Walter Alexander Soboleff Jr., listens to the story he shared and narrated for the Juneau Voices audio walk on June 24, 2021. His story recounts the struggles he had growing up as the child of prominent Alaskan Native leader and minister Walter Soboleff, namesake of building listeners look out on while hearing the installation. He wore his late father's hat to a recent celebration of the project. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Juneau’s less-heard history comes to life in new downtown audio walk

Audio installations share heritage through personal stories

When passengers from large cruise ships return to Juneau next month, QR codes embedded in the city’s new wayfinding signs will offer a distinct audio tour through the historic downtown.

Recently, the artists behind the project gathered to experience the walking tour along its path — an opportunity that was delayed by COVID-19 restrictions when the audio installations went live earlier this year.

“It was a really moving experience,” said Ryan Conarro, one of the artistic collaborators for the project. “These pieces are designed to be experienced in these spaces. The walk felt a little like opening night, and I had not expected that.”

Juneau Voices Audio Walk debuts downtown

Lillian Petershoare, a Juneau resident and artist facilitator on the project team that researched, wrote and produced the series, said she was pleased with the results.

“People make connections by sharing personal stories. This is a marvelous gift,” she said, adding that she’s thankful that the project provided her with so many opportunities to hear stories that she otherwise would not have heard.

Members of the Juneau Community Foundation and project-involved City and Borough of Juneau staff members joined the tour to celebrate.

“It’s so important to be learning more. In Juneau, we have an obligation to understand our past,” said Mandy Mallott, secretary of the Juneau Community Foundation.

“I thought it was incredible and striking. So many familiar friends and so many smiles,” Mallott said after the tour.

About the tour

Wayfinding signs around downtown Juneau, like this one photographed Wednesday, are ready to share stories with residents and visitors alike via QR codes that link to audio. The Juneau Voices project recently held a sort of “opening night” as storytellers and people involved in the project took a walking tour. (Dana Zigmund / Juneau Empire)

Wayfinding signs around downtown Juneau, like this one photographed Wednesday, are ready to share stories with residents and visitors alike via QR codes that link to audio. The Juneau Voices project recently held a sort of “opening night” as storytellers and people involved in the project took a walking tour. (Dana Zigmund / Juneau Empire)

Designed as a smartphone-based audio walking tour through the downtown area, listeners hear a diverse collection of stories ranging from experiences growing up in the Juneau Indian Village to learning about the experiences of Stuart Sliter, née Johnson, who served as the very first Miss Alaska at the dawn of Alaskan statehood. Audio effects and the introduction of a raven and eagle as tour guides add to the rich experience.

Outside Juneau Drug, listeners can hear the recollections of Walter Alexander Soboleff Jr., who recounts the struggles he had growing up as the child of prominent Alaskan Native leader and minister Walter Soboleff, namesake of building listeners look out on while hearing the installation.

“That’s the unvarnished truth,” he said after hearing the recording for the first time at the recording’s location during the kick-off event. “I was surprised by what I revealed.”

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Know and Go

Juneau Voices is available any time and is best enjoyed as a walking tour — although the stories can also be heard at home at juneau.org/voices. There are 11 stops along the tour. You need a smartphone to access the audio clips. Bring headphones for the best listening experience. You can complete the tour anytime. It takes about an hour to complete and the walk ranges from the downtown library to the area near the Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff Building.

Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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