A dark gray building with bright teal trim nestled between restaurants in downtown Bellingham is home to one of the town’s lesser-known artistic gems. This is Make.Shift Art Space.
Through the front door lies an art gallery with mixed media pieces displayed on the walls and floor. Down the hallway is an eclectic array of rooms, including offices, studios and classrooms. Downstairs, a maze of music and mixed-media art studios fill the dark basement with life.
Riley Currie, director of outreach for Make.Shift, describes the space as an art gallery, music venue, radio station home, open studio, rental practice space and host of community education programs and workshops.
The main attraction is a performance space with an elevated stage and plenty of space for a decent sized crowd. A further venture into the building uncovers a woodworking room, practice studios and a large, bedroom-sized art installation.
Currie said somehow, it seems much of Bellingham is still unaware of what goes on within this nonprofit organization. She continued that unless someone has been there for a show, they likely don’t know about the rest of the space.
Currie said the term “Art Space” means more than just a gallery.
“We're a place to come look at art, a place to come make art or a place to listen to art,” Currie said.
Make.Shift’s origin stems from two projects that ran for a few years beginning in 2008: a community-use tour bus and a rentable bike-powered generator for concerts. From there, it has grown into a multifaceted community-based arts center.
Make.Shift has few explicit rules. Posted throughout the building are signs reading “No Booze, No Drugs, No Jerks.” These policies have inspired an all-ages space.
Sarah Lane, a Make.Shift board member, is also a teacher and has her own art featured in the gallery.
Lane explains that Make.Shift sees parents, kids, older adults and kids of all ages. She believes the vast range of ages they reach allows for a beautifully unique experience and connection between different generations.
“To create with people from different generations with different ideas and innovations is extremely rewarding, fulfilling and nourishing,” Lane said.
As a self-described soon-to-be 52-year-old, Lane appreciates the connections Make.Shift has provided her with.
“Because Make.Shift has that intergenerational aspect and is a safe space for all people, I have been able to sit with people and feel really safe with where I'm at in life,” Lane said.
In addition to intergenerational connections, Currie said Make.Shift also focuses on the goal of prioritizing art and music from historically underrepresented groups, especially within their radio station, 94.9 KZAX . She said they spotlight local artists in genres like hip-hop that aren’t otherwise played on mainstream radio.
Currie said these focuses are in efforts to increase accessibility to art and bring the community together.
“Art and music naturally foster community,” she said.
Lane believes that art is integral to life.
“Arts are really important to us and healing,” Lane said. She believes art can help us move through things, learn to communicate, see different perspectives on today's issues and develop empathy.
Xandra Blackburn, art gallery coordinator at Allied Arts of Whatcom County, shares this sentiment.
“I think that art is the epitome of human culture,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn also said she believes access to art has become even more necessitated for growing minds by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think that it helps build psychological resilience when you have access to creativity and expression especially,” Blackburn said.
Lane enjoys displaying her art at Make.Shift because it challenges and pushes her from her comfort zone.
Currie said that safe spaces for intergenerational connections without a religious aspect can be hard to come by. Make.Shift encompasses so many different things with a focus on bringing the community together in as many ways as possible. They hope to continue to reach further audiences and increase accessibility into arts.
Anyone interested in finding out more about Make.Shift can visit the space Thursday-Saturday 1-6 p.m. or join their poster making workshop on Saturday, Nov. 5.
Make.Shift’s workshop lineup includes “How to write an artist statement’ and “Intro to the stage: sights, sounds and principals in a DIY venue” all just $10 with sliding scale pricing.
Make.Shift’s gallery has just wrapped its Uncanny Valley show, which ran from Oct. 7-30. They are currently accepting applications for their 2023 gallery year and encourage artists of all ages and experience levels to apply.