Arts & Culture

Arts Walk adds an interactive map and shuttle to make the big event easier to navigate

Arts Walk springs to life in downtown Olympia

The twice-annual festival of arts and music is taking shape in downtown Olympia for it's two-day run.
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The twice-annual festival of arts and music is taking shape in downtown Olympia for it's two-day run.

Arts Walk, Olympia’s twice-yearly celebration of community and creativity, is one big happening. At this weekend’s festival, art, music and more will be all over the place downtown — and sometimes beyond.

“People are doing so many cool things,” said organizer Angel Nava. “People are interested in Arts Walk for different reasons. Some people love the street performers. Some people only want to see visual art. Other people are coming with their families and want family activities.”

It’s all there, and it’s a lot to navigate. This time around, the city is aiming to make all this activity easier to access with an interactive online map and a mini-shuttle to carry those who prefer the arts to the walk.

The changes come in response to a gradual decline in the number of businesses and other locations opening their doors to art.

Pat Tassoni’s UFO creation lands outside Gallery Boom as part of the 2016 Fall Arts Walk in downtown Olympia. Arts Walk is back again this weekend. Steve Bloom Olympian file photo

“Just before the recession is when our numbers were peaking,” Nava said. “Once the recession hit, numbers stayed OK for a couple of years, but then they started a downward trend.”

Peak location numbers were 137 in spring 2008 and 106 in fall 2011, said Stephanie Johnson of the city’s Parks, Arts and Recreation Department. (The fall walk has always been smaller than the spring one for reasons that might include the weather and the fact that the Procession of the Species, Olympia’s do-it-yourself tribute to flora, fauna and more, happens in conjunction with the spring event.)

Last fall, the map showed 89 locations, compared to the current 79 — or, really, 78. Location no. 37, the Artesian Well, offers only a public restroom (and the well itself, for those who bring along a cup or bottle). The Artesian Commons Park, which was to host a concert, was closed indefinitely after the map was already in production.

There’s no clear reason for the decline, and it’s not possible to say for certain whether attendance has been trending down, too, since the size and nature of the event preclude accurate counts. Nava estimates that more than 14,000 attended in April.

In an attempt to keep Arts Walk fresh and relevant, the city did an email survey of those who attended in the spring. Among the findings: Some people were daunted both by locating the activities of interest to them and by walking long distances, especially with young children.

“Especially on Fridays, when people are there after work with their families, they’re tired,” Nava said. “They’ve said, ‘We can hang around for a little while and then we have to go home.’ ”

Breanna Carlson of Olympia helps Olympia painter Avery Gee set up her display of acrylic paintings in the window at Hot Toddy clothing store during the 2013 Fall Arts Walk in downtown Olympia. Tony Overman Olympian file photo

Hence the map and the shuttle, a pilot project that makes use of a wheelchair-accessible mini bus owned by the Parks, Arts and Recreation Department.

The shuttle will circle the hub of Arts Walk activity, making five stops as it heads west on Legion Way, north on Columbia Street, east on Thurston Avenue and south on Jefferson Street. The full route will take about a half hour, Nava said.

“The idea is to help attendees explore a larger footprint,” she said.

The new online map, meanwhile, aims to make that exploration easier.

The map brings back an easy overview of the full event, something that was lost last spring when the paper map was redesigned to show different zones on different pages.

The map’s interface is fairly intuitive and includes a search for artists and venues. It doesn’t have a GPS feature, though, so there’ll be a lot of zooming in and out if you’re navigating on a smartphone.

And be prepared for a lot of clicking. Finding out who the artists are at a particular spot and what media they work in requires a minimum of four clicks (more if your finger doesn’t land on exactly the right little number or arrow). In many cases, clicking for additional information results in the message “No related records were found.”

The web version does offer more information than the printed map about some offerings. And it will show you what’s happening near you during performances and other scheduled events, Nava said.

“If something is happening in the moment that you’re looking at the map, it will be highlighted in yellow,” she said.

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Arts Walk

What: The free twice-yearly event showcases visual and performing arts at 78 businesses and other locations in downtown Olympia.

When: 5-10 p.m. Friday and noon-5 p.m. Saturday

Where: Throughout downtown Olympia

Maps: and at participating businesses

More information: 360-753-8380 or