The art studio for the Procession of the Species Celebration serves as an oasis, a vacation from the ties of everyday obligations and insecurities. For Procession Director Eli Sterling, the studio houses an energy, a comradery, where individuals, families, and organizations unite for a greater cause: to appreciate and preserve the natural environment. Despite location setbacks, Sterling has maintained his dedication to preservation by providing a space where community members can cultivate art unencumbered in preparation for the Procession.

After a significant roof leak jeopardized the Procession’s primary art space, the organization was sent scrambling to find a new location to store completed pieces and create new art. With weeks to go before the Procession, Sterling was able to secure a temporary location in downtown Olympia on Thurston Avenue.

“That killed a lot of momentum, as you could imagine,” explains Procession of the Species Director Eli Sterling. “We really only have seven weeks where we have the art studio open. We suddenly got started and then had to put everything on hold. We were able to find a new location, which is great, but by the time we could gather up volunteers and get everything set up to go, we lost another week. So, basically, we only had two weeks to get our stuff together.”

Procession of the Species Art Studio Thurston Avenue Studio
After a leaking roof left the permanent studio damaged, the Procession had to move into a temporary location on Thurston Avenue. Photo credit: Molly Walsh

A community art studio is vital to the Procession’s mission, as it is a space for families, individual community members, and organizations to create art for the event. The studio environment is also a space where insecurity can be checked at the door, and people can appreciate the beauty of their creations and the natural world without fear of judgement.

The studio is a place of escape and in the eyes of Sterling, an art space like this can be comparable to the feeling of spending time alone in nature. “When we’re in that studio, one of the major distinguishing fears we all have is that we will put ourselves in a comparative reality, where somebody will mock us,” says Sterling. “Somebody will laugh at us. But if I can create an environment in that studio which is welcoming and has warmth, where you can actually come in and create something and no one’s going to point their fingers at you, what a gift that is. At the Procession and the art studio, there’s no written words, there’s no one claiming some sort of higher ground. At the art studio, everyone gets to walk in and because you’re creating art that’s not about you, it’s about the beauty of nature, you are relieved that this doesn’t have anything to do with you. It pulls us out of the social drama of comparative reality and places us in the same type of realm as if we were out in nature by ourselves walking along the beach. The quintessential vacation.”

Procession of the Species Olympia
At the studio, participants have the space to create any animal that resonates with them. Photo credit: Molly Walsh

As a celebration and a call to action, the Procession elevates the relationship between humans and the natural environment. It highlights the importance of access to nature by helping to preserve and protect the plant and animal species around us. And by using the art studio as a space for exploration, it can serve as a recreation of the natural world.

“The emphasis is on truly trying to recognize that the natural world absolutely has an essential energy,” says Sterling. “It is essential to quality of life, to whoever we are and to how we want to define ourselves. The health of the natural environment is essential to the dynamic of us witnessing. The Procession is about trying to keep that dynamic at heart. The whole mission of the Procession is to elevate the dignity of the human spirit by enhancing the cultural exchange between communities and the natural world. And that cultural exchange is based on the development of appreciation, understanding, and protection of this miracle, so we can fully participate in it. It’s not about putting it in a zoo.”

Procession of the Species Art Studio Thurston Avenue Zebra
The first Procession was created to coincide with the anniversary of the first Earth Day. Photo credit: Molly Walsh

A highlight of the surrounding nature, Sterling strives for the event to be a place of individual acceptance and collective action toward a better world and local community. “We don’t call it the parade of the species, we call it the Procession of the Species, a celebration,” explains Sterling. “When you celebrate, you are saying we are here to stay. We are not defeated. It’s about something bigger than us. Parades are about us. Processions are about something larger than the whole. When we started it 25 years ago, we were really specific on calling it a procession, so it was understood that this was literally about something larger than our personal identity. And then, hopefully, turning the Procession into an identity that the entire county, that the South Sound region can embrace.”

The Luminary Procession will take place on Friday, April 26, at a new starting time of 8:30 p.m. The route will begin by heading east on 4th Avenue. The Procession of the Species begins on Saturday, April 27, at 4:30 p.m. and will start at the intersection of Cherry and Legion Avenue. To learn more about the procession, visit the Procession of the Species website.

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