Olympia’s Fall Arts Walk Back, Offers Socially-Distanced Twist

By Molly Walsh

Time, space and community. The organizers of Olympia’s Fall Arts Walk are reflecting on these three words on the eve of this year’s festival. In a time where many in-person gatherings are an ever-distant memory, those involved in Arts Walk preparations, including City of Olympia employees, downtown business owners and local artists are all reinventing what it means to celebrate art in the South Sound.  

As late September ushers in the autumn season, Olympia storefronts traditionally remain open into the evening, displaying inked sketches and canvases illuminated by swirled brushstrokes, all in celebration of the Fall Arts Walk. Although leaves are now rust and copper hues, crunching under the feet of passersby, Arts Walk organizers now have to work within new constraints, as in-person events in Thurston County are limited to groups of ten or fewer attendees

“The idea is to kind of give ourselves more space,” said Angel Nava, arts program specialist for the City of Olympia. “And you can approach that in a couple different ways. You can approach that with physical space. You can approach that with time. There’s a combination of ways to look at that. And so, when we were exploring creative solutions, making (Fall Arts Walk) an ‘Arts Month’ made a lot of sense.” 

Expanded from a weekend event, Olympia’s Fall Arts Month 2020 will run throughout the entire month of October. This updated event will feature a combination of remote programming and downtown storefront displays that allow time and space for families and small groups to explore, while also maintaining social distancing guidelines.  

When COVID-19 began to spread across Washington State in the early spring, many large-scale events were cancelled, including the Spring Arts Walk. Although the pandemic endured throughout the summer, those in charge of Arts Walk hoped that the fall festival could continue in some capacity later in the year. Coupled with enthusiasm from local artists and businesses, Nava also cited inspiration from fellow arts organizations and their creative means of connection throughout the pandemic. 

“Seeing that our community was ready to creatively troubleshoot their own programs, I think helped us know that we could work with them to creatively troubleshoot Arts Month or a modified program,” said Nava. “I think that creativity is very alive right now. And I think…it’s really inspiring to see the creative energy that’s coming out of our community right now and this was an option to honor that.”

Joining the many longstanding events that have transitioned into a remote format, Arts Month leadership collaborated with Thurston County and City of Olympia officials to develop a modified event that would comply with COVID-19-related regulations. Changes from a typical Arts Walk include a hybrid menu of virtual programming and small in-person gatherings, while also instituting a longer event timeline to help reduce potential crowding of sidewalks.  

“We’re able to stretch (attendees) out over the month so that folks can still see artwork while they’re eating out at a restaurant,” said Nava. “Or go to a virtual workshop or studio tour, or come downtown and see artwork in storefronts. I think there’s creative ways to continue to engage with art, and hopefully arts month is a vehicle for that to continue.”

Hoping to energize local businesses, artists and community organizations, Arts Month’s in-person activities will include new public art installations throughout downtown Olympia, indoor and outdoor art displays hosted by local businesses, creative workshops and film viewings that comply with Thurston County health guidelines. Arts Month will also feature a menu of remote performances, events and take away artistic activities. Businesses and organizations that are hosting in-person gatherings must submit a social-distancing plan to the city to ensure the health of participants.

Because of this year’s alternative format, Arts Month will not distribute a typical printed map, but will instead post and email out a weekly virtual schedule, providing an updated list of activities. This virtual schedule makes for a wider range of participation, allowing businesses and organizations outside of Olympia’s core down streets to also host Arts Month events.

“Because we’re not bound to a map, we have more flexibility to include folks that haven’t always been able to participate because they’re outside of that boundary,” said Nava. “So, I’m excited to welcome them and encourage them to participate.”

Out of the various challenges the community has experienced this year, Nava said that this year’s Fall Arts Month is a time of exploration, to discover a new community identity and to explore what’s possible for the future of the local arts scene. 

“I think the silver lining with what’s going on, is that we’re willing to try things that we’ve never done before,” said Nava. “Just as a community in general. And so, the hope I have is that this is our opportunity to grow. And just through trying new things, we’re stepping into new territory and just learning about ourselves and what our capacity is.”

Arts Month is supported by local businesses and creative arts organizations who sign up to host Arts Walk events and art installations. In addition, many local sponsors work together to make this annual event possible, including OLY ARTS


Olympia Fall Arts Month 2020


Downtown Olympia, Virtual

October 1-October 31




Olympia Arts Walk online