Living & Entertainment

Dia de los Muertos gets new energy at Tacoma Art Museum, Sixth Avenue Procession

Artist Rene Julio creates a tapete (sand painting) in the lobby of Tacoma Art Museum for Dia de los Muertos.
Artist Rene Julio creates a tapete (sand painting) in the lobby of Tacoma Art Museum for Dia de los Muertos. Staff

If Halloween is the night of scary ghosts, then Dia de los Muertos is the day of friendly ones. In Tacoma this year there are two opportunities to celebrate the latter. The Mexican tradition of honoring the dead with flowers, artwork and processions makes two appearances: one Sunday at Tacoma Art Museum’s free community festival, and the other Monday night in a procession along Sixth Avenue.

Art museum festival

“It’s more a traditional thing than an artistic thing,” says Rene Julio. The Seattle artist is taking a break from the hunching, back-breaking work of creating Tacoma Art Museum’s annual Dia de los Muertos tapete, a giant sand-painting on the museum’s lobby floor. Armed with a chopstick (for drawing lines), a concrete scraper and a tea strainer filled with powdered paint, and working backwards from the window, Julio is gradually building a scene of white skulls floating in green, aqua and vermillion color fields, surrounded by orange marigolds.

An artist with a bold palette who prefers mural and portrait work, Julio is definitely simplifying his technique with the tapete — but that’s not the point.

“It has to bring the art traditions of Mexico,” says the painter, who grew up there.

The tapete is just one part of the museum’s annual festival, now 11 years old and the museum’s most popular. Along the corridor and in the upstairs mezzanine are some 30 altars commemorating lost loved ones, built by community groups and festooned with flowers. The day itself will include performances by mariachi (11 a.m.) and dance groups (2 p.m.), hands-on printmaking and sugar skull decorating, face painting (now ticketed, to avoid the lines), screenings of the PBS series “Latino Americans and — new this year — the chance to draw your own outdoor chalk memorial, under cover thanks to the new Haub wing.

Also new this year is a calavera costume competition, where entrants can dress up head to toe as the iconic Dia skeleton figures (make-up only, no masks). The $100 winner will be announced at 3 p.m. Families should note that the exhibition “Art AIDS America,” currently on view in the galleries, contains works with adult language and sexual content — preview it first.

Sixth Avenue Procession

After being successfully resurrected last year, the Sixth Avenue Dia de los Muertos procession is well and truly back. First organized by café owner Morgan Alexander in 2004, it lasted until 2008, featuring local artists making giant papier-maché calaveras in every shape from fishermen to mermaids to Elvis Presley, plus locals dressing in skeleton costumes and mariachi music.

Now, it’s back with the same verve. Four October workshops run by Di Morgan-Graves, the artist who began them originally, have given folks the chance to make their own skulls or skeletons. Morgan-Graves is bringing some of her own creations to the procession, and Studio 6 Ballroom, the event organizer, will again host booths with masks for sale, live music and food.

“I was glad to see it start up again,” said Morgan-Graves, who was unable to attend last year. “I live just down the street from the studio, and I like to keep our neighborhood interesting.”

The parade begins at Studio 6, then winds along the sidewalks up and down Sixth Avenue.

Why Monday? Nov. 2 is actually the Day of the Dead (All Souls’ Day, in English-speaking churches). Nov. 1 marks All Saints’ Day, and Halloween is a derivative of “All Hallows (or ‘saints’) Eve,” the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which was later Christianized by the medieval church.

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568



What: Dia de los Muertos community festival.

When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma.

Cost: Free.

Also: Come in full skeleton makeup (no masks) for the first Calavera Contest; enter by the front door at 2:15 p.m.

Information: 253-272-4258,


What: Sixth Avenue Dia de los Muertos procession.

When: 6 p.m. Monday.

Where: Begins at Studio 6 Ballroom, 2608 Sixth Ave., Tacoma.

Cost: Free.

Also: Bring your own mask, costumes and papier-mache skulls/skeletons.

Information: 253-905-5301,