One Foot in Front of the Other
As a University of Washington alumna and mural enthusiast, I’m always on the lookout for new art in the University District.
Although the ebb and flow of students and community members has fluctuated in the past few pandemic years, I can always count on the art and murals as an invitation to keep exploring University Way (affectionately known as the Ave) — the heartbeat of the U District with its coffee shops, small businesses and plethora of bubble tea shops in a short radius.
For this 1.2-mile walk, we’ll feature seven murals that highlight community joy and resilience. Park your car, take the bus, walk over or get off at the U District light-rail stop to begin your mural tour.
U District mural walk
Round-trip distance: 1.2 miles
“Respect Beloved Community”
Start making your way up the Ave from Northeast 42nd Street. You’ll find this mural in a small parking lot off 42nd on the wall of BB’s Teriyaki.
You may first spot the bright swirls of waves and clouds, the black-and-white photo of students or the phrase “respect beloved community.” All these elements tell a story of despair and resilience, as this mural was created in remembrance of those who have suffered from ongoing anti-Asian violence and harm. It’s an especially worthwhile stop around the anniversary of Executive Order 9066.
This piece was created by Erin Shigaki, a fourth-generation Japanese American. The mural pays homage to the 449 Japanese American (nikkei) students enrolled at the UW when Pearl Harbor was attacked in December 1941. Xenophobia and racial tension surged on campus and beyond, and EO 9066 led to the forced removal and incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast. The university fought for nikkei students to remain enrolled, but the students were ultimately forced to leave.
The photo in the mural was taken in 1941 during a conference of Asian American students held at the UW — and includes many of the nikkei students who were forcibly removed and incarcerated.
“Magpies and Magnolias”
Walk one block up the Ave until you arrive on Northeast 43rd Street, where you’ll see this mural between Sweet Alchemy and Samir’s Mediterranean. “Magpies and Magnolias,” appropriately, features two magpies separated by magnolias growing between them.
Created by Tori Shao, an artist, landscape architect and UW alumna, this mural was inspired by her grandparents in Shanghai; the birds remind her of the time they have spent together.
Magpies are associated with good fortune and joy, and magnolias are flowering trees associated with perseverance.
This piece was brought to life in partnership with the U District Partnership and Urban ArtWorks with the goal of creating art that captures the University District’s past and its ever-changing present. (Shigaki’s mural was commissioned via the same partnership.)
“Everything Depends on Everything Else”
Pop over to Brooklyn Avenue Northeast (where you’ll find the light rail) or continue up the Ave until you reach 45th Street, where you’ll turn left. After just a few blocks, at 4507 Brooklyn Ave. N.E., you’ll see this mural on your right, across from Qdoba.
Step back so you can get a sense of the full piece, which was created by Brooklyn, New York-based artist and activist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya as part of FINDINGS, a public art series celebrating women and science.
The mural, inspired by geoscientist Wendy Smythe, depicts the connectedness of ecological systems; three women from the Indigenous Haida tribe in Alaska look to the horizon while elements of air, water and earth are woven together around them. Representing social groups of the Haida, an eagle and raven are seen flying nearby.
This mural is an invitation to recognize the interconnectedness of the natural world. As a member of the Haida tribe in Alaska, Smythe — K’ah Skaahluwaa, from the Xáadas Nation of the Sdast’as clan — spent her childhood immersed in nature and absorbing the traditional ecological knowledge of her tribe. Smythe recently discovered the first-ever hyperthermophilic manganese oxidizing bacteria, per the FINDINGS project. Hopefully this mural extends her far-reaching impact even further.
Continue up Brooklyn, or take 45th Street down the hill and turn right onto 12th Avenue Northeast. On 12th, walk northbound until you reach 47th Street.
You’ll encounter this colorful mural at 4554 12th Ave. N.E., on the easternmost wall of the Cross and Crown Church, which stands at 12th and 47th. It’s worth viewing this second avian-floral mashup from afar and up close. (The mural is equidistant between 12th and Brooklyn, so if you hit one or the other and are still searching, you’ve gone too far.)
This piece was created by B LINE DOT, who started creating murals as a way to add beauty in spaces that needed more vibrancy. With its depictions of nature in striking hues, this mural surely accomplishes that goal in the U District.
Head back to 12th Avenue (away from the Ave), turn right and walk north up the street until you’re about to reach 50th Street.
There you’ll encounter this mural depicting a woman floating through water amid flowing lines and shapes behind the old Walgreens location across from Broadfork Cafe. If you’re using GPS, your waypoint is 1205 N.E. 50th St.
The gorgeous mural, which is somber but stunning, is a tribute to a friend of artist Megan Lingerfelt who died. It’s well worth a stop for a moment of silent reflection.
Before heading back east toward the Ave, get to the other side of 12th Avenue. On the west side of 12th, turn left on 50th Street and look out for an alley on your left.
Stretching almost the entirety of the alley is this mural created by Weirdo Cult and sponsored by Urban ArtWorks. The mural is hyperreal and photos don’t do this piece justice. Make your way alongside the artwork and appreciate the contrast of the subjects’ soft features and the electric lines that run through the mural.
The style is on brand for Weirdo Cult, which often combines elements of internet technology and hyperrealism.
“Make it a market day”
Turn yourself around and head east along Northeast 50th Street back toward University Way. At the corner of 50th Street and the Ave you’ll arrive at this market masterpiece mural, which immortalizes a spring day, complete with flower bouquets and fresh fruit from the local farmers market.
This mural was created by artist Heidi Barnett in partnership with a number of organizations, including Urban ArtWorks, and community volunteers. More than eight years after it was created, the mural is still standing strong in the U District.
It’s the perfect reminder to visit the year-round University District Farmers Market, which sets up between 50th and 52nd on the Ave every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Head on back
Now, make your way down the Ave back to 42nd Street, where our walk started. From there, continue on to the U District light-rail station, to your car or to the bus headed toward your next destination.
Hopefully this walking mural tour offers a greater appreciation of the University District, for the Ave and for the ever-evolving artworks that have found a home there.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.