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Bellingham
Friday, May 14, 2021

Let your city pride fly

It’s in Macklemore’s hands at the Wild Buffalo. It’s in Washington, D.C., waving at the Women’s March. It’s on the summit of Mount Shuksan. It’s flying from the flagpole at Aslan Brewing Company. It’s hanging in student dorm rooms and is scattered around downtown storefronts.

It’s the green-striped, unofficial flag of Bellingham, designed by Western alumnus Brad Lockhart. Since winning the Downtown Bellingham Partnership’s casual flag design competition in March 2016, Lockhart partnered with local businesses and worked with city and tribal governments to make the flag official.

The flag’s widespread success began with Lockhart’s first test on Kickstarter, an online funding platform for creative projects. His ultimate goal? Selling 50 flags in one month.

Lockhart’s project sold 50 flags in six hours. The flag campaign on Kickstarter ended in July 2016, with 175 backers pledging $7,672 to bring the project to life.

More than 500 flags have sold since the Kickstarter project ended, as well as an abundance of flag merchandise ranging from hats to pint glasses.

“I think it’s a good idea because it does give us nationalism for our city. It brings us together. I think that’s a really good thing to have in a community and a country that we are united and have common ground.”

Red Eldred

“I feel like maybe people didn’t even realize that they wanted [a flag] until it started popping up and then they were like, ‘Oh, this is awesome,’” Lockhart said. “But it does beg the question, why do we need a flag if we haven’t had one for 112 years? But I also ask the question, why not?”

Lockhart said he wasn’t sure what the equation was for the flag’s popularity, but he guessed it might be because of a new, locally-focused perspective.

“Maybe 10 years ago, this wouldn’t have happened,” Lockhart said. “We didn’t have that local-centric attitude. It’s just the right time.” 

Bellingham is one of 60 U.S. cities in the process of improving their current flag or adopting a new one. Lockhart said the Bellingham flag’s widespread popularity has inspired other cities to re-vamp their own flags, but not all have achieved the same success.

Lockhart took inspiration from a TED Talk by Roman Mars, the host of a short radio show about design called “99% Invisible.” Mars talks about vexillology, the study of flags, and how flags can be a vessel for community spirit.

The Bellingham flag on display at The Black Drop Coffeehouse. // Photo courtesy of Brad Lockhart

“The marriage of good design and civic pride is something we need in all places. The best part about municipal flags is that we own them,” Mars said during his TED Talk. “When they are done well, they are remixable, adaptable and they are powerful. A great city flag is something that represents a city to its people and its people to the world at large. And when that flag is a beautiful thing, that connection is a beautiful thing.”

Not only is the flag visually appealing, its symbolism tells the story of Bellingham’s unique history.

Four green horizontal stripes represent the four original settlements that joined to become Bellingham. The blue half circle represents Bellingham Bay.

The three wavy lines represent the Nooksack word “Whatcom,” which roughly translates to “noisy waters,” or “water dripping hard and fast.” The lines also allude to the Nooksack Chief Whatcom and the mouth of the Whatcom Creek. When flown vertically, the flag is a depiction of Whatcom Falls.

The flag’s two white, four-pointed stars pay homage to Bellingham’s coastal Salish tribes: the Nooksack and the Lummi.

The Nooksack Tribal Council voted unanimously in support of the design and sent Lockhart the resolution in September 2016. The Lummi Nation has yet to send any official response.

Bellingham City Council Member Pinky Vargas discussed their progress on flag adoption in a city council meeting Monday, Jan. 23.

Councilmembers had Peter Ruffatto, the city attorney, research legal guidelines of adopting the flag. Ruffatto also looked into the intellectual property of the flag, since it was not created by the city.

“Peter met with Bradley, the designer, and he gave over all of it. He very gleefully said: ‘you can have this intellectual property if you choose to adopt this as your flag,’” Vargas said.

Vargas said the council will continue to consider whether to adopt it officially or unofficially. The council may also create a survey to collect local public opinion on the matter.

District 2 Commissioner of the Port of Bellingham, Mike McAuley, feels confident the city will adopt the flag.

McAuley watched Lockhart present the flag to the city council in August 2016.

Brad Lockhart poses on top of the Faith Life building Sept. 2, 2016. // Photo courtesy of Tommy Calderon

“I was sitting upstairs during the presentation, thinking to myself, there’s no way they’re not going to do it now,” McAuley said. “I think it’s got enough groundswell and there’s enough push for it.”

McAuley likes Lockhart’s flag design so much he decided to paint it on the back of his box truck last summer.

Freshman Red Eldred also appreciates the idea of a city flag.

“I think it’s a good idea because it does give us nationalism for our city. It brings us together,” Eldred said. “I think that’s a really good thing to have in a community and a country that we are united and have common ground.”

In the meantime, Lockhart will continue his work animating a Christian children’s cartoon as well as visiting school events as a speaker. Lockhart has worked with kids in the Boys and Girls Club, Whatcom Middle School and will volunteer at a high school art career fair in April.

Lockhart said no one spoke about art as a career field during his schooling at Mount Baker High School.

“Nobody ever told me that you can be a professional artist in this way,” Lockhart said. “Even something like this could get into somebody’s head like ‘Oh, it actually is very possible to have a creative, professional job.’ That’s why I want to do it.”

Although the flag still awaits official city approval, its quick popularity rise has shown us one thing for certain: the people of Bellingham will not let their new flag disappear.

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