Artist Stuart Nakamura, who was chosen to create public art in Everett reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic, outside the Everett Library Evergreen Branch, where art will be displayed. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Artist Stuart Nakamura, who was chosen to create public art in Everett reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic, outside the Everett Library Evergreen Branch, where art will be displayed. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

His task: Create an artful monument to our pandemic resilience

Stuart Nakamura was chosen to create a steel sculpture in Everett to memorialize our collective experience.

EVERETT — Stuart Nakamura has his work cut out for him. He’s looking to pack Everett’s experience with a years-long pandemic into just one piece of public art.

“This is a tricky one,” he said.

Everett’s citizen-led Cultural Arts Commission chose Nakamura late last year to create the work. He’s got a budget of about $25,000 and a timeline of a few months to figure out what it’ll look like. The free-standing steel sculpture will live in front of the library’s Evergreen branch.

As for the design process? Nakamura is hoping locals can help. The theme is resilience.

“What you say may affect what I come up with,” he told a sparse crowd — four people — at the library Tuesday. Pens and paper were set out for participants to write down their ideas. Ultimately, Nakamura will edit those quotes and use a laser to etch them into the artwork, in whatever shape it takes.

“I don’t want to leave anybody out,” he told The Daily Herald. “It’s almost like we’re creating abbreviated haikus for their thoughts.”

Tyler Chism, the city’s tourism and events coordinator, said there will be more outreach to drum up ideas from the public. That might be in the form of a community survey, or a physical installment in the library where people can add their thoughts.

Arts commissioner MaryAnn Darbysaid the group wants to make sure people of color are included in the process.

“We want to represent our entire community,” she said. “I’d say this is a great opportunity for the entire community to get involved and share your experience with COVID and how it impacted you and your family.”

Nakamura is a Seattle-based artist who studied at California College of the Arts in the 1970s before moving to Washington. His public art is scattered throughout Hawaii, where he was born, and Washington. Much of it clustered in the Puget Sound region.

“Memory Vessel” by Stuart Nakamura (2014) in Gig Harbor, created for the Gig Harbor Arts Commission. This stainless steel artwork is in recognition of and tribute to the Scandinavian heritage of the founders of the city. The vessel is a structural representation of the classic Gokstad Faering class of utility boats found in that region of Europe and is adorned with iconic symbols found in Scandinavian artwork and crafts. (Photo courtesy Stuart Nakamura)

“Memory Vessel” by Stuart Nakamura (2014) in Gig Harbor, created for the Gig Harbor Arts Commission. This stainless steel artwork is in recognition of and tribute to the Scandinavian heritage of the founders of the city. The vessel is a structural representation of the classic Gokstad Faering class of utility boats found in that region of Europe and is adorned with iconic symbols found in Scandinavian artwork and crafts. (Photo courtesy Stuart Nakamura)

In Bothell High School, his 2009 piece “What the Water Said” is a bird’s-eye-view of the local terrain, made of birch wood, glass and aluminum. For “Origins of Coffee,” at the Starbucks headquarters, Nakamura transformed concrete into a woven basket. Its bronze features glass mosaic work. And in Kent, massive river reeds molded from steel greet students at a local elementary school.

This piece will be his first in the Everett area — and, he said, his first “tragedy-oriented artwork.”

The commission decided early on, though, that the work should be positive.

“Sometimes a beautiful piece, even if it’s not a memorial, can bring people to tears,” Darby told The Herald.

She said there has been enough sadness, death and fear in the past two years.

“Nā Kālai Ola” (“Life Voyagers”) by Stuart Nakamura (2017) at the Innovations Public Charter School in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, created for the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. A half-dozen small glass mosaic inlays of aquatic animals create areas of self-discovery for children at the school and adds color accents to a concrete pad. (Photo courtesy Stuart Nakamura)

“Nā Kālai Ola” (“Life Voyagers”) by Stuart Nakamura (2017) at the Innovations Public Charter School in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, created for the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. A half-dozen small glass mosaic inlays of aquatic animals create areas of self-discovery for children at the school and adds color accents to a concrete pad. (Photo courtesy Stuart Nakamura)

“In our minds and hearts, we want people to realize, ‘Yes we’ve been through a lot, but we got through it,’” she said. “We’re better as a community because of it. … We’ve been able to reach out and cross barriers.”

There are a lot of images that could sum that up. Nakamura has a few ideas. He clicked through some images on a PowerPoint presentation. Waves crashing onto a lighthouse. A spider web. A lush plant clinging to an arid cliff.

Participants had some ideas of their own. A storm. Earth turning in the Milky Way. A rising sun.

For filmmaker and arts commissioner Terra Patterson, the pandemic felt like a cocoon. Isolation and time away from an exhausting job meant it was “really a time to go in and heal.” Now, it feels like she’s emerging into a new world.

In the next few weeks, Nakamura wants Everett residents to reflect on how they built up emotional resiliency during the pandemic.

“Now, I’m not a sociologist,” he said. “I’m just an artist trying to make an abstract thought into an image.”

Claudia Yaw: 425-339-3449; claudia.yaw@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @yawclaudia.

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