Bellingham may host the lion’s share of the region’s cultural and artistic opportunities, but there’s an imaginative gem in rural Whatcom County that’s bringing artists together in a big way. Since 2012, Lynden’s Jansen Art Center has been both a refuge and a catalyst for creatives in Whatcom County.
The Jansen Art Center, known familiarly as the J, has the type of facilities that one would find at a collegiate art department, but its energy is reserved for the community.
“The focus of the space is really on the studios,” says Vin Quenneville, the center’s executive director. “The original vision was to have a hub for creativity, and to make the Arts more accessible.”
Before the J, there was no established artistic center for rural Whatcom communities. Heidi Doornenball is the original visionary behind the Jansen Art Center. She saw a need for an accessible community space for ceramics. It eventually grew from there. “Heidi is a person with a strong appreciation for art, and she wants artists to have a place to call home.” says the center’s marketing manager, Amelia Chirichigno.
The building itself is a beautifully renovated historical site. In 2010, the City of Lynden donated its 1912 City Hall to the Eleanore and Henry Jansen foundation. With the purchase of the adjacent Steinhower Building, the foundation renovated the two, combining them into one space for the Jansen Art Center, right in the heart of downtown.
The J puts most of its focus and energy into six studio disciplines. “The studios are what keep people coming back and makes people want to be a part of the art center,” says Amelia. “We have a group of very dedicated members, and whether they work in the studios or they’re volunteers, everyone can find their place here.”
The studios are sprinkled throughout the center, the connecting spaces curated with the juried work of regional artists. The painting studio is upstairs, a room full of light and the smell of linseed oil. Across the way is a music room and performance hall overlooking Front Street. Downstairs, you’ll find a textile studio, with beautiful large floor looms in various stages of warp and weft. Nearby is The J’s movement studio, where they host their own yoga classes and ballet recitals.
Following the winding halls brings you to the basement level, home to the center’s expansive ceramic studio. It’s equipped with a Happy Barrel raku kiln designed and built by their own instructor, Jesse Rasmussen. And next door, there is a cozy and inviting jewelry studio, with the capacity for silversmithing and enameling.
“A takeaway for the center is just the sense of community that the studios have,” says Vin. “It’s fun to see how as we grow, there’s this cross-pollination between studios.” With so many programs under one roof, members tend to blend and experiment with what they’ve learned from different mediums.
The Jansen Art Center excels at keeping their programming updated and relevant, in part by making their decision-making more democratic. Each studio has its own head, and it’s up to them which classes they want to provide for each upcoming quarter. “It allows them a lot more freedom over the feel of what happens in the studios,” explains Vin. “As the landscape changes, they’re going to respond more quickly than I would. It allows our studios to stay on top of their classes and have exciting offerings.”
The J is a place for people of all ages – as well as skill levels. Their Kids Do Art! program is ongoing, with quarterly offerings and seasonal events.
“For the kids, being in an art center where they see adults making art, as well, shows them this isn’t only something they do for fun,” says Amelia. “It can be inspiring to discover that some people actually do it for their livelihood, or as an ongoing, cultivated hobby they pursue.”
In the gallery spaces, The J hosts quarterly exhibitions. They also present juried works by regional artists on the main floor. Some of the shows recur annually, and showcase a cross section of our local talent and creativity.
One interesting exhibition is Out of the Box, which is held in October. Judy Gauthier, head of the jewelry studio, puts together a box with a theme and some materials. Participants then use what’s inside as a jumping-off point to make a wearable piece of art.
Another is The Cup Show, from the ceramics studio, where artists can submit a cup they’ve made of at least 70% clay, and also features an opening reception and awards.
The textiles studio puts on a Fibers & Beyond event in the fall with a full month of textile workshops, which culminate in a giant textile sale in the J’s Chamber Hall.
If you’re inspired by The J’s community spirit and would like to explore the center, consider stopping in for a live musical performance in their piano lounge and Firehall Cafe. Performances are weekly on Thursdays from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Also keep an eye out for their upcoming events and quarterly class schedule.
“It’s all about the process here, about the experience of creating the art,” says Amelia. “It all goes together with the community of the space. There’s a place for everyone.”
The Jansen Art Center
321 Front Street in Lynden
Tuesday & Wednesday: 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Thursday: 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Friday & Saturday: 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Sunday & Monday: closed