Downtown Arts District, Bellingham, Washington

2ATMCG4 Whatcom Museum, Lightcatcher Building in Bellingham, Washington state, USA

BY NANCY MUELLER 

The next time you need an art boost, visit the vibrant Downtown Arts District of Bellingham, Washington. From art studios, self-guided trails and galleries to performance halls, museums and more, the small scenic community offers plenty of culturally diverse venues to explore. 

Start at the historic Hotel Leo to capture the essence of days gone by infused with a contemporary reimagining. Once the heart of the city’s social scene in the Roaring ‘20s, the hotel has been completely transformed into a beautiful 31-room showpiece while retaining its original architectural splendor. 

For another peek into Bellingham’s illustrious past, Whatcom Museum offers a blend of the old with the new in two separate complexes, each recognized as “the traditional territory of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi People) and the Nuxwsá7aq (Nooksack People) who have lived in the region from time immemorial.” Bellingham resident and enrolled member of Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation, Rena Priest, is Washington State’s first Indigenous Poet Laureate. 

Renowned for its Victorian cupolas and central clock tower, Whatcom Museum’s Old City Hall building features the town’s logging and maritime history through photos, video footage, artifacts, and interactive displays. Also on site, John M. Edson Hall of Birds displays over 500 mounted birds with descriptions of migration patterns and natural habitats. 

Head to Whatcom Museum’s second site, Lightcatcher, for rotating fine art exhibitions and an exploration of Northwest tribal cultures in “People of the Sea and Cedar.” So named for its wondrous capture of sunlight in a translucent wall 37 feet high and 180 feet long, Lightcatcher also houses the museum gift shop and Family Interactive Gallery (FIG). Before leaving, stop by Bar Cicotti for a bite and beverage featuring both Italian classics and locally sourced ingredients. 

Recharge at SPARK Museum, a comprehensive collection of authentic historical artifacts and hands-on activities designed to enlighten visitors to the marvels of electricity and early technology. Tubes, transmitters and telephones are among the featured devices. Step within the ever-popular nine-foot-tall MegaZapper Cage for an insider’s view of mesmerizing lightning bolts. 

Nearby Pickford Film Center and historic Mount Baker Theatre attract film buffs and theater lovers alike. Whether seeking an intimate movie experience of foreign, independent or documentary films, or live performance revues ranging from classical to pop and rock, visitors can enjoy a range of compelling artistic works at each venue. 

Still in need of an art fix? Engage with the local arts and culture scene with your own customized itinerary available with the Whatcom Culture Crawl Pass covering 11 different venues within Bellingham’s Downtown Arts District and beyond. 

For more information, visit bellingham.org.