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The city of Lynden has a glistening new gem in a polished antique setting that everyone will love to see. It is the Jansen Art Center, located on Lynden’s “main drag,” at 321 Front St.

This is an art gallery, but also much more. It is a place where artists can create, teach, share and engage adults and children alike in appreciation of the arts. The center is comprised of the old City Hall and an adjacent building. Together, they contain an amazing 20,000 square feet of space, which houses two dance studios, a painting studio, rooms for writers, weavers, jewelers and potters, a small performance hall, practice rooms for music students … the list goes on!

Bound to be a big draw is the piano lounge, dominated by a glittering black baby grand piano and filled with red leather upholstered chairs and glass bistro tables, inviting long, relaxing evenings of music and good company. The retro vibe – an obvious nod to the building’s beginnings in the 1920s – is continued in the small cafe area, which was once the city Fire Hall. The original concrete floor has been restored and polished to a high gloss, an intense backdrop for bright red straight chairs that connect to the color scheme in the lounge.

Nearly every wall in the building is either hung with paintings or has built-in display cases. A few pieces of art are gifts to the Center, but most pieces are for sale, so the scene will be ever-changing. A gift shop showcases jewelry, note cards and smaller ceramic pieces.

The visionary and driving force behind the creation of the center is Heidi Jansen Doornenbal. Very self-effacing, she deflects praise from herself, saying, “I’m a gardener.” And indeed, she has turned what was a dingy alley into a lovely little pocket park that can be viewed from a deck behind the lounge. She is right, however, in pointing to the community of “dedicated and competent” volunteers who have helped move the project along so swiftly.

Only two years ago, the City of Lynden was looking for a buyer for the old City Hall and fire station, after having moved those operations to modern buildings. With a slow economy, there weren’t any good offers. Doornenbal, who had long been concerned about the lack of public funding for the arts in schools, had the seed of an idea for an art center. Luckily, she is also director of a charitable foundation that could provide fertile ground for that idea.

Doornenbal is the daughter of Henry (Hank) and Eleanor Jansen, a Lynden couple who grew their business, Lynden Transport, into a huge company that handles all sorts of shipping needs. They created the Jansen Foundation in 1995 to provide a way to give back to the community where they started.

The Foundation made the city fathers an offer they didn’t refuse: Lynden deeded the old City Hall to the Foundation, which chipped in $2 million to buy the adjacent building and renovate both. And what a package they have put together!

“We have had the wind at our back,” said Doornenbal, with a touch of awe in her voice. She and the interim administrator for the Center, Sue Lobland, heap praise on the local people who so quickly have made the building a work of art – both renewing it and also showcasing its history. Among them are Andrew Krzysiek of Zervas Group Architects, who created a floor plan to best use the space, and designer Charlotte Kipfer, who donated time and expertise to bring the interior to perfection.

Contractor Exxel Pacific saved many of the beautiful old wood floors, and Mount Baker Rotary Club made a major donation, which in part funded the gas-powered kiln for the potter studio. The gorgeous live-edge conference table in the board room is the work of Greg Klaasen. Tile artist Debbie Dickinson created the raven artwork that backs the water fountains, charging only a fraction of its worth. Eleanor Jansen was a weaver, and the large, light-filled weavers’ studio is a tribute to her. Joyce Noordmans will oversee it. Jewelry artist Judith Gauthier oversaw the assembly of the metalwork studio and is teaching jewelry-making classes. They are just two of the master crafts persons involved with the center.

Cut loose from the Henry and Eleanor Jansen Foundation at its August grand opening, the art center will have to sustain itself. Funding will come from room and art rentals, food and art sales, memberships, class fees and donations. Uses for the building are still evolving, as local and regional artists make suggestions. More than anything, the founders hope that people will come to get a hands-on involvement with the arts.

August/September 2012 – Bellingham Alive/North Sound Life