Saunter north

Twice a year Olympia (one of the most energizing towns in the Northwest) organizes an Art Walk. A map is printed so folks can hop from coffee shop to coffee shop in search of local art. Although big names like Nikki McClure (trust me, you’ve seen her calendars) hang artwork in every small business downtown, the real visual spectacle takes place on the streets. Most of the streets are blocked off in the center of downtown for the simple reason that every Olympian and their mother comes out to play. Olympians have an incredible urge to dance and because bluegrass bands, butt-rock bands, indie rock superstars and drum circles engulf every square inch of sidewalk and street with wonderful sound, spontaneous dance parties are constant.

The first Art Walk of the year takes place toward the end of April. It’s intended to celebrate and nurture the community, while avoiding commercialism at all costs. As thousands of hungry and thirsty Olympians flood the streets, all the extra money gained by the local businesses is only an afterthought. The big money maker is the second Art Walk in June. Imagine the whole city cooperating in one huge yard sale. Books, lamps, old suitcases and, of course, artwork cover downtown like rain and everything is for sale. June’s Art Walk is a commercial orgy that only Olympians could perform.

The non-commercial Art Walk revolves around one major event, The Procession of the Species. People arrive hours in advance to set up folding chairs and stake their claim to view one of the cutest parades in the world. As groups of ravens, trees, white doves and frogs march through the streets, the spectators ooh-and-awe for the sheer ingenuity and heartwarming appeal of the homemade costumes. The procession not only makes your eyes water, but your ears unfold and perk up for the booming marching bands. A half hour into the procession, hundreds of Olympians are marching and the crowd is so thick that kids have to climb up trees to see over thousands of umbrellas and heads. Yet the procession marches on for an hour more, giving you the impression that downtown has reached maximum capacity.

After the Procession of the Species the musicians play louder and harder, laughter becomes more frequent, and everyone (Olympian or not) acts as if they were closer than before. The Art Walk and The Procession of the Species are just an excuse for the community to come together. As when I asked someone where a good place to eat was and she said she would go home and make me a burrito. I passed up the offer, but took something else from the conversation. Art can be a gateway for a great gathering, reaffirming a strong sense of community and good will as we march in this procession of the species.