The development on the Downtown Bellingham Waterfront has been the topic of much discussion over the past few years. In an effort to create a sense of place for residents in the area, Paper Whale is working to crowdsource public art and community engagement. 

Paper Whale’s speaker series began in June 2022 as an effort to bring Bellinghamsters together to design “unique and temporary installations” for the Waterfront. The series consisted of six dynamic artist-given keynotes that aimed to educate and inspire the attendees. 

“Our community is full of good ideas. However, ideas alone don’t manifest unless you take action to see [them] through. This is a call for the community to step up,” says Founder Nick Hartrich, who has been working to strengthen community partnerships in Bellingham for over 20 years. After being approached by the Port of Bellingham, he began Paper Whale in hopes that it would build community and infuse the development with a sense of place. 

Placemaking was the central theme of dialogue in the 2022 Paper Whale series. The hope is that by stoking local creatives’ passion, they can create artistic projects that would solidify Bellingham’s unique identity, and give residents a sense of ownership and pride in the Waterfront development. 

In the series’ first year, the signature speaker events were held at Flow Shala and were free to attend, with time for a mocktail and mingling before the keynote. The interpersonal connection was important to the series, to give Bellingham’s arts and culture community a hub to gather in. The events are designed to be “part inspiring TED Talk, part interactive art,” and featured live artists who worked on a collaborative Paper Whale installation during the evening (the installation will be unveiled to the community sometime this year). 

The speakers presented on different aspects of public art (i.e. murals, sculptures, arts festivals, and installations) and focused on the connection between their creations and community. The first talk was given by Gretchen Leggitt, an artist with 17 large-scale murals in and around Downtown Bellingham, and was titled “Start Small, Dream Big.” Other talks included “Community Activation Through Art” by Apache artist Kaplan Bunce and “Invitation & Iteration: Experiences That Connect People & Art” by Vancouver Mural Festival Co-Founder Adrian Sinclair. 

After the events, attendees were encouraged to submit their ideas to Paper Whale. Nearly 30 Waterfront project ideas were submitted during the series. Pay attention in 2023: After being examined by the Paper Whale Advisory Board, a handful will be selected and presented to the Port of Bellingham for possible adoption in the coming year. 

Hartrich believes in the viability of these projects thanks in part to the success of “Honoring the Salish Sea,” a large multi-panelled mural by artists Jason LaClair, Eagle Borsey, and Raven Borsey that Paper Whale directed the installation of. 

In 2023, Paper Whale hopes to continue the series, celebrate the unique artists and identity of Bellingham, and actualize projects on the Waterfront. 

“If people want to support Paper Whale, start by purchasing more art from local artists,” says Hartrich. “Support our Coast Salish artists from the Lummi and Nooksack tribes, and attend a Paper Whale event in 2023!”  

203 W. Chestnut St., Bellingham,