Tucked away in plain sight on Holly Street is an unusual Bellingham treasure. Mindport is a museum so unique that even its director Kevin Jones is at a loss to explain what it is. “I used to try to periodically sit there and write an essay. What is Mindport? I’ve finally given up. I have less and less static ideas about it. It’s inexplicable,” he says.
The explicable thing is that it’s extraordinary.
Exhibits are made by hand with amazing care and workmanship. The woodworking alone is worth coming to see.
Art, science, and math come here to talk, minds meet, and everyone takes away something different from this place.
The interworking beauty and complex pieces on display make you feel like you’ve crawled into a dream. Exhibit artists appear to have a different grasp of reality, creating beautiful pieces that seamlessly blend all three concepts while often adding musical elements.
“It’s the art of making things, and the things you make are art,” says Jones. He appears to spend his spare time thinking and gives the impression that you could talk to him for hours about anything.
One display is known as a marble pump. Patrons turn a wheel and a series of blocks go up and down like stairs. Marbles raise and climb one by one until they roll downwards. “I had a man from Western come here who spent 45 minutes trying to figure out the engineering of it,” says Suzanne Goodell, publicity and outreach coordinator for Mindport. “It looks pretty simple, but when you start taking into account all the different angles and movements, it’s really complex.”
The museum is created to be enjoyed by all ages, and everyone will walk away with a different idea of what the exhibits are about. “Our intention is for visitors to be adults, kids, any age, from 5 to 90 or older,” says Jones.
“We get a lot of families that come in. Some parents say, ‘Next time, I’m leaving the kids at home,’” says Goodell. It’s also an interesting first date spot for WWU students. Exploring the Mindport exhibits offer a great way of getting to know each other in an unconventional way.
“The intent is to create a contemplative space for people to come explore,” she says. “They’re for the visitor to behold and take away what they will.” The exhibits aren’t directed and there are no instructions telling you what to look for.
Mindport has been in business since 1995. The idea began when Jones and two friends living on Lummi Island found they had common interests in science and art. They were all artists and loved to develop exhibits showcasing the intersection of the two.
Then they crossed paths with an anonymous donor who became a close friend. The donor funded their ideas and helped them start the museum. To this day, they’re still funded by a small group of anonymous donors who keep the museum running and keep door prices low enough for most people to afford.
Jones has a hard time explaining his techniques; for him, it’s just the way his mind works. “It’s not so much a conscious process. The two [art and science] are so blended in my mind that I just do what I do. It’s really hard to describe. People ask me where I get my ideas, but I don’t have good answers for any of these things,” says Jones.
“Art is about emotion and science is about the intellect,” he says. “My mother was an artist and my father was a scientist. I’ve been trying to integrate the two all my life. I think they’re both necessary for a complete view of the world.”
On a recent day, a school group came through the museum for a field trip. “One boy put his face right up against the moray [eel],” says Goodell. “He was sort of dazed and said, ‘How do you guys do this? This is so cool!’ For me, that’s a lovely statement for why this place works.”
“Part of it is critical thinking without really realizing that you’re thinking,” she continues. “It’s all experimentation, and getting your brain to wrap around it.”
“I remember what it feels like to be nine years old,” says Jones. and this might just explain Mindport, after all. Jones has the intelligence of an engineer, the playfulness and eye of an artist, and the skills of a woodworker. All of these characteristics combine with the whimsey of a nine-year-old. He has an incredibly interesting mind, and Mindport is a tiny porthole into it.
Don’t let this city treasure pass you by. Housed in an unassuming tan building with a white sign above, new exhibits pop up unexpectedly. Three dollars will get you in the door, and it’s well worth it for the conversations sparked after your visit.
210 West Holly Street in Bellingham