By Nikki McCoy
It takes all kinds to produce Procession of the Species, an Earth Day celebration that is 20 years strong, attracts 35,000 spectators to downtown Olympia and has more than 4,000 participants.
Here, we meet seven of those behind-the-scenes participants, whose hard work and sense of community make the Procession of the Species a masterpiece.
Eli Sterling – Executive Director. An activist at heart, Eli grew up in Seattle and moved to Olympia in 1988 to begin his masters in environmental studies at Evergreen. Shortly after, a TV and radio program emerged, and Earthbound Productions was born. In 1995, Earthbound put out a call to action to help protect endangered species – something different than a protest or demonstration – and so became the Procession of the Species we know and love today.
“Procession is really to be alive and be aware of our sensitivities,” says Eli. “The act of trying to do this for 20 years…it’s a great testament…the Procession is a heartwarming place, even if the world isn’t.”
Nicole Mercier – President of Earthbound Productions. Involved for 16 years, Nicole’s advice for anyone interested in joining Procession is valuable. “The most important thing for a newcomer to remember is that we were all newcomers once,” she says. “Plunge in and get involved. The sooner you do, the sooner you will become a part of the magic that is Procession. Hopefully we will be able to raise enough funds in the next year to be able to have a Community Art Studio once again, because THAT is where the real magic is!”
Dave Sederberg – Veteran of stage and sound. Creating audio and visual events for non-profits has been Dave’s passion for over 25 years. He has worked with Procession since the beginning.
“The Procession of the Species has changed lives, communities and a generation with liberated acts of thematic creativity and instruction,” muses Dave. “As we create, we learn. As we learn, we love. As we love, we protect. Many people in our community that have joined Procession could have continued on with their lives and never become the drummer, dancer or the artist that was inside them all along.”
Nichole Rose – Luminary Workshop Instructor. Nichole learned how to create illuminated sculptures, locally known as “luminaries,” in the Olympia Community Art Studio back in 2006. She has been an instructor for luminary workshops since 2010. Originally from San Francisco, she brought her passion for community art, botany, and awe of the natural world to Olympia in 1992. Her luminary projects have been inspired by the natural architecture of seed pods, birds, crystals, insects, planets, and stars. One of her favorite creations, a 10-foot tall (without stilts) praying mantis with articulating arms and head, is designed to playfully interact with observers at community events.
Holly Graham – Founding member. Active in Olympia’s art scene since 1990, Holly, like many, has a deep appreciation for Procession. For many years, she taught Procession workshops in mask making, making giant parade art, and crafting critter shakers using plastic bottles and papier-mâché.
“Procession has colored and deepened my life as an artist and person,” she says. “Creating with community and seeing the fruits of art, as families danced together during each Procession, has been an amazing and wonderful experience, always made new, always surprising, always moving.”
Jerry Berebitsky – Large-scale puppeteer. After moving to Olympia in 2006, Jerry and his family watched their first Procession. They have participated every year since. Since that time, Jerry has made a larger than life size elephant, spider (named Rainbow) and giraffe.
“My favorite moments of Procession have been working with and beside many wonderful members of our community,” says Jerry. “It has been a joy to seeing young and old come together in the spirit of creation and discovery. I also had the joy to share in our children’s creations. My daughter has taken to combining many species. One year, I believe, she was a flower, butterfly and fish mixture. Our son is working toward large scale creations. He began making a snake and most recently built a 15′ Komodo dragon that he pulled on his own.”
Steve Shanewise – Chalk Man. An environmental consultant, Steve’s first involvement with Procession was in 2008. He now hands out 7,000 pieces of chalk, dressed in turkey feathers.
“My favorite moment by far was the very first time I handed out the chalk to the kids,” reminisces Steve. “The police were supposed to do it, but bailed at the last moment, and when I realized that no one was going to do anything about it, I just grabbed some people and loaded the chalk into the back of my pickup and we took off along the route. And what made it so memorable was just seeing all those kids literally squealing with glee as they saw we had chalk and how big the smiles on their faces were. It can’t get better than that.”
While these people are all instrumental in making Procession successful – it couldn’t happen without the rest of Olympia. Whether a participant, a spectator or a funder, it takes a village – and these folks reminds us all to be inspired.
Registration for the Procession, slated for Saturday, April 25 at 4:30 p.m., is located at the corner of Jefferson and Legion. Folks are welcome to use one of hundreds of beautiful props.
The same invitation is open for the Luminary Procession, Friday, April 24 at 9:30 p.m. Pieces can be checked out from the Procession studio, from 8:30 – 9 p.m. and you, too, can be part of the magic.