By Stacee Sledge
Downtown Olympia’s twice-annual Arts Walk is ramping up again – for the 44th time – with its spring celebration, which is set for the weekend of April 27 and 28.
Arts Walk is a City of Olympia event, run through the Arts, Parks, and Recreation Department, but is also a true collaboration between local businesses and artists.
“Arts Walk is basically artists being met up with businesses,” says Connie Lorenz, executive director of the Olympia Downtown Association. Shops and restaurants open their spaces to artists – to display their works or put on a performance – and in turn welcome the community to come take it all in – which they do, in droves.
The spring Arts Walk event coincides with the very popular Procession of the Species Celebration, now in its 18th year.
“Everybody has a certain type of style or media that they love, and Arts Walk is a great opportunity to expand that, to see things you might not typically see, to encounter artwork you might not typically look at, and to check out businesses that you might not normally step into,” says Stephanie Johnson, arts and events manager for the City of Olympia Parks, Arts and Recreation Department.
A partial list of what folks will find at the upcoming event includes photography, painting, ceramics, textiles, glass, wooden and stone sculpture, linoleum block prints, watercolor, and jewelry. And that only covers the visual arts.
Performance artists will also set up in a variety of downtown locations, offering poetry and live music, dance – both performance and lessons – and martial arts demonstrations. There’s even going to be a latte art throwdown.
“Everything you can imagine,” says Johnson of the variety. “For a town of 46,000 people we have an amazingly creative citizenry.”
Arts Walk began in 1990, the brainchild of Olympia Film Society board member Jeanne Allan. “They were doing a film festival that year and the theme was visual arts,” Johnson explains. “Jeanne had this idea to have local businesses in the area of the theater open their doors as an art gallery.”
“It started very small and has grown into a big celebration. It’s very festive,” says Lorenz. “You might get to five places, when you thought you’d get to ten, because you just keep running into people.”
“One of the great opportunities of Arts Walk is to really experience our downtown, our community, and our art in different ways,” says Johnson. “It’s definitely a community-building event.”
Centralia artist Kim Talley first displayed her paintings at Arts Walk two years ago.
“I visited several downtown businesses, asking them if they’d be interested in featuring me as their artist in Arts Walk,” Talley says of her process to get involved.
She chatted with Joe Cattuti at Ginger Street, who passed along her information to Kim McCrea from McCrea Cellars. Many of Talley’s paintings are jazz and wine related, so the pairing seemed perfect, and she became the featured artist at the Olympia Wine Tasting Bar. Her paintings now hang year-round.
“Every spring and fall Olympia Arts Walk we have a blast together sharing my paintings and their wonderful wines with our community,” Talley says of teaming up with the McCreas.
For some downtown merchants, it means a lot of business. For others, it’s simply a great way to get more exposure. “People will say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that was there. I’m going to come back when I have some time to really look at this shop because it has some really cool things,’” says Lorenz.
Johnson and her Arts Walk team work hard to pull together the popular event and to create a detailed map of each destination with all the pertinent information for getting there.
“It’s like the Golden Gate Bridge, we always have a paintbrush in our hands, we’re always planning,” she says with a laugh. “And the minute April is done, we have just a bit of downtime, and then we sent out the registration forms again. We’re always working on it.”
Johnson stresses the importance of visitors not parking along the Procession route, as it is a tow zone. She also suggests folks try to get downtown in a different way, since the popularity of the event always means heavy traffic and sparsely available parking spots. “If you’re experiencing all these new things, take your experience even farther, into transportation.”
She recommends that people try to park on the outskirts of town. “Don’t try to park right down in the middle center of town,” she says. “That way, you can hit a number of the outlying businesses as you walk toward the center of the event and the center of town.”
The Arts Walk map has walking routes for pedestrians, including the time it takes to walk to the downtown core from Ralph’s Thriftway on the east side, Garfield School on the west side, or the Capitol Campus on the south side, for example.
The map also includes the Olympia Transit Center schedule.
“I always think of Arts Walk as bookending the outside season in Olympia, because it’s really the first event that happens in the spring and the last event that happens in the fall,” says Johnson, with a smile. “And then everybody hibernates and we do it all over again.”