Sylvia Center for the Arts growing with next step

by Keenan Ketzner

The Sylvia Center for the Arts  is one step closer to their dream facility. Launching a Kickstarter this month to raise funding for improvements, organizers are planning for added productions this Spring and moving forward with their overall goal of a multi-use home for the small arts and theatre community.

The Center first opened in 2016, a 1,000 square-foot studio theater with seating for up to 65 at 205 Prospect Street, in the historic building formerly home to Cascade Laundry. Months in the making, local residents Wes Davis, Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao (the founder of iDiOM Theater), and Glenn’s wife Shu-Ling, felt a need for dedicated space for the small arts and theatre community, and began organizing the non-profit project. They met with the owners of the Cascade Laundry building to pursue the new multi-venue performing arts center.

“Our plan with Sylvia Center is to create a bustling new hub of creativity, community, and collaboration for local performing arts groups, while providing a destination for arts audiences around the region to come check out the awesome art that Bellingham and Whatcom County has to offer,” said Davis, the organization’s marketing director.

Whatcom County, he said, has a lot of small arts groups. Many of them do not have their own dedicated space, rather rent venues a couple times a year for plays, dance and music recitals, and other locally-created shows such as comedy, circus, multimedia, and more.

“There are very few suitable venues available, they are usually booked up, and they are often not affordable (especially for the many hours of rehearsal required), so it’s a difficult environment,” he added.

The Center is focused on providing access to affordable space for local theater, dance and music organizations.

“We have hosted Whatcom Jazz Music Arts Center’s ongoing Wednesday night concert series, improv classes, a kids’ dance show, accessible dance classes and acting classes, along with our own iDiOM Theater season of locally-produced shows,” Davis said. “We also produced our first ever outdoor play in the amphitheater in Maritime Heritage Park, right behind the building, and will be doing another program of outdoor shows this summer.”

The Center was named after a beloved patron of the iDiOM Theater back when it first opened in the Allied Arts building on Cornwall Ave. Sylvia, in her 80s, was a passionate fan who showed up to the front row of nearly every show.

“She was one of our first Season Pass holders, and one of the first people to make a small donation to the theater, and always vocally encouraged us to be trying new things and not be afraid to fail, so our big new project is very much in her spirit,” Davis said.

Moving forward, the Center is working to have a new and improved space opened by April, with the help of the Kickstarter campaign.

Plans also include a full gallery and new accessible restrooms, with eventual expansion to the building’s second floor for more rehearsal/classroom spaces (including sound-treated music classrooms), a large event rental space, and more.

As for this Spring, stay tuned for more iDiOM theater productions in April and May. Weekly Whatcom Jazz Music Arts Center concerts are slated, as well as a Chamber Music concert in March. Come Summer, there will be Free Theater in the Park in the amphitheater in Maritime Heritage Park.

For more information about the project, and how you can help with their Kickstarter (coming shortly as of press time), visit and stay tuned to the group’s Facebook page. The Center’s goal is to include a 160-seat main stage theater, 75-seat studio theater, cafe/bar with small stage, art gallery, event space, rehearsal spaces, nonprofit office space, classrooms, costume shop, and video/photography studios.