Tacoma Ocean Fest returns! Arts, science and water fun for all ages

Celebrate, learn and get inspired to protect the ocean at this free festival 10am-5pm June 9 at the Foss Waterway Seaport, with beach clean-up 1-3pm June 8

After a huge success in 2018, Tacoma Ocean Fest returns for the second year with even more arts, science, and water fun to help everyone celebrate the ocean, learn about its threats, and get inspired to protect it. The festival will open with a blessing from the Puyallup Tribe and Canoe Family.

This year the free festival runs 10am-5pm on June 9, with returning favorites and brand-new experiences for all ages to celebrate World Oceans Day weekend. Tacoma Ocean Fest is an official Orca Month event.

Local and national artists, musicians, dancers, youth poets, and even an aerialist combine with food trucks, face painting and more to highlight the beauty and fragility of the ocean and its creatures. On June 8, a beach clean-up will feature a human orca mural created by participants and viewable from the air.

Lead Artists: 

Tacoma-based RYAN! Feddersen (Confederated Tribes of the Colville) will create a giant wall mural of “Coyote, Fox and Whale,” with coyote-bone crayons for festival goers to color in the story.

Seattle painter and long-distance swimmer Lauren Boilini will make a series of nine-foot-high panels of humpback whales, immersing viewers in vivid, tumbling blue watercolor.

Both art displays will remain up through August.

The waters around us literally define us. The health of the sea reflects our own.Photo: Morf Morford
The waters around us literally define us. The health of the sea reflects our own. Photo: Morf Morford

Suspended from the Seaport’s 100-year-old beams will be “Turtle Wave,” a community art project begun by Metro Parks Tacoma and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, made of hundreds of paper turtles “swimming” on cascading blue fabric waves. All artworks are expertly curated by Lisa Kinoshita.

Speakers: The morning will feature three “OceanX” speakers in 10-minute talks: artist Lauren Boilini, ocean plastics activist Ken Campbell of the Ikkatsu Project, and marine biologist/DJ Orian Grant.

Youth Story Finalists: In the afternoon, the Ocean Fest Youth Story Contest (sponsored by Tacoma Sunrise Rotary) will culminate with local youth finalists reading or screening their poetry, graph, or film, with $1,000 in cash prizes. Councilmember Ryan Mello will present awards.

Performing Artists: This year’s line-up includes electric cellist Gretchen Yanover, Gary Stroutsos on world flutes, singer/songwriter Kim Archer, percussion duo Miho & Diego, Illumni Chorale, a reprise of the hugely popular “Whale Song” by Tacoma City Ballet, West African dance by T.U.P.A.C., contemporary dance by Emily Pinckney and SOTA Dance, and Deanna Riley on aerial and ground hoops.

Scuba VR/Photo Booth: The hugely popular scuba virtual reality is back again this year with two new VR dive experiences from Cascade Game Foundry and headsets courtesy of Oculus. They’ll also bring a PC diving game. Across the main hall will be Whaley& Co, an ocean multimedia company who’ll set up a photo booth with props and backdrops for the ultimate ocean selfie to share.

Giant puppets: Roving around the festival will be giant wearable puppets – a 21-foot orca and 14-foot salmon, plus smaller orcas – to raise awareness of the critically endangered southern resident orcas of Puget Sound (and to offer the perfect ocean selfie opportunity!)

Ocean Booths: Along the esplanade, over 25 eco-booths will feature local and regional non-profits, government agencies, science departments, and individuals who work to protect our waters. All offer the chance to learn about the ocean environment and its threats, such as plastic pollution, threatened orcas, and climate change. Fun hands-on activities like beach-in-a-box and looking at plastics through microscopes will echo the environmental message. The Seaport’s own science and history exhibits will also be on view, including a humpback whale skeleton and touch tanks.

Water fun: Down on the dock will be paddleboards, kayaks, and even a dragon boat to try out. Metro Parks Tacoma will lead kayak trips up the waterway to pick up litter. Food trucks include Plum Bistro, Mobile Social, Sirius Wood Fired Pizza, and Bliss Ice Cream.

Beach clean-up and Human Orca Mural: The Ocean Fest weekend will begin with a beach cleanup from 1-3pm Saturday June 8 at the Purdy Sand Spit, co-sponsored by South Sound Surfrider Foundation.

After the clean-up, participants will make a giant “human mural” in the shape of an orca, with black umbrellas and white fabric held aloft to create inspiring aerial footage to raise awareness about saving orcas.


“Ocean Fest is completely unique in Tacoma,” says director and founder Rosemary Ponnekanti. “The goal is to make people think differently about the ocean, and to care enough about it to change what they do. It could be as simple as giving up plastic straws, or driving less. The ocean needs our help – and it will take all of us. That’s what Ocean Fest is about – inspiring our imagination through the arts, informing us through science, and showing us how to take action. And just having fun!”

Ocean Actions: To help festival-goers commit to helping the ocean, they’ll get pledge cards printed with “Ocean Actions” – from cleaning up a beach to choosing clean energy – which are explained at booths and exhibits. Turned-in pledges will go in multiple draws for prizes.

Tacoma City Ballet and NC Kayaks are donating a 17 foot kayak as a raffle prize, with $25 tickets and proceeds benefitting TCB and Ocean Fest.

Parking is limited on the waterfront, and festival-goers are encouraged to bike, walk, scooter, take transit or paddle into the festival, which saw over 1,300 attendees last year. Those who do are eligible for giveaways (while supplies last).

Ocean Fest is a City of Tacoma Green Event, and aims to create little to zero waste. Please bring a reusable water bottle to fill at the stations.

Tacoma Ocean Fest is supported by a City of Tacoma Arts Projects grant and grants from the Bamford Foundation, Arts Washington and Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, plus support from Metro Parks Tacoma. The Foss Waterway Seaport is the venue sponsor. Tacoma Sunrise Rotary is the lead sponsor of the Youth Ocean Story Contest, with prizes donated by The Grand Cinema, Round Table Pizza and Tacoma Youth Marine Center, and generous help from Rotary 8, Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma Public Schools, Tacoma Public Library, Waka Waka Studios, Oculus, Tacoma Rotary South, Rotary Passport Club of Pierce County and the Washington Environmental Council. Tacoma Ocean Fest is an official Orca Month event.

Beach Cleanup: 1-3pm June 8 at Purdy Sand Spit, SR 302, Gig Harbor (bring gloves and container)

Festival: 10am-5pm June 9 at Foss Waterway Seaport, 705 Dock St., Tacoma

Cost: Free

– Tacoma Ocean Fest

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