Olympia celebrates spring Arts Walk

Spring Arts Walk weekend is Olympia’s claim to fame. This year, 96 official venues publicly displayed the visual and performing arts of local artists.

Luminary Procession occurred on Friday night of Arts Walk weekend to celebrate the spirit element in nature. Thousands of people packed around Capitol Way and 5th Avenue to watch fluorescent jellyfish and seahorses puppeted by Olympians.

Saturday was dedicated primarily to the celebration of the other four elements in nature: earth, wind, fire, and water.

Biology professor Charles McCoy said local events such as Olympia’s Procession of the Species are derived from other Earth Day celebrations. He said that depending on the area, each parade is usually bioregional, displaying animals and plants relevant to the area.

Approximately 30,000 people visit downtown every year on this weekend to witness the Procession of the Species. The parade consists of about 3,000 people covered in facepaint, headdresses, props, and costumes, some on stilts, roller blades, bicycles, or on foot, and all made to represent some part of nature. You can see person-sized dandelions, thunder and lightning, bees on bikes, packs of belly dancing wolves, giant geoducks, and so on.

Over 3,000 people participated in the Procession of the Species this year, with crowds of over 30,000 gathering downtown to enjoy the music, arts, and festivities. Photo by Maggie Angel

Over 3,000 people participated in the Procession of the Species this year, with crowds of over 30,000 gathering downtown to enjoy the music, arts, and festivities.
Photo by Maggie Angel

Student Amanda Solis said the Procession of the Species illustrates how close-knit the Olympia community is.

Student Ali Hough said the culture of Olympia allows everyone to be themselves.

“You don’t have to put up a front,” she said.

The Procession of the Species is really entertaining, said Hough.

“You’re never really bored,” she said.

Throughout the year, hundreds of volunteers and coordinators meet to plan different aspects of the spectacle along with Earthbound Productions.

Earthbound Productions is an organization that receives no funding from the city. Everything is funded through community donation.

Stan Lewis teaches a community education class at South Puget Sound Community College, Fire Art Studio, which usually displays art during Arts Walk. He said that, this year, the studio was unable to establish any exhibitions because the venue that previously hosted their art, Euphorium Salon and Spa, recently closed for renovation. Because Fire Art Studio learned of the development too late, the studio was unable to find a new venue.

“We hope to secure a location so that we can resume exhibiting our work again by the next arts walk,” said Lewis.

The procession began in 1995 to recognize the 25th Earth Day and the Endangered Species Act.
Olympia was the first place to have an Earth Day celebration like this, and communities all around the nation and the world have been inspired to established their own Processions of the Species.

“People are drawn to the Pacific Northwest because it’s not completely adulterated or lost,” said McCoy. For him, the aspect of present, functioning ecosystems is really important. In Olympia, people value that quality, said McCoy.

“I like living in a place with that consciousness,” said McCoy.

Everyone is encouraged to participate, as long as they follow the three rules established by Earthbound: no written or spoken words, no live animals, and no motorized vehicles/amplified music. The organizers of the event also make it completely clear that participants are completely responsible for themselves and their materials.

Every year, a community art studio is set up where procession participants work on projects for the parade. This year, there were two. Central Studio on Capitol Way was used for batik, luminaries, and group endeavors. The Whale Annex on 4th Avenue was used to make papier mâché floats and puppets, musical instruments, and so on. Most of the materials used are donated or scavenged.

“[The costumes and floats] have a greater significance,” McCoy said, “They draw in art and science.”

Procession history, guidelines, information, and
archived photos: