"I'LL COVER YOU" is a promise we can make today to prevent the needless deaths of our homeless neighbors. Each of our umbrellas tells the unique story of a person who died between 2013 and 2016 in King County without a home through the words of those who knew them.
I'll Cover You is an interactive memorial situated in Westlake Park — a prominent commercial location where numerous housed and homeless persons mix but rarely interact. From December to March — for however many homeless persons have passed away that previous year — we will have that same number of umbrellas within the space. A portion of these umbrellas will be suspended across the space on cords to form a "cloud" of color, while the rest reside in their stands scattered beneath. During these typically rainy months in Seattle, passerby are invited by graphics painted onto the ground to borrow the umbrellas as they navigate downtown, in hopes that they will be inspired by the memorial hidden within to treat the next living homeless person they meet as an equal human, or even be moved enough to advocate for all in their position.
We do not expect that all of these umbrellas will make it back to their original stands. We know that the individual's story is still out in the world and will be seen, and we will replace the empty stand with another individual's memorial as needed.
Our industrial design-focused teammate constructed a minimalist umbrella stand from 3/8" thick plywood, which was then laser-engraved for personalization.
Using imagery inspired by an individual's obituary on FallenLeaves.org, we used Sharpie to illustrate the interior of a blank 52" umbrella. Going forward with this project, we would partner with WHEEL so that this handwritten, hand-drawn interior design would be a joint effort between us and people who were personally acquainted with the individual, if possible. We also would want to experiment with artistic type and different kinds of imagery and amounts of information.
Common copy across the umbrella memorials read:
[He/She/They] passed away from [cause].
But [he/she/they] did not have to die, and neither does the next person.
Please consider donating to SHARE and WHEEL to make sure that someone else gets covered today.
Visited Westlake Park for on-site observation
Our initial concept involved flower-filled umbrella memorials scattered across Seattle at specific sites where a homeless person was noted to have died in 2016, with the intention of these providing resources to both the housed and homeless.
We then explored the concept of umbrella-sharing, and how that could be the utilitarian vehicle that brings the stories of hundreds of homeless individuals to all different kinds of people on Seattle's numerous rainy days. From then on we explored the idea of printing on umbrellas, methods of visualizing an individual's story, and how to store and distribute the umbrellas for communal use.
In the end we moved away from informational walls and stations, and instead decided to let the focus be on the form of the umbrellas themselves.
"Grieving keeps me going."
- A member of the Women in Black at the In Our Words: A Discussion With Community Members Experiencing Homelessness panel, February 16, 2017.
We were inspired by the existing Homeless Remembrance Project, a local homeless-led movement that unites housed and unhoused people to honor and remember homeless people who have died in King County. Currently, the Women in Black (as they are known) lead vigils for the dead but also go to city council meetings to demand justice for the living. They have existing installations in the form of the Tree of Life at Victor Steinbrueck Park (near Pike Place Market), as well as numerous bronze leaves engraved with the names of deceased individuals embedded into the ground at various locations.
Not even the biggest umbrella can sum up a soul like his, but through our Exhibition Design project, we hope that such a simple object can share just a bit of the stories of homeless victims of the system so that housed persons will lobby for government support of self-managed shelters, safe consumption sites, and mental and physical healthcare for our homeless neighbors.
They are a part of Seattle that cannot be invisible or ignored any longer.