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Arts Walk XXXIV

The massive Olympia spring arts walk is this weekend

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When you’re riding herd on one of the largest indoor and outdoor extravaganzas in the state of Washington and you’ve been doing it twice a year since just about forever, it might be a little difficult to keep it fresh and exciting. But the city of Olympia somehow does just that with Arts Walk, the biannual celebration of the good, the bad and the bizarre in Olympia arts.

The whole thing started back in 1990 when a handful of local artists asked downtown merchants to let them exhibit artwork in their stores. Back then it was an intimate and relaxed tour of local visual arts venues. Then in 1995, a bunch of locals decided to dress up like animals and march through the streets to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Earth Day. They called their event the Procession of the Species. Rules for participants, which remain the same today, were simple: no written words, no live pets, no motorized vehicles. The success of the event was beyond the organizers’ wildest dreams.

After a few years, the Procession was folded into the spring Arts Walk and eventually became its culminating event — which irritated a lot of local artists, who thought the glorified parade was usurping their tour of visual arts. Clashes between artists and Procession people almost killed both events, but they worked out their differences.

The combined events now bring in more than 30,000 locals and out-of-town tourists. More than 100 businesses — plus the streets, alleys and sidewalks — serve as venues for more than 300 visual and performing artists presenting their paintings, sculpture, photography, crafts of all kinds, literary and theater arts, music, and dance. And those are just the listed events, not to mention the myriad of impromptu street performances. During Arts Walk, any entryway, crosswalk or window may suddenly become a stage or gallery.

Let’s face it: the whole thing has gotten out of hand. It’s become Mardi Gras minus the beads and boobs, and I wouldn’t swear that you won’t see any of those. The one thing it has lost, however, is the intimacy and, well, the art. The spectacle has overtaken the art, and Arts Walk’s wonderful spirit of democracy has meant the amateurs and dilettantes have crowded out the professionals. About 80 percent of the visual art to be seen is boring, repetitious or just downright bad, and it is impossible to actually see any of it with such huge, milling crowds. But the spectacle is fabulous, and as much as I may bemoan the lack of great art, it is nice to see children and beginners and hobby artists get a chance to show their stuff. Stuffy art snobs such as I just have to get used to it.

For each Arts Walk, the city publishes a map of venues with lists of artists and events. One artist from the previous Arts Walk is chosen to do the cover art. Over the years, these maps have become popular collectors’ items. Gracing the cover of this year’s map is a stained glass design called “Spring Harvest” by Jennifer Kuhns, an artist who markets her own line of fabric, stained glass and mosaics through her online business, Cosmic Blue Monkey Designs (

Kuhns’ work will be shown at Hot Toddy, 410 Capitol Way. “Many mediums have appealed to me, and I have had a difficult time focusing on just one,” Kuhn says. “Most often, I am drawn to materials that must be torn, cut or broken apart then reassembled to form something new. I began working in mosaic in 2000 when an unsightly repair in my bathroom needed covering. I quickly became addicted to a medium that requires busting tiles and cutting glass to be pieced into a new image. I usually use scrap materials left over from stained glass or bathroom remodeling projects. I love the structural quality of mosaic, and I have recurring daydreams of countertops, doorways, benches, and most other blank spaces covered with colorful designs.”

Among the more interesting events will be the second annual Toy Piano Recital Saturday at 7 p.m. at Capitol Theater, 206 E. Fifth Ave. Yes, that’s right, toy pianos, the type made for little kids, but promoted as a legitimate musical instrument featuring new work for multiple toy pianos by Arun Chandra, several short performances by local musicians exploring a wide variety of musical styles and techniques, and a new short film by Emily Linders about toy pianos in Olympia.

The Toy Piano Recital is a benefit for the Port Protesters’ Legal Defense. Several toy pianos will be auctioned off throughout the evening to support the protesters.

Another fund-raising event that will take place during Arts Walk — or, to be more precise, an “awareness event” for local nonprofits, including Gateways for Incarcerated Youth, The Clothesline Project, and OlyHempFest 2007 — is the reggae concert by Groundation with special guest DJ Malachi of Royal Majestic Soundsystem. It happens Friday at 7 p.m. at The Vault, 425 S.E. Franklin. Tickets are $10 and $15, all ages at 7 p.m. and 21+ at 11 p.m.

[Arts Walk, Friday, April 27, 5-10 p.m. and Saturday, April 28, noon-7 p.m., Procession of the Species Saturday, April 28, 4:30 p.m., downtown Olympia, 360.570.5858]

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