BAMF kicks off season at B’Ham Oasis: Lookout Arts Quarry

Story by The Crossing Guide - Photos by Willow

The Lookout Arts Quarry, located on a 61-acre site previously operated as an industrial rock quarry 12 miles south of Bellingham, WA was launched by a group of artists who took collective ownership of it in 2007 and have been establishing the land as an arts center ever since.

Ducks wander the property, while the rooster and hens are cooped up.

“We are about providing a creative space for artists, while also establishing a sustainable area for large festivals and events geared to supporting the community,” says Board Member Noodles, who is one of 31 shareholders of the site.

Upon entering the acreage, you are immediately encouraged to check in with the residents, who share a communal building close to the road entrance or are camped around the site. A hive of activity, the site is busiest during the spring and summer months (May to October).

Forested with Alder, Maple, Cottonwood, Birch, Cedar, wild mushrooms, moss grassy fields and rock roads, you’ll also find performance spaces, stages, a saloon-styled structured in a round, and a swimming hole. Upon walking past the main building, you are overwhelmed by the openness and diversity of structures around the site. Some integrated, others simply planted, it feels like a cross between a farm and a park, with a parade of vistas, flora, and fauna abounding in all directions.

The former quarry is now a swimming hole

The first big event this season happens May 6 to 7; BAMF: Bellingham Arts and Music Festival, billed as Bellingham’s first locally-based overnight arts fest aimed at celebrating as much of this city’s art community in a 24-hour period, it runs from noon-noon with a promise to have performances all through the night.

Vendors and performers include musicians from the area, coffee, Mexican food vendors, artists, environmental advocacy groups such as Students for The Salish Sea and Girls Rock Camp will provide an opportunity for young musicians to perform, many for the first time in public.

“We don’t really see ourselves as an enclave,” says resident Jared, who has been associated with the community for seven years.

The idea is to integrate activities with those who are invested in the community, either through work or through personal investment. Thus, a welcoming ethos permeates the acreage.

“We are very much encouraged by new ideas,” says newer resident Bemya, who is about to become a shareholder based on his personal investment of helping to construct a new structure on the property.

“The open concept can be alarming, if not a little confusing,” he admits. “But I’ve been associated with the Quarry now for a few years. So, I’ve gotten used to the desire to balance new ideas with a flexible structure that supports growth and change.”

An oasis of natural beauty

“It’s like a structure in motion.” says Noodles, who also cares for the chickens and ducks that wander the property. “The goal is to be able to pass it on, flexibility allows the project to adapt to changing times and continue to be relevant to the next generation and the new people that engage with it.”

As the group gathers for a communal lunch break from building a roof on one of the performance spaces, the group is in discussion about how to ensure that the nature preserve, fruit trees, and fertile soil gardens will be protected from what is expected to be a large group of people coming on the property for a 24-hour festival.

Lunch in the common room

“I’ve been talking to the organizers,” says Bemya, “and they seem committed to ensuring that the natural areas are protected, but let’s face it, waste is going to be the biggest concern and that the organizers are clear on the importance of maintaining and securing the natural ecosystem.”

But as a space for creativity, the Lookout Arts Quarry is primarily an artists’ residency that provides showings and special touring performances. Local and international artists of various disciplines spend time immersed in the development of new work, presenting it at the end of their stay and before they take it on the road.

“These artist showings have a raw and authentic quality to them,” says Noodles. “The work is vulnerable, unpredictable and richly creative.”

The visit finishes off with a hug and a smile as Noodles wishes us off and casually suggests that talking to a journalist is a new experience for them, but that a calm, relaxed tone is really what we are about, and myself and photographer Willow appear to have made the grade. So, we’ll be back over the summer and we hope our readers will too.

Getting there:

Upcoming events:

Northwest Recess  –  Aug. 10 to 13

Circus Campout  –  Aug. 24 to 27

Sh’Bang! – Sept. 8 to 10

Cascadia Skillshare and Barter Fair –Sept. 16 to 17

About Phil Saunders (17 Articles)
I have been a professional writer since 1988 when I began my career as a music journalist. In 1998 I began working at CBC, after returning to work with a Master's in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. In 2000 I co-produced a feature film that was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival among other North American film festivals. In 2016 I published a book on the Toronto underground music scene called No Flash Please: Underground Music in Toronto 1987-1992. I am also a photographer and documentary filmmaker.