Arts & Culture

It’s time to celebrate Olympia-style with the Procession of the Species

The 25th Procession of the Species — Olympia’s celebration of Earth Day, the natural world and the power of human creativity — takes to the streets late Saturday afternoon, filling downtown with color, music and life.

Despite a leaky roof that closed the Procession Studio to the public for three weeks until an alternate location was found, participation is solid, said procession founder Eli Sterling.

“We can project just over 2,000 participants expected for this year,” he told The Olympian. “It seems this procession tradition may really be sinking into our community’s identity stream.”

Among the flora, fauna and phenomena that will be marching, rolling, dancing and hopping through the streets will be penguins, hummingbirds, wildcats, flowers and sea creatures of all kinds — all sorted into the elements of earth, air, fire and water.

Such standbys as the rhinoceros, the white buffalo and the lion will make an appearance along with a new kelp bed, a skunk and a full lineup of Jerry Berebitsky’s beloved giant puppets — the elephant, the giraffe, a peacock or two and the leaping frog that debuted last spring.

And of course the giant sun that has appeared in every procession will be part of this one. This year, the orb will be accompanied by an array of puppets made and carried by members of the Puppetry Guild of Portland and by a stilt walker from the Vermont Bread and Puppet Collective.

There’ll be bands and dancing groups that have prepared for months for this day, and there’ll be folks who’ve borrowed a windsock or thrown together a costume on the spur of the moment. It’s all welcome — though there are rules. The procession doesn’t allow words, live animals (except service animals) or motorized vehicles (except wheelchairs).

As Sterling sees it, everyone who comes to watch is part of the spectacle.

“The goal is to make everyone a participant,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in it or you’re watching, you’re a participant.”

To facilitate that, organizers will hand out 7,000 pieces of chalk to be used for decorating the streets, and a mallard duck float will carry 600 handmade shakers to be given to kids and others who’d like to play along with the bands.

The shakers — made from decorated bottles and cans filled with rice, beans, beads or bottle caps — are a community effort organized by Kathy and Michael Smith of Lacey.

The Smiths have led shaker-making efforts before, but this year was a particular challenge due to the closure of the old Procession Studio, Kathy Smith told The Olympian.

“Usually, I have a table set up in the art studio and people who come in can make the shakers right there,” she said. “I panicked a little bit when I found out the studio would be closing.”

So she reached out to retirement communities and Girl Scouts for help achieving the goal.

The shakers, in an array of shapes and sizes, were made by people from age 5 to 100, she said, adding, “All of this really helps to connection the community with procession. They know they’re contributing their art.”

Procession of the Species

  • What: The 25th annual procession — a parade with no words and no motorized vehicles except wheelchairs — will celebrate the natural world and human creativity with music, dance, floats, puppets, costumes and more.
  • When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday
  • Where: Begins at Cherry Street and Legion Way, Olympia, and winds its way to Heritage Park
  • Admission: Free; donations to the Thurston County Food Bank encouraged
  • More information: 360-705-1087,
  • Get involved: Want to carry an animal on a stick or a windsock in the procession? Check in at the registration table in the SafePlace parking lot at the corner of Legion and Cherry. Those interested in borrowing a costume or pulling a float are welcome to come to the new Procession Studio, 210 Thurston Ave. NE, between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. And a team is forming to operate the giant leaping frog that made its debut last year; email as soon as possible if you’re interested in helping.

Luminary Procession

Weather permitting, the Luminary Procession will have Olympia streets aglow on Friday evening, offering an illuminated preview of Saturday’s event and featuring creatures such as a 12-foot jointed manta ray and three orcas.

The procession of lanterns made of paper and bamboo is starting earlier this year and traveling a new route along Water Street, Fourth Avenue, Washington Street and Legion Way.

The revamped parade of lights will include illuminated dancing in the streets and music by Samba Olywa, the Crow Drummers and Artesian Rumble Arkestra.

The new start time is an attempt to get more families with young children to stick around for the event, a celebration of the element of spirit, said Procession founder Eli Sterling.

“We have gotten lots of comments over the years about wanting the Luminary Procession to be earlier,” he told The Olympian.

The new route makes space for the city’s expanded family activity area and gathering space for Arts Walk, which will be open both Friday and Saturday..

As always, the procession of lights is weather dependent, since more than a light drizzle will damage the delicate lanterns. If the weather is too wet to take to the streets, luminary will be on display at the old Procession Studio, 406 Water St. SW, Olympia.

  • When: 8:30 p.m. Friday
  • Where: A new route begins and ends at 5th Avenue and Washington Street.
  • Get involved: If you’d like to carry a luminary, meet at 8 p.m. at the old Procession Studio, 405 Water St. SW, Olympia.