Bellingham’s Bay Street Studios Studios may seem unassuming from the outside looking in, but if you frequent First Friday art walks, you already know that the interior is home to a vibrant (and growing) arts community. This includes Synapse Gallery, a studio/event space that’s quickly becoming a hub for Bellingham creatives.

Synapse is owned and operated by Jax Mildner (Fine Art Jax, and Sienna Dawn (, both of whom are painters. Mildner’s fluid abstractions often focus on themes of biomimicry, or repeating organic patterns that feel familiar. Her work is an abstract expression of the natural world. She’s been painting for seven years and opened Synapse with Dawn in April 2022. Now, they’re in the process of turning the gallery into an event space and are planning to host group art shows this summer.

Dawn is also a working artist as well as a graphic designer with Golden Hour Design Studio. Unlike Mildner, Dawn makes mostly representational work, though her stylistic touch shines through in the form of expressive, gestural brushstrokes. Even her landscapes have a playfulness about them, with bright color palettes that serve as a visual antidote to dreary PNW weather.

Mildner and Dawn’s styles might sound opposed on paper, but in practice, they complement each other exceptionally well. Both women create art with a strong sense of flow, taking inspiration from the natural world as well as the ecology and landscape of the Pacific Northwest. But placing their work in the same space isn’t just an aesthetic decision; it also informs the artists’ creative processes.

“Having each other’s energy here is important. We critique each other’s paintings and help each other hang the gallery,” Mildner says. “Sometimes being alone in a studio can get lonely, and so having somebody else to bounce ideas off … has been really grounding.”

In addition to working alongside each other, both women are eager to draw the wider Bellingham community into the gallery— both as viewers and active participants. Mildner says she initially felt on the outside of Bellingham’s art scene. With Synapse, however, she and Dawn both underline that art shouldn’t be exclusive.

“One of my favorite things about making art is not necessarily the process,” Dawn says. “It’s when it hangs on the wall, and somebody who has never seen it before is struck by it and looks to the person next to them, and starts that conversation. It’s like the conversation that’s instigated by the artwork is actually the purpose, because then it generates a new idea that wouldn’t otherwise come into the world.”

In other words, art spaces are important in and of themselves— but the real magic happens when the community engages with them. This is why Mildner and Dawn are active participants in art walks, and they also plan to bring in other featured artists’s work into the studio in the coming months. Synapse also holds regular meet-ups for femme-identifying folks and has hosted events ranging from concerts to the Paper Whale series (

Perhaps most excitingly, Synapse is even rentable for a reasonable fee on Peerspace. Renters are welcome to host all manner of happenings, whether it be a private book club, a birthday party, or even a solo show for an up-and-coming artist.

Thanks to these efforts, Dawn and Mildner have an active hand in making Bellingham’s post-COVID arts scene more accessible and inclusive. Mildner also notes that this culture is still growing— and we all can have an active hand in nurturing it.

“Everyone’s welcome,” Mildner says. “You don’t have to be a successful artist. You don’t have to be making money as an artist. No barriers, no payto-play; there’s no system here. I think that that’s the way we’re moving— and I’m going to be intentional, going forward, that we keep that energy alive.”