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Jenni Cottrell believes in pooling
resources and bringing together
a community around the beauty
and power of art. To illustrate
this point, she tells a story about when
she was with a friend at an auction in
Alaska they saw a painting they loved.
The auction was to benefit the town’s
new public library, and Cottrell really
wanted to see that painting in the new
library. “We just started approaching
people at the auction and collecting
money for a bid.” Cottrell and her
friend set a limit, and began bidding
with the commitments they had collected.

A man across the room bid
against them, and they worried they
would lose. But they won—and when
they told the man that the painting was
going to be in the library for everyone
to enjoy, he was thrilled.

A few years ago, it occurred to
Cottrell that the walls of shelters and
nonprofit centers are often devoid of
original artwork. Artists can’t afford to
donate paintings, and nonprofits can’t
afford to buy them. Cottrell began pooling
money in Bellingham for the purchase
of artworks for Lydia Place, the
Sean Humphrey House, Dorothy Place,
and other nonprofit centers. Under the
name Group Art Purchase, Cottrell’s
group donations have purchased works
by Fishboy and Tom Wood (from
their collaboration WoodFish), Sharon
Kingston, Nancy Canyon, and many
other prominent local artists. “All the
money I collect goes straight to the artists.”
She organizes completely without
a computer, and believes strongly in personal
contact. “I feel grateful to live in
this community. We have so much to be
proud of.”

Her organizational skills don’t end
with Group Art Purchase. Cottrell also
gathered painter-poets into a visionary
show at the Firehouse Theater called
Whatcom Women Words and Works.
Poet-painters Judy Kleinberg, Sheila
Sondik, Nancy Canyon, and Anita K.
Boyle displayed their works and read
their poems. Cottrell also organized
the Fairhaven Art Block Party last year.
She is a member of the Bellingham Arts
Commission and worked through the
city process to get an original Shirley
Erickson sculpture installed at the
Fairhaven Library. A poet and jewelrymaker
herself, Cottrell is a modest person,
someone who works outside ego
and accomplishment, to do the necessary
hard work of bringing artists and
buyers together for a good cause

"A man across the room bid against them, and they worried they would lose. But they won—and when they told the man that the painting was going to be in the library for everyone to enjoy, he was thrilled."