When Mindport Exhibits Creative Director Margot Stroop put out a call for proposals in the summer of 2023 for an upcoming exhibit, she heard from more than 40 applicants — ultimately, 13 artist were chosen. No doubt the theme of the proposed exhibit was instrumental in the number of interested artists who responded.

“Dream House: dwelling in fantasy” explores the theme of housing insecurity from the viewpoints of the artists working across many mediums. Mindport, in the heart of downtown Bellingham at 210 West Holly Street, has certainly seen the housing crisis literally on its front doorstep.

Following are some of the questions Stroop says the artists’ works represent:

What happens to the human psyche when the material realities of modern living deny people the chance to become established in a physical place?

Who builds and cleans our houses, and can those people find dwellings of their own?

What toll is taken when daily living activities can’t be conducted with the dignity of a private interior space?

Who has the right to live in comfort and safety, and who doesn’t?

Eight of the chosen artists have current or former ties to Bellingham; five from this group live and work here, while three have relocated because of rapidly increasing housing prices or an inability to find an available rental. Two of the artists are regional — one lives in Spokane, and the other is from White Rock, B.C. Two more are outside of the region and one artist has passed away since planning began for the exhibit.

As with every showing inside Mindport, there’s always a display in the front window of the venue that engages passers-by.

Bellingham artist Amy Simons’ print — titled ‘a house is just for looking’ — is currently on view. Because it resides behind the glass front windows of MindPort, it can only be seen from the outside. Simons describes the print as: “A house without entry, made entirely of woodcut prints depicting windows but conspicuously lacking doors. Constructed with lightweight paper and suspended, the house is always moving, unstable and precarious/at night the house is illuminated from within, transforming into a lantern room but remaining unattainable — a beacon of a false promise.”

Bellingham’s Heather Strawn Fitzstrawn describes her work: “After moving many times as a child and young adult, as well as post-divorce, I am well versed and comfortable with letting go of objects and keeping the necessary few. Yet, what I have come to realize is that there are a few things I need to call my space home.”

After moving many times as a child and young adult, Bellingham artist Heather Strawn Fitzstrawn is well versed and comfortable with letting go of objects and keeping the necessary few. Photo courtesy Mindport Exhibits

Quilts, childhood photos, pictures of her sons, treasures found in Oaxaca, handmade mugs made by a dear friend, wool slippers, old letters and books, pieces of art, a green glass lamp that belonged to her grandparents, specific plants, and some of her favorite sweaters: these objects, she says, constitute home.

“I’m very fortunate to have what I do, compared to too many in our town, yet I’m also concerned for my lack of security, not owning my home,” she says. “Through pencil, watercolor, ink, and stitching, I’m attempting to depict what brings me joy and makes me feel at home, whether it’s in my own or at a friend’s place: a carefully curated wall of art, a well-placed plant, or a treasured book.”

Marie Songer’s contribution features photos by Lucas Reilly of buildings and spaces in downtown Bellingham that are currently vacant. “Bellingham is no stranger to empty and unused properties,” she says.

Downtown is peppered with commercial properties available for rent that remain closed — boarded, locked, or surrounded by barbed wire — sometimes for years on end. “Often,” Marie says, “these unused properties are within blocks of homeless encampments and sleeping bags can be seen in the doorways or on the sidewalks outside.”

Marie’s works feature an interactive opportunity for visitors in which they can use worksheets to “dream a new downtown landscape” and to “imagine how these unused spaces could be repurposed to serve the unhoused community.” After the exhibit, these worksheets will be mailed to the property owners.

Bellingham photographer Eric Boekelheide’s aim is “to take the viewer to a place of calm introspective beauty in a subject matter that may at first be seen as repulsive or fearful.”

Eric Boekelheide’s recent work has concentrated on solitary street life in the Pacific Northwest, including Bellingham. This work is titled “Shelter on the Street.” Photo courtesy Mindport Exhibits

His recent work has concentrated on solitary street life in the Pacific Northwest, providing a natural documentation of the area’s ongoing battle with the housing crisis.

In his artist statement, Eric says it’s not uncommon to see people carrying their possessions in a wagon or on their back, elderly and children sometimes in tow. “It’s not uncommon to see easily replaceable belongings hastily discarded on the street.”

Because Mindport welcomes visitors of all ages there is, in addition to the visual works, a collection of books curated by Tallie Jones and Kira Schwerzler in the adjoining reading room. The books describe the human scale of this crisis, the safety and comfort that we all seek in shelter, and address the historical factors that have led to the difficult situation we now face. Some offer ways of explaining the difficult topic to young children, while others explore potential solutions.

“My hope in curating this exhibit was to make a space for artists to communicate their own experiences,” Stroop says, “and thus to show many facets of the housing crisis.”

She also hopes for a shift in cultural consciousness towards an understanding that shelter is a basic human right. “Perhaps ‘Dream House’ can support actions that are useful, compassionate, creative, and equitable. I hope that, soon, we can begin to see the collective benefits of alleviating suffering and to work together, so that everyone can be sheltered.”

The exhibit runs through fall 2024.

Stroop says she’s applying for future locations for the collection as it is, or perhaps as it evolves. So, if you’re looking for a selection of professionally crafted works complete with thoughtful writing in both English and Spanish for an art space in your community, please reach out.

You can explore more of the artists and their works from the exhibit on the Mindport Exhibits Facebook page. For more details, please visit www.mindport.org.

Mindport Exhibits
210 Holly Street in downtown Bellingham

Phone: 360.647.5614
Email: infomp@mindport.org

Wednesday 12 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Thursday 12 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Friday 12 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.

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