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Free First Fridays at the Whatcom Museum

Experience two exhibits and performances on the themes of Lummi storytelling, and healing and repair

Photos of the Whatcom Museum's two exhibits, which will be available at no cost during Free First Friday events. // Photos by William Morton

Aiming to engage and connect the Bellingham community, the Whatcom Museum is now hosting a plethora of events on the first Friday of every month, all for free. 

The Whatcom Museum will display intricately woven violin and storytelling narratives, traditional songs and dances from the Lummi Nation and a hand-curated exhibition expressing senses of healing and repair. 

Monique Kermin, a doctorate professor of African art, history and visual culture, explained that in recent years, there have been more discussions about the structural inequity of museums. She said she thinks that Free First Fridays are an exciting step toward the “democratization of this wonderful institution [Whatcom Museum] that is trying to serve the community.”

On Feb. 2, a performance from the Lummi Nation Blackhawk Singers will commence the free day at the museum’s Lightcatcher building from 11 to 11:30 a.m.

After that, the B’Ham School of Music will be teaching two parent-child language and motor skill developmental classes in the Family Interactive Gallery from 11:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 12 to 12:30 p.m.

Amy Chaloupka, curator of art at the Whatcom Museum, will then lead two tours from 1 to 2 p.m. and 3 to 4 p.m., walking an audience through the 72-piece biennial art exhibit “Acts of Healing and Repair.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic causing the Bellingham National Juried Art Exhibition to be skipped on the previous two-year cycle, the themes of healing and repair feel fitting.

“It felt very appropriate to think about how artists may be processing that period of time through their art,” Chaloupka said. She further explained that although people may not agree on the specific modes or methods of healing, artists are well-equipped to convey healing through their art. 

After Chaloupka’s curated tours, the Youth Advisory Council, a community engagement group comprised of teens with the mission of integrating youth into public health settings, will lead a tour of the “Acts of Healing and Repair” exhibit from 5:30 to 6:15 p.m.

Swil Kanim, a classically trained violinist and Lummi storyteller, will then round the day out with a composition in the Old City Hall building from 6 to 7 p.m.

Members of the Lummi Nation have been living on and around Bellingham’s land for thousands of years. Colonization, genocide and forced assimilation to Western culture are important aspects to recognize throughout history.

“When I was a kid,” began Kanim, “just the notion of history in general, let alone museums, it rarely looked at what was here before first contact with European Americans.”

“If art is a qualitative expression of being, my surviving the best efforts of genocide is a masterpiece,” Kanim said. “Music helped me to master the peace in my heart.”

The Whatcom Museum openly acknowledges and honors that we are gathered on traditional Lummi and Nooksack land.  

“There’s a tendency for people to dismiss past mistakes, and deny a future with that,” Kanim said. “But I believe that the [Whatcom] Museum as we know it right now is sincerely trying to change the narrative of history, starting with what is right now.”

The Whatcom Museum consists of three branches: the Lightcatcher building, which contains the Family Interactive Gallery; the Old City Hall building; and the Photo Archives building. 

The second free Friday will take place on Feb. 2, with the Lightcatcher and Old City Hall buildings being open from 12 to 9 p.m., while the Family Interactive Gallery will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Additionally, the Whatcom Museum will be providing headphones and other sensory tools for guests who may require accommodations. 

For those who can’t attend the free first Friday, the Whatcom Library also has a limited supply of free passes to the Spark Museum, located at 1312 Bay St.; the Whatcom Museum; and the Mindport Exhibits, located at 210 W. Holly St. Passes are available through their online portal, and allow up to four people access per pass.

William Morton

William Morton (he/him) is a third year news and editorial major reporting about city life for The Front this quarter. Outside of school, he enjoys playing the banjo and attempting to read Finnegans Wake. You can contact him at williammorton.thefront@gmail.

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