The Whatcom Museum, an art and natural history museum in downtown Bellingham is displaying its exhibitions to a new audience.
“One of the barriers for some people to come in is not being able to read or understand the labels,” said Christina Claassen, the museum’s marketing and public relations manager. “We know there’s a large Spanish-speaking community in Bellingham and we’re trying to reach out.”
Both of the current exhibitions in the Lightcatcher section of the museum are available in Spanish and English. Gallery guides, exhibit signage, and informational placards are all readily available in both languages. Some, though not all, of the text contained within or as a part of art pieces themselves, are also translated.
“We’re trying to make an effort to have more of our exhibits be bilingual and it was kind of spearheaded by our last exhibit,” Claassen said. “Many Wests” was an exhibit hosted at the museum this past summer that explored the concept of the American West through diverse perspectives. Going forward, all exhibitions will be offered in both English and Spanish, Claassen said.
The current translated exhibits include the mountain-inspired works of Andrea Joyce Heimer, in an exhibition titled “Holy Mountain”,” and “Un/Natural Selections: Wildlife in Contemporary Art”, an exhibition that explores the ways culture interacts with wildlife and the environment.
Long-term exhibitions, such as “People of the Sea and Cedar”, “A Journey Through the Tribal Cultures” and “History of the Northwest Coast” have not been translated. Claassen said due to budget restraints, there are no plans to translate permanent exhibits. However, there have been discussions about eventually translating these exhibits as well.
Claassen said the response from the public has been positive and front-line staff are often thanked for having the new Spanish language materials available. “We get comments in our comment book that people were surprised and grateful to see Spanish,” she said.
The translations are mostly done through a regional service, although the Whatcom Museum also works with a local translator. Claassen, who is bilingual, does a lot of the editing and some of the shorter writing as well.
Both “Holy Mountain” and “Un/Natural Selections” will be available at the Lightcatcher Building located at 250 Flora St. in Bellingham until Jan. 8, 2023.