Ranked second in the nation for arts businesses per capita, Bellingham and Whatcom County shine with arts and heritage activities. A combination of nationally touring and locally produced museum exhibits, gallery tours, theater productions and symphony performances provide an active and diverse calendar of events throughout the year. Bellingham’s Cultural Arts District is packed with venues for all interests.
Combining art with American history, the Whatcom Museum’s acclaimed Lightcatcher building is the place for cultural experiences rooted in art, nature and northwest history. Its exhibitions are designed to stoke creativity and get visitors reflecting on their changing cultural, natural and historical landscapes. The Whatcom Museum is located at 250 Flora Street in downtown Bellingham. Hours are Wed – Sun, noon to 5 p.m. www.whatcommuseum.org
More than 40 artists participate and exhibit in the Whatcom Artist Studio Tour, which are held on the first two weekends of October each year and feature local artists in their home studios. From the nationally-recognized to the secluded artisan, glassworkers, jewelers, painters, carvers, potters and weavers present their best works to the public, with many providing on-site demonstrations so visitors can get a glimpse of their creative process. Hours for the self-guided tour are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. A full color map and list of artists is available online at www.studiotour.net or in printed form at the Bellingham Visitors Center at 904 Potter Street.
Rain or shine, the sidewalks of downtown Bellingham fill with pedestrians on the First Friday of every month for the Downtown Art Walk, featuring the high quality of artists and remarkable variety of venues present in the city’s Cultural Arts District. From 6 to10 p.m., galleries, boutiques, restaurants, studios and more keep their doors open to showcase a wide array of artwork by local and renowned visiting artists. A map and list of artists participating in the event each month is available at http://www.downtownbellingham.com
Allied Arts of Whatcom County brings the work of local artists to the public in a variety of settings and community arts events. The Allied Arts gallery features monthly juried exhibits at 1418 Cornwall Avenue in Bellingham. The Allied Arts Gallery is open Mon – Fri 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sat noon to 5 p.m. www.alliedarts.org .
Another anchor of downtown Bellingham, the Mount Baker Theatre is the largest performing arts facility of its kind north of Seattle. The theatre is a beautifully restored 1927 architectural treasure listed on the register of National Historic Places. It showcases some of the best live performing artists on both the professional and community levels for audiences in the North Puget Sound area and the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. Originally built as a movie palace of Moorish style architecture, today the Mount Baker Theatre has been transformed into a vibrant setting for compelling entertainment, including performances by the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra, which holds concerts at this venue September through May each year. http://www.mountbakertheatre.com/ http://www.whatcomsymphony.com/
A perennial favorite, the Bellingham Theater Guild delivers locally produced community theater. Tickets and details can be found at http://www.bellinghamtheatreguild.com/ .
Improv comedy is the preferred subject at The Upfront Theatre in Bellingham. Established by TV comedian Ryan Stiles, this 95-seat cabaret style venue offers live improv comedy every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening. The Upfront presents and teaches many different styles of improv including short and long form, musicals, competitive improv and everything in between. www.theupfront.com .
The Pickford Film Center in Bellingham showcases independent films in a 29,000-square-foot, carefully remodeled, 100-year-old downtown Bellingham building. Since 1998, the Pickford Cinema has brought independent, foreign, classic and documentary films to Bellingham audiences eager to see beyond the mainstream. The original facility had only one screen and an 88-seat capacity, which frequently sold out. Today the seat capacity is 250 and the non-profit organization located at 1318 Bay Street in Bellingham has more than 5,000 members. www.pickfordcinema.org
Next door to the Pickford, The Spark Museum of Electrical Innovation is located at 1312 Bay Street. Hours: Wed–Sun 11–5p.m. Admission $6 adults, $3 children under 11. Although not appropriate for toddlers, youngsters age 5 and older will enjoy this unique museum featuring a world-class collection of historic radios and early electrical equipment used for experiments. Kids can learn about Benjamin Franklin, experience great grandpa’s childhood in a 1930s era living room with a working radio set and NO TV, see a replica of the radio room on board the Titantic, listen to a Thomas Edison era phonograph recording, and more.www.sparkmuseum.org
Around the corner from Spark is Mindport Exhibits at 210 W. Holly Street in Bellingham. This unique venue offers visitors of all ages an opportunity to have fun “playing” with scientific and artistic creations to gain new perspectives of the world around us. The exhibits at Mindport are sure to inspire new inventions of your own! Hours are Wed – Fri, noon – 6 p.m., Sat, 10 – 5 p.m., and Sun noon – 4 p.m. www.mindport.org
Just one block away, is the Bellingham Railway Museum at 1320 Commercial Street, where visitors can take the controls to operate historic model trains on 5 separate tracks, as they learn about logging and historic railroads of the area. Layouts include G gauge (the largest of the indoor trains) and a nostalgic Lionel exhibit with a push button and transformer control system. Hours are Tues-Sat noon – 5 p.m. www.bellinghamrailwaymuseum.org .
Bellingham is also known for its outdoor sculpture, which can be view throughout downtown, as well as at the Big Rock Sculpture Garden at 1400 Woburn Street. Operated as a city park, this 2.5 acre botanical garden features over 35 permanent works by distinguished international and local artists. A striking geometrical sculpture by Mexican artist Sebastian and rarely seen pieces by Canadian artist David Marshall highlight the diversity. An annual International Sculpture Exhibit runs May through September featuring 10-20 selected pieces from a variety of accomplished sculptors. Hours are dawn to dusk year-round. www.cob.org/services/recreation/parks-trails/bigrock.aspx
Western Washington University in Bellingham, is also home to a nationally recognized outdoor sculpture collection, considered one of the top 10 in the U.S. On a self-guided tour of the campus visitors can enjoy pieces by renowned artists such as Bruce Nauman, Tom Otterness, Isamu Noguchi, Alice Aycock, Beverly Pepper, Robert Maki and many others. Maps and details about the collection are available at www.westerngallery.wwu.edu .
Each July, the Bellingham Festival of Music wows audiences at the Western Washington University Performing Arts Center. The internationally acclaimed Bellingham Festival Orchestra brings together principal players from major American and European orchestras and exceptional musicians from regional and national ensembles to present concerts of classical music at the highest caliber of artistic excellence. www.bellinghamfestival.org .