All-ages shows on hold as Bellingham music, arts nonprofit gets up to code


BELLINGHAM - A local music and arts nonprofit has had to halt all-ages shows at its downtown venue after a fire inspection found the basement didn't have enough exits.

The owners of the building occupied by Make.Shift Art Space are working with the city to create a new emergency exit so the nonprofit can get back to hosting shows. Meanwhile, Make.Shift is hoping to raise $20,000 by Aug. 26 to cover a rent increase for its space at 306 Flora St.

Make.Shift moved into the space about two years ago and has been hosting three to five all-ages shows per month in its 7,000-square-foot basement, which is also home to art and music studios. A fire inspection in April found that the basement needed an additional exit to be up to code. Right now, there are stairs that lead down to the basement from the first floor and a roll-up garage door that leads out of the basement.

"It's a pretty big hit to the all-ages scene to not have Make.Shift," said its director, Cat Sieh said. "Aside from Western (Washington University) and maybe Boundary (Bay Brewery & Bistro), there's no solid place for people under 21 to see live music at this point."

The plan is to build an emergency exit that will start in the basement with stairs to the main floor and a short, fire-protected corridor that exits to the outside, said David Johnston, who owns the building with Bob Hall of Daylight Properties. The plan they submitted to the city permit center was accepted Wednesday, July 17, and it's now in the review process, he said. City building official Jim Tinner said that it could take between a few days to a week or two to get that review complete.

Between the new exit, a new monitored fire alarm system and other improvements, the project will cost more than $35,000, Johnston said. The owners also need to establish a 99-person occupancy for the basement, and Tinner said that once construction is complete and approved, the city will issue a certificate of occupancy.

"For the last 10 years there have been music shows going on down here and artists creating art and music in the basement. That's been going on openly and other inspections haven't had an issue with that," Johnston said. "What we're proposing is not a change of use. It's just making sure that everyone is on board with what's been happening in that basement openly for the past 10 years and to make it more safe."

Sieh said time was of the essence in order to maintain momentum with the nonprofit's volunteers. Since the inspection, the venue hasn't been able to host live music, though artists and musicians still have been able to use the studios, and the first-floor gallery has been open.

She was optimistic that the nonprofit would be able to raise the money, and she expects Make.Shift's programs will be able to generate enough revenue to cover the rent increase in the long term. The group had raised more than $2,000 by Thursday, July 18.

"Make.Shift has put in so much effort to make sure we create a positive, healthy art and music hub," Sieh said. "We think our patrons will put in the effort to make sure we get over this hurdle to help us stay here."


To help Make.Shift raise $20,000 to cover a rent increase as it faces improvements required by a recent fire inspection, go to The Make.Shift Block Party also will raise money to pay for increased rent. The event runs from 2 to 9 p.m. Saturday, July 27, on Flora Street and will include a beer garden, food, local music and games.

Reach Zoe Fraley at 360-756-2803 or

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