photo courtesy of Allied Arts.


Fairhaven businesses will also be hosting a variety of specials, performances and activities of their own. Stones Throw Brewery on Larrabee Avenue will have a number of music performers and food vendors just a block away from the Village Green. Lovitt Restaurant on historic Harris Avenue, only a half a block from the Village Green, will host Jan Peters’ traditional Irish Folk music.

I am excited to see the¬†Finnish Wife Carrying Competition in action as well as learn more about its history. My family will also look forward to dancing on the Green to broad range of musicians and dance performances. I’ll be encouraging them to sample the range of ethnic foods and learn more about the techniques local artists and crafters will be demonstrating.

Wife Carrying, Cultural Arts Festival

The Wife Carrying Competition is part of the Finlandia Foundation’s booth and activities. Photo courtesy of Allied Arts.

If you stick around to the end of the festival, you can bring your picnic blanket and stay for the Fairhaven Outdoor Cinema series on the Village Green. Banjo with Aaron J. Shay begins at 8:15 p.m. followed by The Goonies at dusk.

With this eye-opening opportunity to explore art, music, performance and foods highlighting the diverse cultural communities in Whatcom County, there will be fun for the whole family.

Experiencing the art and culture of communities outside your own fosters greater compassion, understanding, and acceptance of others. It also educates us by expanding our horizons. No matter what kind of art you are into, you’ll discover something new and learn from other cultures at the Whatcom Cultural Arts Festival.


Whatcom Cultural Arts Festival
On and Around the Fairhaven Village Green
1207 10th Street
Fairhaven Neighborhood
Bellingham, WA 98225


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About the Author:

Lorraine Wilde has immersed herself in so many of Whatcom County’s vibrant communities over the past 25 years. Owner and Publicity Strategist for Wilde World Communications, Lorraine has connected with locals as a writer, actor, scientist, teacher, filmmaker, singer, and mom. Lorraine has performed improv and staged works in several of Whatcom County’s theatres and she is active in the Bellingham Film community. She is also a big supporter of the local music community. When she has a spare second, its spent with her children outside exploring a new adventure.