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Piece from May Art Walk, on May 2, 2020 in Bellingham, Wash. // Illustration by Hannah Lewis

By Sela Marino

On the first Friday of every month, Downtown Bellingham Partnership puts on an Art Walk, according to their website. 

 Starting in April they decided to move the artwalk online, as mentioned on their Instagram page.

“Our initial reaction was to cancel April's Art Walk but I became inspired by an idea to think about virtual concepts,” said Lindsey Johnstone, Downtown Bellingham Partnership event director. “We invited artists, makers and downtown businesses to create a virtual, collaborative experience through their social media platforms.”

Johnstone also said that the idea was to create a virtual event to support local artists, galleries and retailers impacted by the necessary closures and social distancing. 

“Artists and businesses joined in by using the hashtag #virtualbhamartwalk on Facebook and Instagram to share their work and sell items, the same as you would at a typical art walk,” Johnstone said. “Venues were asked to inform buyers on ways to receive their purchases, whether that’s in the mail, or at curbside or drop-off locations.”

Traditionally, art walks were held in person, and people would travel from place to place viewing artworks together, but due to COVID-19, people cannot gather in large groups.

May was the children's art walk and was coordinated by Allied Artists of Whatcom County.

“Make.Shift is a regular for Allied Arts, Art Walk Fridays. We like to participate in any way we can,” Make.Shift Gallery Director, Ellie Olson, said. “They made the executive decision to switch our long time community event to a virtual format and we were happy and excited to participate.”

Gallery Intern, Hannah Lewis, was able to participate in this art walk. According to Lewis, when an artist drops out, people who work in the gallery can take their spot. Lewis hasn't been in an art walk since high school.

Lewis said since this was a kids art walk, artists can respond to kids' work.

“It pushes people as an artist to step out of their boundaries,” Lewis said. 

Lewis specifically drew her  piece, edited it and uploaded it. Lewis said that the virtual art walk was super different than in person.

“Usually on opening night you can see people and friends live and there’s snacks, it’s not as exciting,” Lewis said. “But it’s way less stressful, not having people look at your work and judging it. There’s positives and negatives.” 

Lewis said she’s not sure if the virtual art walk will continue, but until July, the art walks will be posted online even if it is over.

“In the gallery, we don’t get much feedback,” Lewis said. “There’s less interaction and not as many people will search out the online gallery. I haven’t heard any direct feedback.”

“It's been a little trickier to pin everything down but I think we're adjusting pretty well under the circumstances,” Olson said.

Olson said the biggest difference is the installation. Instead of meeting with the artists to collect their work and hang everything, it's more about waiting on emails. 

“It's been overall really great,” Olson said. “People are really happy to have entertaining content to view right now and we've gotten a lot of compliments.”

Olson said that some people were disappointed that the art walk wouldn't be in person, because this one especially has a wide variation of mediums and it's best to see it all in person.

Olson said that they’ve managed to come together as a community and pull something great out of a bad situation.

Johnstone said that they relied on #virtualbhamartwalk to feature participants and artists.

“People joined in by showcasing products using Instagram live, painting live on canvas and posting on their own pages,” Johnstone said.

Johnstone said when the word COVID-19 was still fresh in peoples' vocabulary, Downtown Bellingham Partnership decided to pivot, and embraced the opportunity to continue supporting downtown businesses, artists and makers. 

“Even though attendees can't physically participate in Art Walk, there are numerous ways to continue taking a virtual stroll together,” Johnstone said.

Johnstone said that all the engagement was online and it was great to see the community come together in that way.

“The virtual Art Walk was well received,” Johnstone said. “It was a great opportunity for sales and community connection.”

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