Dragons for the streets are rising

// Art students join East Side community to build dragon for First Night

The Tacoma Metro Parks Portland Avenue Community Center will proudly unveil at 5 p.m. on Oct. 14, a dragon-themed figure, which will be paraded at First Night Tacoma, our city’s New Year’s Eve celebrations held downtown on Dec 31. The theme of the New Year’s event revolves around the Chinese Zodiac, which consists of 12 animal signs. According to Chinese culture and legend, the mythical, celestial dragon was the symbol of an ancient Chinese emperor, representing power. Today, it is the ultimate auspicious symbol signifying success and happiness, perfect well wishes for all as 2012 rolls in.

The building of the dragon is a community effort, and Tacoma Metro Parks Senior Arts Coordinator Mary Tuttle was eager for all to take part, particularly those from the East Side.

“We are utilizing every entity we have on the East Side, and it is a hands-on effort by many. We have the participation of Portland Avenue Community Center members, Sparx units from First Creek and Stewart Middle Schools, and also those from Metro Arts. We brought all these pieces together to create the 35-foot dragon, no easy feat for these kids. We are inspired by the upcoming First Night Tacoma, as 2012 is the Year of the Dragon, with the main element being fire,” Tuttle said. “The kids involved in this project are really having fun. We want the participants to understand the cultural aspects of the dragon, and they have learned much about Chinese culture while working with us.”

Such a demanding undertaking requires talented art instructors, so April Shief stepped in to do her part by spending many hours preparing and cutting fabric.

“So far we have cut out 300 scales, 150 each of blue and green. It took me eight hours to cut all them out, but it is a group effort, and the kids will be here at least two hours a day for the next two weeks. We chose blue and green scales because those are the official Metro Parks colors, and they have a significant importance in Chinese culture. As the dragon makes its way down the street, it will flow like a moving wave,” Shief said, mimicking the movement with her hand.

Seventh-grader Wyatt Wright didn’t hesitate to get involved in the dragon project. For him, it is all about community and being around his friends. “It is fun coming together as a community to build this dragon. The parade is going to be really exciting,” Wright said. “I can’t wrap my mind around how big the dragon is going to be,” the young artist reported, as he glued decorations on the scales.

Metro Parks Southeast Supervisor Laura Rodriquez had her hands full as a full room of kids asked questions to help them add that extra touch of creativity on their designated piece of the dragon. From paint, glue and paper, Rodriquez was in the mix of it all, making sure the mission would be accomplished and accomplished well.

“We really want our community to be a part of the project, to come out and help. This dragon is going to be a beautiful representation of community effort. It took three days to complete the dragon’s head, and the dragon itself is constructed from Tacoma Weekly newspapers. We thank them so much for that,” Rodriquez said. 

Every project needs a capable leader, a dedicated, hardworking, go-to person. For the dragon project, lead artist Allison Morse’s creative eye has proved to be an indispensable asset. “We wanted the dragon to turn out much like the traditional Chinese dragons, but we also wanted to incorporate the train component, a reference to Tacoma railroads. I have designed the dragon as a square and boxy creature to accomplish the ‘feel’ of a locomotive. We will hang the scales over the wire, which acts as its ribcage. Ultimately, the dragon could possibly be up to 40 feet long. This has been a tremendous challenge so far,” said Morse. “I have really never worked with papier-mâché to this magnitude. I knew I was up for the challenge, though, and I was confident our team could pull it off. We definitely need kids to enroll in art classes so we can continue creating amazing art like this dragon. Art is important because it spawns a community feeling of pride,” said Morse.

In addition to younger children, others helped to bring the dragon to life. Foss High School senior Tyler Porter, a student-athlete, knows that being a role model goes hand in hand with playing sports in high school. His passion and love for helping other kids was very apparent as he worked alongside them. “I like dragons, so I thought it would be interesting to get involved. I really enjoy being around the kids, serving as a role model,” said Porter.

Sixth-grader Mary Cruz Talavera would ordinarily be busy punching and kicking in her taekwondo class, but she wanted to be a part of the dragon making. “I have really liked helping create the dragon over the past days. I come to Metro Parks to do taekwondo, so when I asked the lady what they were doing, she told me they were making a dragon for New Year’s, and that really motivated me to come and help out,” said the young martial artist.

If you are interested in learning more about the dragon or other Tacoma First Night events, visit www.firstnighttacoma.org. The dragon will make its first appearance on Oct. 14 at 5 p.m. at the Portland Avenue Neighborhood Resource/Community Center, 3513 Portland Ave. The Community Center can be reached at (253) 591-5391.

Visit www.tacomaweekly.com to see this story featured in the latest edition of “The Dave & Mike Show.”

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