Rumor Has It
Signs of the Times
Wednesday, September 30, 2020
It was a rough week for some of Bellingham’s mainstay cultural institutions.
I’m not sure who dropped what bomb first, but on the same day that What’s Up! Magazine announced they’d cease publishing and their last issue pre-pandemic would be their last issue ever, the Pickford Film Center was making it public that it would not be reopening the Limelight Cinema, its Cornwall Avenue theater and the place where the Pickford got its start.
To dispense with some good news as this seems to be a source of confusion: The Pickford’s flagship Bay Street theater, the Pickford Film Center, will reopen. COVID-19 safety measures are in place and the only thing needed at this point is the green light from Gov. Inslee.
A bright line can be drawn from both What’s Up! and the Limelight straight to me and my status as an institution within the arts community. Shortly after editor and publisher Brent Cole decided to take me on as a What’s Up! staffer, he also hired me as a projectionist at the Limelight, back when it was still the Pickford and he was its manager. That was not only the beginning of a 19-year (and counting) career as a Pickford projectionist and put me on a path to my current position with the Cascadia Weekly, but it was also the start of my friendship with Brent, which has become one of the most enduring and steadfast relationships of my life.
The shuttering of both the magazine and the theater reveals how merciless COVID-19 can be, even when it comes to things that cannot catch the virus and become ill. Like so many publications—including this one—COVID had an immediate and disastrous effect on the advertising revenue of What’s Up!, and not only did the magazine lose much of its income, with our music venues going dark, it lost most of the subjects and stories that comprise its content. No ads, no stories—no magazine. Simple as that math might be, the calculation is a brutal one, not just for Brent and his publishing partner Becca, but for the music community, which is left without a vital voice and staunch advocate at the exact time it needs those things most. It is impossible for me to imagine what the Bellingham music scene looks like without What’s Up! there to help rebuild it. But at the same time, I remain so incredibly grateful for the time, energy and fierce love Brent and Becca poured into the arts community. That they did so for so long speaks to the very core of who they are.
Although the Limelight did not fall victim to financial woes, per se—thanks to solid financial management and overwhelming community support, the Pickford remains stable in its continued stasis—the impossibility of keeping staff, volunteers and patrons safe in the physical space the Limelight has occupied for two-plus decades brought about its end. They say that life always finds a way, but the same seems to be true of COVID.
If last week taught me anything, it is this: Despite these losses, we have much left to be grateful for. But we must protect all of it with everything we’ve got.