From Alaska to Austria, mother, daughter follow their dreams

Feb 19, 2014
Nicole Johnson

As trips go, Nicolina Johnson’s upcoming flight from Vienna, Austria, to Anchorage, Alaska, shouldn’t be too tiring – just under 5,000 miles via the North Pole.

Still, it’s the trip of a lifetime for the 2000 graduate of Edmonds-Woodway High School; she’s going to join her mother, Jan Steves, for the ceremonial beginning of the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Steves is training for her third Iditarod, a 1,000-mile race from Anchorage to Nome, commemorating the 1925 serum run to Nome that was ordered when a diphtheria epidemic threatened the populace and no planes were available to deliver the medicine.

Mother and daughter are both following their dreams, each calling the other an inspiration.

While Steves travels widely between Iditarod races to talk about her adventures to school children, retirees, corporate groups and others, Johnson is logging a boatload of miles herself, bringing her passion for art to underprivileged people around the world.

After graduating, Johnson headed to New York City in 2002 where she teamed up with other artists and founded the Free Art Society, whose mission, she said, proposes that making art is a common human impulse, essential to building communities, and based on the principles of freedom, beauty and understanding.

Last summer, Johnson and Brazilian artist Pérola Bonfanti created 13 Portals, an interactive street art experience in New York’s East Village.

Johnson also launched Hearts of the World, a project that brings art to underprivileged children while promoting greater understanding between cultures.

So far, that effort has taken her far afield, including China, Japan, Chile, Mexico, and Brazil.

Determined to take art to the four corners of the world, Johnson has painted giant murals in Los Angeles, trains in Valparaiso, Chile, rickshaws in Asia, flat-top fishing boats in Rio de Janeiro and a tram in Naples, Italy.

Now in Vienna, she is again collaborating with Bonfanti, this time on “The Aces of Perception,” a project combining public art and technology that will debut on the streets of Vienna’s Museumquartier, considered one of the largest cultural areas in the world.

Despite all that travel, Johnson can’t wait to get to Anchorage to support her mother’s dream.

“She is an inspiration and a shining example of how it is never too late to pursue your passion,” Johnson said.

“I am so honored and excited to be there for her.”

Steves is likewise thrilled.

“Words are really hard to find to describe this,” Steves said. “It means so much to me.”

Based on Johnson’s other travels, it should be no surprise if this trip results in an art project as well.

To learn more about her work, visit:;; and

– Paul Archipley

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