In Waypoint Park, an unexpected waterfront attraction is inviting local artists to spread the love. Valentine’s Day-themed art is showcased along all 780 feet of the wooden wall separating the sidewalk from ongoing construction.
Valentine's art is the latest prompt by the project's creator, Matt French. Spooky creatures have called the wall home since Halloween of 2022.
French's goal with a seasonally changing prompt is to get as many artists as possible involved in painting with him and give artists an opportunity to create on a larger scale.
At first, there was no plan for the wall. French just started painting. He then got in contact with the owners of the wall, the construction company who is building on the other side.
French got exclusive permission to paint the whole thing from the company. He made an executive decision to share that permission with other artists.
French is a freelance artist and graphic designer. He has been pursuing art for years and murals have been on his radar since he was young.
“I’ve been painting murals since the 90’s, and my mom had painted a mural in our living room,” he said in an email.
In October 2022, he wrote on the wall prompting artists to come and paint their spookiest Halloween art in any open spaces. Prior to this, the wall was a free-for-all with artworks but no overarching theme.
“Ultimately 780 feet is a lot of wall, so my goal is to share the wall with other artists by announcing prompts and inviting people to join me and paint whatever the given theme is,” French said.
The artists who contributed to the project were grateful for an opportunity to make a gloomy area more vibrant.
“Bellingham is a living, breathing organism. Public art is one of those ways we can help it thrive,” said Corinna Healey-Smith in an email, an artist who painted part of the wall for the Halloween theme in 2022.
Veda Loreen Allen, another local artist who worked on this project for the Halloween theme, recalls that it created a joyful environment between the smaller local artists working on it and even passersby.
“It’s fun because it draws people to that area," she said. "When I was painting down there, all my friends came and hung out with me while I was doing it. Some little kids would stop and watch me for a while; my friends were painting next to me."
Loreen Allen remembers her mom bringing down pizza when painting her Halloween creature. Everyone hanging out in the area gathered around to grab a piece.
Both Healey-Smith and Loreen Allen thought it was a great way to open up opportunities for smaller artists in the area.
“I've always wanted to do murals but never really had the opportunity, so French kind of gave everybody the opportunity to do that,” Loreen Allen said.
Loreen Allen is planning on adding another mural for the new Valentine’s theme. The first-come-first-serve aspect gives a variety of local artists a chance to leave their mark on the city.
“When I saw [French’s] post on Instagram, opening it up to the public to participate — I knew I had to be a part of it. I grew up in Bellingham and here was a chance to leave a tangible mark on my hometown for however long the work stayed up,” Healey-Smith said.
Award-winning mural artist Tamara Hergert, who is based in Seattle, says that murals can give color to a city when they look like they belong there.
“It always adds a splash of color and makes it less gray and more alive. It's kind of like adding a flower to the meadow,” she said.
Hergert has been painting murals since she was 17 and has built her professional career around doing what she loves: art.
“I have the Empowered Artists community where I bring artists together, and I teach them all I know and what I gather from other artists,” she said.
The City of Bellingham also has the One Percent for Art Program in recognition of the importance of incorporating art into the city.
This program means that any city capital improvement project which exceeds a budget of $2 million must dedicate 1% of the budget to art, said Shannon Taysi, program specialist for Bellingham’s Planning and Community Development Department.
Taysi says it brings art into places you normally wouldn’t see it.
“I feel like having public art makes art available to someone who doesn’t have the opportunity to make art a priority or the resources to go to a museum or pay to go see art,” she said.
French saw this project as a way to further bring together the community of Bellingham.
“Mainly, the prompts are just about having a unifying theme that we can all exercise our creativity on and enjoy how fun it is to make art together,” he said.
French takes pride in the project as a unique way for artists to share their work with the community through a constantly updated outdoor art gallery.
For the month of February, French invites artists to contribute to the mural with their own Valentine’s Day themed art.
Tristyn (she/they) is a city life reporter for The Front. They are planning on majoring in visual journalism. This is her second-year at Western. In Tristyn’s free time, they enjoy thrift shopping, being outside, going to music festivals and hanging out with her roommate’s cats.
You can reach them at Tristyn.email@example.com