On Stage

New Beginnings

A farewell to 1418

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

While surveying the 15,000 square feet of raw space that will make up the Sylvia Center for the Arts, Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao can look beyond all the work that still needs to be done on the historic building on Prospect Street and, in his mind’s eye, see the finished product. He’s also happy he’ll have a way to look outside when the project is completed.

“I’m really excited to have windows,” Hergenhahn-Zhao says, laughing.

To understand why the thought of peering through panes of glass is a thrill for him, it’s necessary to go back 14 years. That’s when Hergenhahn-Zhao and assorted creative cohorts—many of whom he continues to collaborate with even though some of them have long since left town for bigger cities—started Bellingham’s iDiOM Theater in the space behind the Pickford’s Limelight Cinema.

While the intimate theater on Cornwall Avenue has always had a lot going for it in terms of talent, creativity and the unadulterated moxie that led its founders to believe it was normal to produce plays with the alacrity of breeding rabbits, it has always been lacking in other things; space for storage, a lobby, the capacity for additional growth—oh, and windows.

“It’ll be a long goodbye from now until June 30,” Hergenhahn-Zhao says of saying farewell to the venue, which still has five shows on the roster before the keys are handed back in and a new phase of creativity begins.

“I think this is the healthiest move for us,” he says. “Our current model isn’t sustainable—it burns people out. The average run for an independent theater is three years, not 14. We were going to evolve or go away.”

In its new incarnation, the iDiOM will still present original theater with an emphasis on taking chances. However, under the umbrella of the Sylvia Center for the Arts, they’ll be producing fewer plays each year and partnering with more than a dozen other local arts organizations to make it a feasible venture. Additionally, there’ll be a cafe, space for rehearsals, room to show art and host pop-up markets, offices and more.

This is where you come in. Although the landlords are investing $400,000 in shell and tenant improvements and $350,000 in seismic upgrades to the historic building—which was built in 1900 and most recently housed Cascade Laundry Inc.—Hergenhahn-Zhao and his crew still need to come up with $550,000 for architect fees, electrical work, flooring, walls, paint, green rooms, theater seating for both a small and large theater, consultant fees, a ticketing system and more.

The Ostara Group has been hired to consult on the nonprofit’s capital campaign, which will also include individual donations, underwriting, local business sponsorship, a patron membership program, grant writing, public-private partnerships, pre-leasing, a crowd-funding campaign and fundraising events.

Since April 1 is the official kickoff for presenting its plans to the public, the unadorned Sylvia Center for the Arts will open its doors for the first time during the monthly Art Walk taking place throughout downtown Bellingham. The free “Hootenanny” is a chance for people to get a peek at the gigantic space, ask questions about what kind of performances they can expect to see there in the future and discuss why it’s a good fit for the city.

And, because it’s also a night of celebration, there’ll be live music by Deacon Hicks (featuring new board member Lucas Hicks), a pop-up craft market, a cupcake walk for kids, cake walks, pickle walks, art from the Allied Arts fifth annual Recycled Art and Resource Expo (RARE), and a square dance.

One question Hergenhahn-Zhao predicts he’ll be answering a lot that night is “Who the heck is Sylvia, and why are you naming an arts organization after her?”

“Even in her 80s, Sylvia Scholtz was always supportive of what we did—especially if it was innovative or risk-taking,” he says of the longtime supporter of the iDiOM, a lifetime patron of the arts who seemed like a natural fit when it came to naming the space.

Sylvia passed away years ago, but if she was still around, it’s likely she’d be front and center at the Hootenanny, and at a festive and theatrical “Goodbye to 1418” fundraiser taking place the following night at iDiOM’s original space that—although there are no windows to be found—has nevertheless opened up countless worldviews and provided many interesting things to look at.

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