In an age of arts cuts, one thing is still going strong – Olympia’s Procession of the Species. Now in its 18th year, the event celebrates living things with hundreds of participants wearing and carrying handmade sculptures, costumes and banners.
As always, the themes are love for the Earth and artistic creativity. But a couple of things are new: a focus on migratory species in particular, and a new crackdown on cars blocking the route.
Procession attracted more than 30,000 visitors last year. Some of them parked in the parade route that winds through Olympia’s downtown streets, causing confusion and safety issues. This year, the city of Olympia is warning parade blockers their cars will be towed. Drivers are advised to watch for street signs and park outside parade routes after 2 p.m. Saturday to avoid towing.
The towing is not a popular decision for many of those involved in Procession.
“Not everybody is happy about it,” said Eli Sterling, director of Earthbound Productions, which is the Procession’s parent organization.
But not much can put a damper on the community’s enthusiasm for the celebration, which invites everyone to honor animals, plant life and the elements by parading with masks, costumes, portable sculptures and music. Founded on the 25th anniversary of Earth Day to celebrate the Endangered Species Act and the wildlife it protects, Procession always is inspiring new art from community folks who want to participate.
“The exciting thing is that there are far more groups coming in with costumes – people just walking along, enjoying it,” Sterling said.
Some of those people include 150 fourth- and fifth-graders from local schools. Led by city of Olympia stormwater employee Michelle Stevie, who worked with the citizen action group Stream Team, six classes of kids were bussed to Procession’s downtown art-making studio during the past few weeks to learn the science of ecosystems, monitor local stream health, then create their own ecosystem designs that were applied to fabric using batik. After some sewing from Stevie, the students assembled the fabric into windsocks, which some will carry in Procession. One class will exhibit their work in City Hall as part of the accompanying city Arts Walk.
“They learn about water quality – how it affects species – and about their own earth footprint, like how to take the bus,” Stevie said. “They’re very excited about it.”
Other newcomers have been making art based on this year’s focus: migratory species, such as owls and monarch butterflies.
Kris Geringer, a six-year Procession volunteer, has been offering Saturday workshops on owl headdresses for weeks. Asked by many friends whether she could help their kids make costumes, she chose owls, creating a template for batik wings and papier-maché masks. Most of the material is recycled, including inverted Slurpee cups for eyes and fabric feathers teased out with wire brushes. Geringer herself will carry a tree sculpture with an illuminated moon.
“I grew up in Cleveland and loved art but didn’t have exposure to any of it,” Geringer said of why she volunteers with Procession. “Then I saw the Procession one year and the studio, and fell in love with it. I want other people to have access to it. I get so much out of it – there’s a real sense of community.”
Employed with the Department of Corrections, Geringer says her job can get “really negative. Working at the studio cleanses my soul.”
Rosemary Ponnekanti email@example.com 253-597-8568 blog.thenewstribune.com/arts