Lightcatcher: They did it right

When I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago, celebrating the opening of the new Lightcatcher Building addition to the Whatcom Museum, I hadn’t yet set foot in the place. It was clear enough from the photos in the Bellingham Herald and on the museum’s website that the architecture of the building and its largest inaugural exhibit were very promising. But, you never know with a project like this in a town with a population of 75,000, a town more associated with fishing and logging than fine art.

Well, I’ve now paid a visit and I’m thrilled to report that, in my opinion, the Whatcom Museum, the City of Bellingham, and the private benefactors who worked together to make this happen clearly hit the ball out of the park. The fact that visiting the museum was a great experience, not just for me, but for my wife, and more importantly my 12-year old son, says a lot about what, specifically, was done right here.

The facility is a class act, offering a sleek, stylish atmosphere in an eco-friendly building, very impressive, high-quality works of art, and a wonderful Family Interactive Gallery (FIG) with, um, interactive exhibits for youth of all ages.

I was particularly struck by the number of works on display in the various rooms. Somehow, my biggest fear for the museum was that, with so much expense and attention going towards the building, that the actual collections would be sparse and marginal. Not the case at all. As is my usual experience with contemporary art, I don’t always appreciate or “get” everything I see, but, truly, there were very few pieces that made me roll my eyes and shrug off as not worthy of my time. Overall, the experience was one of artists reaching for a creative vision. The attempt might not always be successful, but I can at least admire the effort.

I did hear one complaint from a parent that the FIG was a disappointing replacement for the former Children’s Museum, which admittedly did offer a larger space, more stuff, and more opportunities for getting physical. Yet, I always felt that some of the exhibits in the former space were often too obviously put together on a shoestring budget. Oh, they were inventive and wonderful in their own way, and the folks who worked so hard on them deserve a lot of credit and appreciation. However, the old would not have worked alongside the new. For the long-term success of the Whatcom Museum, the FIG needed to be cleaner, more modern.

Time will tell, of course, and much future success will depend on choices made on future exhibits. For instance, when I asked how often new exhibits might come along, the answer was something like a couple times a year. I’m not sure that this will be sufficient if they want to keep people coming, especially if they want people to come back repeatedly, and it seems like the best way to sustain their success is via the financial support of return visitors.

For now, I’m pretty darned proud of our town.


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