Campaign launched to fund downtown performance space


Local performing arts groups struggle to find space in Bellingham that is affordable, appropriately sized and designed for their art. Often they modify their productions to accommodate the limitations of available performance spaces. In need of appropriate performance space, some of Bellingham's groups find they must produce their shows outside of Bellingham. As one artist bluntly puts it "We end up solving the room, instead of doing our art."

We recently joined a group of artists and community members determined to create a new performing arts space to fill the need and create more possibilities in our community. Led by Pam Kuntz, artistic director of Kuntz and Company, the Commercial Street Theatre Project intends to renovate a vacant, city-owned space under the Parkade on Commercial Street into a 200-seat, state-of-the-art performing arts venue. In addition to presenting music, dance, and theater, the space will also host community organizations, classes and educational programs.

Over the last two years we have met with city officials, architects, community members and various arts groups to determine the best way to serve our community. Several months ago the City Council voted unanimously to approve our proposal. They agreed with us that artists need affordable space downtown to create and perform and the city needs a new economic engine in an area of downtown that is ripe for revitalization. A recent study found that Whatcom County arts patrons spend an average of $14 per event (on top of ticket sales) on food, drink and other purchases in the city. This new venue will bring more than $250,000 in ancillary spending to downtown, so it is not surprising that most downtown businesses are excited for this performance center to become a reality. The community of artists in Bellingham and beyond also supports us. Bellingham's The Neighborhood Playhouse produces shows for kids and their families. Artistic director Lizanne Schader sums up the common refrain: "It's time for Bellingham to support its own impressive community of artists! The Neighborhood Playhouse would finally be able to spend our time researching, rehearsing and producing plays rather than seeking out available space from venues that aren't really appropriate to what we do."

We are fortunate to have strong support for the arts in Bellingham. We, as a city, have done well to support our theaters large and small and should continue to do so. We see the Commercial Street Theatre Project as a community partner who is committed to expanding the variety of art that is available to Bellingham audiences.

"Northwest Ballet Theater has been successful each year with its larger performances like The Nutcracker at Mount Baker Theater and McIntyre Hall," observed John Bishop, artistic director of Northwest Ballet Theatre, "but we would like to do smaller and more affordable programs as well and Commercial Street Theatre looks to be a perfect venue for those."

Local performing groups, which include organizations that serve children, should be able to present work without going into debt. Our new performance space will offer artists and audiences something that doesn't exist yet in Bellingham -- a 200-seat theater with affordable rates, state-of-the-art acoustics, lighting and a sprung dance floor.

It will cost approximately $600,000 to renovate the space.

Our lease with the city states that we must raise $300,000 by Aug. 1, 2013.

We are launching an ambitious crowd-funding campaign this week and this is where the rubber meets the road.

If we fail to meet our goal of $300,000, our lease becomes null and void and this theater will not be realized.

You can help cultivate a thriving, supportive community for all audiences and artists by going to our website at to learn more.

Then support your Bellingham community by donating to our campaign.

Together, we can create a vibrant performing arts center that serves our local artists, families and audiences.


Kathy Buford and Steve Lyons are Commercial Street Theatre Project volunteers. Lyons is a playwright and on the board of Kuntz and Company. Buford has performed with Kuntz and Company.

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