On April 1, the Sylvia Center for the Arts opened its doors to the community for the first time. Curious guests gathered in the upstairs room of the old Cascade Laundry building overlooking downtown through unfinished windows. Strings of temporary lights were hung along the ceiling, lighting up booths filled with unique local art. Children danced together, enjoying boisterous tunes while their parents looked on sipping locally brewed beer and wine.
“We didn’t know if anyone was going to show up, but we had over 500 people pass through there,” Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao, iDiOM Theater founder and artistic director said. He feels that it was a preview of what is to come for the art center. “People were really excited about the space, and excited about the building, even when there was nothing there except for the possibilities.”
The vision is a versatile facility with performance venues, classroom and rehearsal spaces, sound-proof studios, a curated art gallery, a café, and non-profit office space. Other spaces may be available for a costume shop, photography studio, and video production company. The building will house 14–16 resident theater, dance, and music organizations.
The Studio Theater is set to open in September of this year. This space will seat 75 and be designed for dance performance. Next, the Main Stage Theater is set to open in February 2017 and will seat 160 people. The floorplan for the upstairs space is currently a rough draft, but set to be completed by February 2018. The plan will be finalized depending on the needs of the organizations that will be in residence. “We’re definitely planning as we bring [organizations] in,” Hergenhahn-Zhao said. “We purposefully left plans up in the air.” Musicians have different needs for rehearsal spaces than dancers.
The iDiOM theater began working on this project about five years ago because the organization needed more space, and saw a need for a performing arts center. The goal of the theater is to promote and produce performing arts in Bellingham. This idea is carried over to the art center as it is meant to create a space for performing arts that is both affordable and accessible.
Hergenhahn-Zhao sees the space as a place for the convergence of energy between the arts. One may come to see a dance performance, and leave with the experience of visual art, live music, or a drink at the café as well. “It’s going to bring a whole new vitality and center of gravity over to the arts district in that part of town.” Sylvia Center for the Arts is a vision of creativity, collaboration, and new possibilities.