Ian Bivins

As executive director Ian Bivins enters the small children’s theater in downtown Bellingham, he takes a moment and looks at the old fold-up chairs, scuffed wooden floors and creaky stage with a twinkle in his eye, as if he’s standing in a Broadway theater. Theater is his home, and always has been.

Bivins, 38, is now in his second year as executive director at the local nonprofit Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth. It includes pre-school, after-school enrichment programs, and youth theater productions for all ages, serving about 1,000 students in all. He oversees a staff of 10 full-time employees plus 20 dedicated parent volunteers with an annual operating budget of $384,678.

“The biggest challenge is seeing all the moving parts and helping them come into harmony with each other,” he said.

Started as a children’s choir in 2006, the operation has evolved and grown into the non-profit that Bivins runs today. He has been busy expanding after-school programs and engaging more with the community. In addition to his starring role in managing the complicated business side of running a nonprofit, Bivins plays a supporting role in every other aspect of BAAY.

Growing up in a theatrical family with a professional circus clown and part-time mime as his dad, Bivins jokes that he was “raised by a pack of mimes.” No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t deny his theatrical blood.

It was no simple journey for Bivins to end up as BAAY’s executive director. Teaching, performing and directing lead him across the country, internationally to Barcelona, and then back to Bellingham in 2010 when he returned to his college town and got involved with volunteering at BAAY.

In the spring of 2013, BAAY changed from a sole proprietorship to a nonprofit, and the former executive director retired shortly after this switch. After going through an extensive interview process, Bivins was selected for the executive director position in June 2016. He got right to work.

Bivins takes influence from his father’s profession as a clown to juggle all the constantly moving and changing parts of the organization. He is currently overseeing the upcoming mainstage production of “Oliver!” premiering Friday, June 1 at 7 p.m. at BAAY.

Bivins’ work hasn’t gone unnoticed in the community. Recently, BAAY was selected as one of the 12 organizations to be highlighted by the Community Food Co-Op’s 2018 Seed Program. Organizations highlighted in the program have been awarded approximately $1800 to $2300 in previous years, according to Community Food Co-op Board administrator Jean Rogers. BAAY will be honored during the month of June and will receive 2 percent of the Co-op’s combined sales from all three locations on June 16, as well as donations accepted all month long at the registers.

“Nonprofits are born and die every day. To actually take something that is a really great idea and fulfills a niche in the community—and make sure it has longevity—requires some future thinking and fiscal strategy,” Bivins said. Bivins has big dreams for BAAY. Arts education shouldn’t be viewed as a luxury, but just as important as other school work, said Bivins.

Between balancing the management of the organization, arts-based preschool, EduArts, and taking care of the tenants a floor up from the office space who rent from BAAY, Bivins manages to even direct his own shows at BAAY.

“I wouldn’t have told you four years ago that I would be in arts administration,” said Bivins, “but I think it’s a good fit for me.”

1059 N. State St., Bellingham

360.306.8531 | baay.org

"Growing up in a theatrical family with a professional circus clown and part-time mime as his dad, Bivins jokes that he was 'raised by a pack of mimes.'"