Thousands of people walk the streets of Seattle everyday—silently passing one another without observing the life — and beauty — around them.
At least, that’s how Juliana Kang Robinson saw it.
Robinson, a Mercer Island resident, was commissioned by the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture and Seattle Department of Transportation to create a temporary artwork that’s interwoven into the infrastructure of the all-walk intersection of University and 1st Avenue near Harbor Steps and the Seattle Art Museum.
This project is part of the Imagine Greater Downtown initiative, designed to improve the pedestrian experience in Downtown Seattle using existing SDOT street infrastructure to create art for pedestrians and cyclists to see in their everyday movements.
Robinson has been an artist for many years, and was an art professor at De Anza College for 11 years. Since moving to Mercer Island in 2015, she said she wanted to do a public art piece and knew Seattle had a good public art program.
Robinson’s new artwork, “Alone Together,” is made up of six separate but thematically connected images that lead up to the all-walk in which the theme of the artwork “Alone Together” comes into play.
To be selected for the public art project, Robinson took a two-weekend course in Seattle. Then, she was placed into a pool of qualified public art artists.
Maija McKnight, the public art project manager, said the initiative is meant to celebrate the pedestrian experience.
“We wanted to enhance the experience for kids and families using existing street infrastructure,” McKnight said.
In Robinson’s design, bears are the main character in the illustrated series of images. The images reference a Korean creation myth and serve as a reminder that people — like animals — share the same needs and strengths. Robinson’s intent is to showcase that all people can find refuge and strength in togetherness and that all families belong together.
The idea is that pedestrians begin alone on the four separate corners of the intersection and will cross over the artwork—coming together for a moment.
“The images are meant to represent strength, togetherness,” Robinson said. “The stepping stones to find safe passage.”
This is Robinson’s first public artwork. She began working on the project last September. The artwork was installed July 27. Since the intersection is slated for demolition, the “Alone Together” artwork will remain for about the next two years.
Some of the challenges that come with creating a public art piece include translating the image.
“It was difficult to translate it from paper to appear what it’s supposed to look like on the ground,” she said. “The big thing was perspective distortion.”
Since the artwork’s installment, Robinson said she has enjoyed watching people cross the street and notice the work.
“It’s been great just to sit and watch people walk by and point at the images and have them smile,” she said. “It brings joy to people’s day.”
McKnight, too, said she’s enjoyed seeing people experience the artwork and how the art uses existing infrastructure.
“It’s been great to see how different people interact with the art,” she said. “It uses existing infrastructure and makes people see the area differently.”
Robinson said she feels very proud of her work and the message it conveys.
“Like the bears, we find strength in refuge and togetherness,” she said.