A lifelong love of Bellingham

Althea Harris grew up going to the Whatcom Museum. But she never planned on working there.

Harris, 30, was born and raised in Bellingham, only leaving to attend college. She went to the University of Washington for a degree in business and marketing.

After graduating, she did do some marketing work, but was ultimately unsatisfied with the industry she was in. She never had any specific career goals, she said. She realized she just wanted to help make a difference.

“I don’t have a set ladder that I’m interested in climbing,” she said. “Overall in my career, being at the core of a management team at an organization that I care about and that I feel does really good work is something that’s important to me.”

She jumped at the chance to work for the museum.

“It felt like an industry and an environment that I would really enjoy,” Harris said.

She now works at the museum foundation as development manager — doing fundraising, not marketing — but the Whatcom Museum turned out to be a perfect fit.

“Really I think it was being a native Bellinghamster — I have a deep emotional connection to the museum,” Harris said. “My grandma used to bring me here when I was a child.”

She has especially always liked Old City Hall.

“Old City Hall has such a fascinating story,” she said. “It has stood the test of time.”

Now she gets to walk inside everyday to go do work.

“So many people have such an emotional connection to it,” she said. “It is such an iconic representation of Bellingham and I love that I get to work here now.”

Each year she manages the organization of the Art Auction Gala, the museum’s biggest fundraiser.

A few years ago, she was selected for a visiting professional residency at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. She spent two weeks learning from the fundraising staff there.

“That was huge,” she said.

She brought lessons she learned at that prestigious museum back to Bellingham, where she puts them into use.

She also serves a council member on the WYPS board. She joined the group after she started working at the museum.

“I became a regular and I loved it,” she said. “I met a lot of my closest friends from it.”

She wanted to join the council as a way to give back.

“I wanted to be part of the leadership team that keeps the group going,” she said.

This is part of the BBJ’s coverage of our annual Top 7 Under 40 Awards. Click here to learn more about the rest of the winners.

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