11 Questions: Jessica Miller

interview by Brent Cole

For years, I’ve said “Bellingham rewards those who stick with her” and Jessica Miller (formerly Harbert) is a perfect example of this. After graduating from Western and leaving town for a bit, she returned, and stayed. Ten years later, Jessica is now the director of the all-ages non-profit Make.Shift, and is part of the Downtown Partnership Board, helping to shape Bellingham’s downtown in coming years. And with folks like Jessica, the future looks pretty awesome. She’s this month’s 11 questions.

Who are you and where did you come from? Please tell us about yourself.

I moved to Bellingham 10 years ago – how time flies! I moved here from Bellevue to go to Western. I was thrilled to get out of my hometown and get to the next thing. I showed up in Bellingham totally unaware that I would call this my home for this long. It seems like I have done a lot of work in this town, spending some seriously (and personally) formative years here – from making coffee to bartending, to writing for the local paper and managing a restaurant. Through all the different jobs and connections life has thrown me, I had the realization that I was making the choice to stay here despite some moments thinking it was time to move on. After years in the restaurant industry (I managed Bayou on Bay for a long stint and then helped open Rock and Rye Oyster House), I lucked out landing the job at Make.Shift.

Please tell us something that surprised you when taking over general operations of Make.Shift.

I am continually in awe of all that the Make.Shift staff accomplishes. It’s a small group of folks dedicated to this community and all the creativity it has to offer. They work so hard to keep Make.Shift contributing in any way they can. And the volunteer crew at Make.Shift is also inspiring. It brings people together in an inclusive way and gives space to help make the art and music community stronger.

Make.Shift, obviously, plays an important role in the local arts community. What’s one thing you’d like to see change about the Bellingham arts scene?

I wish there was more money. I know that sounds a bit too honest, but I wish there was a way to create a sustainable living as an artist and musician. And I know people do succeed at it and that’s quite impressive. I think the value of art and music has increased in my time here (not that I had any true understanding of this when I was younger), but I still know so many people who are creative powerhouses that have to juggle multiple non-art related jobs to be able to pay their rent and eat. I wish the arts could sustain those who put so much into it and pay a living wage to do so.

Having lived in Whatcom for years, what is your favorite aspect of the area?

The connectedness and small town feel to this every-growing area. It’s great to run into people in town just as you need to and know you will. This also has its moments where you just want to be anonymous. But it’s a blessing and a curse.

If you could tell your 18-year-old  self anything, what would it be and why?

Don’t worry so much. There’s plenty of time and you never know where life will take you.

What was the last great book you read? What did you take from it?

“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman. It was one from my book club. It’s a great quick read about imagination and fantasy and the darkness that exists in us all. It touches on reality and that childhood sense of innocence and awe. I took from is to continually look at your world objectively and always keep your wits about you. Trust your instincts but keep your eyes open to it all.

If you could bring any band to town to play a show, who would it be?

Alive or dead? Led Zeppelin, my favorite since I can remember and the subject of my oldest tattered band poster that has hung in my house for nearly two decades. I can’t shake them nor would I want to.

That’s also a bit of my cop out answer as well, as there are so many to list from my past and current favorites. Especially with such great bands being brought to this town these days.

What is your go-to “I’m having a crappy kind of day” meal?

Pizza. But that is also my “best day of my life” meal. You just can’t go wrong with pizza.

Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

Honestly, I have no idea. I would have never guessed I would be here five years ago. I like to keep things open ended.

What is coming up in the near future at Make.Shift that you are particularly excited about?

We are doing some great things at Make.Shift right now. The art gallery has been continuing to bring some great exhibits to Bellingham; look for more of that in the next year, with some great collaboration shows amongst many others! And the booking team is really doing a fantastic job – keep your eyes peeled for more great music blasting out of this place. Our studio spaces are continually full of great artists and bands keeping this community rolling in rad art and music (we do have a wait list! So get on that if you’re interested). We recently expanded and took over another space in the Cyr Building and are welcoming Margot Myer, local etching press artist, to our space. She will be hosting workshops in her space. Look for more info on that to come!

Make.Shift also started an after-school creative program for high schoolers. XAP (Xperience Art Project) was brought to Make.Shift by Amy Marchegiani, one of our board members. The program has established a safe, creative space for sketching on Wednesday afternoons from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at Make.Shift during the school year. We hope to expand the programming sometime this year to offer other weekday after-school workshops, more on that later as it unfolds!

Make.Shift has started hosting arts and vintage markets, Make.Shift.Markets, this month on Sunday, Sept. 6 and next month on Sunday, Oct. 4. These markets offer a space for artists and vendors to sell items, and there is also live music. We are working to host these events regularly next year!

We have also partnered with Sustainable Connections and the Downtown Bellingham Partnership to be involved in the Commercial Street Night Market. These markets run Friday evenings from Sept. 4 through Oct. 2 with live music and vendors, bringing more life to Bellingham’s downtown scene.

Things sure have been busy around Make.Shift, but we wouldn’t have it any other way!

Bellingham has grown and changed quite a bit in the 10-plus years you’ve been here. What do you miss the most about “old school” Bellingham? What do you fear you will miss 10 years from now?

This is a tough question. I do miss many things, but moving here at the ripe age of 21 I honestly think I showed up in this town at a time when many of the “great” years of this town were in a major shift. The 3B closed soon after I went for my first time, Chiribins followed after (one of my favorite spots) and the local music scene seemed to have an obvious shift. There were some great times to be had then. And now I feel Bellingham is in the midst of another great change. The growth is apparent and the culture continuing to be enriched with more entertainment and high quality acts being brought to this town thanks to folks booking amazing music at local venues. Things have shifted to support the scene as it lives today. It’s great to have a host of places for live music, including house shows, all-ages space and the bar scene. I wasn’t as versed in the art community in Bellingham before as I am now, and I have to say I’m thrilled to be a part of it. This alleged subdued town has a lot to offer and with all the great energy here, it will only continue to roll with the momentum and great things will keep happening here.

Any last thoughts to share?

It’s great to see the next generation of active and inspiring people showing up in Bellingham. At Make.Shift I often get to watch the young folks in action and I have to say the momentum looks good. Keep showing up and being a participant in your community. It really does pay off.

For more information about Make.Shift call 389-3569 or see their website at makeshiftproject.com. 

Published in the September 2015 issue of What’s Up! Magazine