Celebrating artists’ works from around the country, Bellingham National biennial art show returned to the Whatcom Museum on Nov. 11, 2023 after a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program debuted in 2015 and features a new theme for each exhibit.
The 2023 theme, “Acts of Healing and Repair,” is meant to explore the ideas of trauma and recovery through various mediums such as painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, ceramics, and more.
“Because of the theme, the artworks are incredibly personal and moving,” said Whatcom Museum Curator of Art Amy Chaloupka in an email. “One can find so much to relate to and empathize with.”
Seventy-seven works were chosen from almost 1,000 submissions from artists around the U.S. by Portland Art Museum’s Curator of Art Grace Kook-Anderson. Kook-Anderson is the guest judge narrowing down the final three winners who win cash prizes up to $2,500, with the first place winner winning a future solo exhibition at Whatcom Museum.
The winners were announced during the opening reception on Nov. 11, with Io Palmer claiming the first-place prize. Federico Cuatlacuatl and Renee Noelle Cheesman won second and third place, respectively.
Visitors of the museum can cast votes for the People’s Choice Award, which comes with a cash prize of $500, until the exhibit closes.
Though there is a monetary award system, having their work on display is a reward in itself. Chaloupka said that the exhibit is an opportunity for local artists to showcase the vibrant Bellingham art scene, as well as learn more about out-of-town artists and their homes.
“The most exciting thing is seeing all the places museum guests are from,” Chaloupka said. “For this exhibition in particular, we’re featuring works by both long-established and up-and-coming artists from around the country, many of whom have never shown their work in Washington state before.”
Kelly Hart, executive director of Allied Arts, said they are excited for Bellingham’s art scene to be put on display.
Allied Arts is a Bellingham-based nonprofit that organizes art events and provides art education for local schoolchildren and has operated for over 40 years.
Hart said that the organization encourages artists to include work in public exhibits such as Bellingham National. She said that while not involved in its planning or operation, Allied Arts is supportive of the event, trying to promote it where it can.
“We try to encourage any opportunity for [Bellingham] artists, especially when it has such recognition as the museum,” Hart said. “We’ve got a really great variety of opportunities here. A little bit of everything.”
Allied Arts frequently sponsors galleries for artists in the area. Visitors can find upcoming events and programs here.
For some, Bellingham National is the first time that their work will be displayed in an exhibit.
This is the case for Devon Dille, a Western student artist working on her bachelor of fine arts in studio art. She mainly works on drawings, acrylics and ink with themes of mythology and magic. Dille was chosen to have a piece in the exhibit after being assigned to apply for a juried exhibition by her professor.
Dille said she is looking forward to meeting other artists and experts to help build connections in the community and showing how she used this year’s theme to make her art.
“There’s a lot of connections to still be made,” Dille said. “My piece deals with the grieving process and letting go of attachments as a part of healing.”
Another Bellingham-based artist who will present her work at the exhibit for the first time is Nicki Lang, a professional artist who said she is thrilled to have the chance to expose Bellingham’s art scene to the country.
“[The local art community] is a very generous community,” Lang said. “I feel like there isn’t a competitive feeling among artists in Bellingham. It’s all cooperative, a great sense of comradery.”
Lang uses a palette knife for much of her work, which is a tool that is usually used for mixing paint but can also be used in lieu of a brush to create thick textures and blends that might not be possible with a normal paintbrush.
“For me, art has been an important factor in my healing journey, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how other people interpret healing with different mediums,” Lang said. “It’s a gorgeous space, I’m really excited to see how the show is put together.”
The exhibit will be available for the public until Feb. 24, 2024, at the Whatcom Museum Lightcatcher Building at 250 Flora St.
Logan Schreiber (he/him) is a fourth-year student going into the PR Journalism program. He enjoys writing and music, hoping to do both for his career. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.