First Friday Art Walk: Celebrating the Artistic Synergy in Downtown Bellingham

bellingham arts walk
The fun kicks off with the exhibit "Elevationi: The Art of Cascadia," on display during the Friday, February 5 Art Walk.


DamianVinesPhotographyDowntown Bellingham is chock full of vibrant artists – from painters to photographers, jewelry-makers to jugglers, and anything you can dream up in between.

For locals and visitors looking to take in an array of art and a taste of what makes Bellingham so unique, wandering through Art Walk on the first Friday of every month is bound to uncover something unexpected. The Downtown Bellingham Partnership organizes the event, which runs from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Originally known as Gallery Walks, which began in the 1980s and took place four times a year, the event shifted to the first Friday of every month in 2009 and became First Friday Art Walk.

But the spirit of the original idea remained the same: bringing together local artists, downtown businesses, and the public; where everyone can mingle, appreciate a vast variety of art, support the arts and, ultimately, connect more deeply with their community.

“For the most part, venues and artists connect themselves,” says Lindsey Payne, Events Manager for the Downtown Bellingham Partnership. “But if an artist is new in town, I can help coordinate that.”

Each month’s Art Walk map is made available online where visitors and locals can print it, and then wander from venue to venue on a self-guided tour.

Any downtown business – galleries, studios, restaurants, coffee shops, boutiques, and stores – can be included on Arts Walk for a small fee, which helps pay for event administration.

bellingham arts walksPayne says 15 to 20 participating businesses makes for a healthy Art Walk, though the numbers fluctuate depending on time of year.

“December is always our largest Art Walk because of the holidays,” she says. “A lot of people want to get on the map. We had 38 venues last December.”

“I love the sense of community that comes about during Art Walk,” says Katy Borden, Artist Services Coordinator at Allied Arts of Whatcom County. “When someone new to the area asks us the best way to get involved in the local art scene, we always tell them to attend the next Art Walk.”

Allied Arts of Whatcom County has been involved since the beginning and was instrumental in getting some of the first Gallery Walks going. They continue to participate every month with a new exhibit that typically showcases between two and five local artists. Last year, they showcased work from 175 local artists.

“Art Walk is a great way for downtown businesses to get people in their doors and draw locals and visitors downtown,” says Borden. “And it’s a great way for locals – artists or not – to explore downtown and really feel like a part of their community.”

bellingham arts walkAllied Arts takes over the Art Walk for the month of May for Children’s Art Walk, hanging over 4,000 pieces of art from local elementary schools in businesses all over downtown.

Chris Foss, co-owner of Greenhouse, is another champion of the event.

“We’ve been involved on and off ever since its inception and more intently in the last couple of years,” she says. “It’s proved to be a really lovely event. We’ve had an enormous variety of different kinds of things here, from crafts to fine art and everything in between.”

For Foss, supporting the arts is a must. “We’re adjacent to the Arts District,” she says, “and the museum and Mount Baker Theatre are enormous drivers for traffic downtown. So any support we can return is, I think, really important to do.”

She also points out that it makes for a pleasant night out where customers can enjoy downtown without being on a schedule or a mission – and without having to worry about parking meters.

“Art Walk is a more relaxed evening,” Foss says. “It also encourages people to take advantage of all the things downtown has to offer in terms of restaurants. It’s just a nice way to celebrate downtown.”

Foss says Art Walk often brings in customers who may not be familiar with Greenhouse, and it’s fun to watch them explore.

“Lots of young folks come, college students we may not see on a regular basis,” she says. “It always feels like a nice mix of new and returning customers, which makes it fun.”

bellingham arts walkTrish Harding, local artist and owner of Studio UFO, initially got involved with Art Walk in 2002, after moving her art school to Bay Street Village.

“I thought, ‘What a fantastic opportunity to meet people and to show the community what I do and why,’” she says.

“Trish Harding has been really involved in our arts community for years,” says Payne. “She’s a wonderful person.”

Harding organizes an exhibit where different artists are stationed at opposing corners downtown and simply paint what they see – a technique called en plein air, French for “in the open air.”

For Harding, the best thing about Art Walk is that it makes real, local, original, organic art available to everyone.

“Art Walk allows a free venue to people who may not otherwise ever find themselves in art studios and galleries,” Harding says. “It is a win-win situation.”

Visit the Downtown Bellingham Partnership’s website to find out more about attending Art Walk, hosting an artist, or displaying your work.

All photos copyright Leo Friedman

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