By Molly Walsh
In accordance with recommendations from Thurston County Public Health & Social Services and Governor Jay Inslee, the City of Olympia has announced the cancellation of the spring Olympia Arts Walk in an effort to maintain social distancing practices and curtail possible spread of the novel coronavirus(COVID-19).
The semi-annual event was scheduled to take place from April 24-25. A hallmark of Olympia culture, Arts Walk usually fills the city’s downtown streets with thousands of attendees who shop, stroll and take in the work of local artists that are displayed in the windows of downtown establishments.
Angel Nava, an arts program specialist for the City of Olympia said the decision to cancel was not taken lightly, as Arts Walk is a valued local event to celebrate the spring season, commerce and art in the community. At this time, though, the City of Olympia is committed to limiting the spread of COVID-19 and cancelling the event is what is best for public health and safety.
The cancellation of Spring Arts Walk joins many events acrossthe State of Washington that have been cancelled or postponed after Governor Jay Inslee signed a statewide executive order on March 16 prohibiting gatherings of 50 or more people through the end of March.
The Procession of the Species and the Luminary Procession, both of which accompany the Spring Arts Walk are both postponed until a later date. In a press release, Eli Sterling, director of Earthbound Productions, who puts on the procession each year, said both the Luminary Procession and the Procession of the Species will be rescheduled for later this year but did not provide specific dates.
“Even so, the Procession itself is not what it is needed now,” said Sterling in a press release. “What is needed now is space. Space for people to absorb and dissolve agitation; to learn new behaviors and re-exam old ones; to keep an eye out for the elderly; to learn to sight and forecast who are most vulnerable – including our professional caregivers; to recognize racial backlash and to learn how to publicly articulate what is just; to learn from our present restraints to better address the required responses for climate change that remain upon our horizon.”
As the procession usually brings in thousands of visitors to Olympia’s downtown area, this cancellation is a proactive move to inhibit the spread of COVID-19, but is also a devastating economic blow to local artists and businesses who rely on the Arts Walk for increased foot traffic and revenue throughout the event weekend.
In an effort to mitigate the economic repercussions of the spring Arts Walk cancellation, the City of Olympia is collaborating with regional partners, including the Thurston County Economic Development Council, to aid local small business who may be affected during this time. Nava said a list of resources for small business impacted by loss of revenue due to COVID-19 can be found on the Thurston EDC website.
Businesses and establishments who had registered to be an Arts Walk venue will also be refunded by the city within the next week. To request an immediate refund, contact the City of Olympia Parks & Recreation Department.
Moving forward, Nava said the city is exploring possible solutions for future replacement events, but in the currentuncharted territory of the COVID-19 pandemic, city planners are unsure of how long the pandemic will last or how long social distancing practices will be mandated. Despite the current situation, Nava said the city does intend to move forward with the fall Arts Walk as planned.
“Our hope is that we will be able to channel our community’s collective creative energy into the fall event,” said Nava. “And use the arts as a tool to help us move beyond and heal from the effects of COVID-19.”