This weekend’s Fremont Solstice Parade could be the last one ever unless someone steps forward and helps out.
The parade has been going on for nearly three decades, and its unpolished, participatory vibe is just the kind of thing that gained the neighborhood its artsy reputation. Anyone can sign up to be a naked, painted bicyclist. For the clothed, elaborate costumes are the norm.
Part of what gives the parade its unique identity is making floats available to artists, community organizations, dance groups, and local weirdos to do whatever they see fit with it.
The floats, Fremont Arts Council (FAC) president Susan Harper tells Curbed Seattle, are “part of the heart of the parade ... they embody the spirit that everyone’s an artist.”
The issue: The FAC stores the floats and other equipment in between each year’s celebration, and this year, they just don’t have anywhere to go. A construction project—a parking lot for a nearby auto garage—prevented the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) from renewing a storage contract for the FAC.
They have to be out of their current space by August 7. If they don’t find somewhere else to store them by then, the whole collection of float bases will have to be dismantled, sold, or destroyed. And without the floats, the Fremont Solstice Parade could be gone for good.
“If we have to destroy these floats then that will be the last solstice parade,” Peter Toms, a FAC member and co-founder of the event, told us. “There will be no Solstice Parades after that one.”
“I guess something could be done without the floats,” Toms clarified when we pressed. “But I don’t know what it would be. It would be a big step backward.”
It’s not that they’ve never changed storage venues before, said Harper, but this year left them with no options. SDOT had been shuffling them around from place to place, giving them lower-cost options for storage.
For FAC, market-rate storage isn’t an option.
“What’s happened is we’ve gotten the support from [SDOT] and paying for the real cost of storage in this town would not be feasible for us,” Harper explained. “We’re not going to be able to keep this little neighborhood [event] that operates on a shoestring going unless we find some sort of angel.”
“The city has helped us for years and we’re very grateful, but finally, the development in town—even the city has run out of space,” said FAC board member Mac DaVis, who has participated in every parade since the beginning..
“We stack them up, we tarp them,” he continued. “I think we moved five times in about 15 years, not bad considering the development in Seattle, but the worth of these things is probably around, I want to say around $10,000 with the work we put into them. Every couple of years they’re taken apart and rebuilt.”
When we asked Toms to confirm that figure, he responded with a question: “How would you value it?”
The stored equipment includes their oldest float, which Toms says is from about 1992, plus backdrops, street signs, rigging equipment, and other supplies. It’s not just for the Summer Solstice festivities, either—it includes the equipment for all their events.
“People forget,” he said, “The Fremont Arts Council, we’re just a group of friends, a group of neighborhood friends.”
In a guest editorial for The Stranger City Councilors Mike O’Brien and Lisa Herbold called upon anyone who has space available to contact FAC@FremontArtsCouncil.org.
“The FAC did not just go out and buy all of the equipment, supplies, and float bodies. They have been accumulated and cared for over the past three decades by volunteers,” said O’Brien and Herbold. “It's important that the larger community understand that without this resource, these events will not be produced again, and some of Seattle's most vibrant and exciting signature events will come to an end.”
The parade itself might not be lost, said Harper, but much of its meaning would be: “It puts [the parade] at risk as far as what this parade means to us. These are all human-powered floats ... I don’t think we’d lose our parade but we would certainly lose a very important element if we have floats.”
“[The floats] are crucial elements of this unique parade,” said DaVis. “The fact that you can put a sculpture on a float and run it through a parade, so unique.”
If they were to lose the floats, said DaVis, “we lose that you can have different bands besides marching bands being in the parade. You’ll miss these absurd sculptures.”
But he told us that most of all, it’s the opportunity to create and be among a community of artists. “We’ll miss that you have these things people can build,” he said. “These people that show up night after night... it has a certain camaraderie.”
The floats, he said, also allow people to participate in the parade that normally wouldn’t be able to, like dancers, or bands that aren’t able to march.
He calls it “an immersive parade.”
“We want people to feel like they can step in and be a part of this,” said DaVis. “Part of the cache of Fremont is that it’s a creative community. “
Last year, said Harper, local school BF Day made one of the floats into a castle. This year, DaVis told us, they’re building a birthday cake.
On multiple occasions, Samba dance group GiraSol has designed a float for performing on and around—last year, it was topped with a sun. This year, a kickball league made a spaceship—DaVis told us he thinks there’s a catfish in there along with the rockets, too.
“My first float was a 40-foot slug,” DaVis said. “It took eight people, and we had it in the second parade.”
“There’s been an operating Fremont Bridge that kids in cardboard cars would drive across,” recalled DaVis. “There would be a drawbridge and it would swing up and kids in their boats would go under it.”
The budget, she said, is “very shoestring,” and while more money would be nice, she doesn’t want to see the event become corporatized. The arrangement has kept corporate sponsorship off the event so far.
“It’s such a wonderful, home-spun, iconic Fremont event,” she told us. “I want to hold that value of the spirit that everyone’s an artist ... without that corporate stamp.”
“I’m willing to take stuff to Vashon, I’m willing to drive an hour out of Seattle—it doesn’t matter to me,” said DaVis. “As long as we have these available for someone to come and say, ‘Hmm, I want to do a float this year.’”
This article has been updated since its original publication to reflect comments from event founder Peter Toms.