In 2017 the public artist and designer Nancy Ann Coyne created “Speaking of Home,” a photographic public artwork transformed four of St. Paul’s famous skyways into an episodic narrative of immigrant experiences––questioning assumptions about what comprises “home.” The Daily Heller covered it then and revisits Coyne’s work now to see how has the project, which is still in place, has impacted the local community since its launch.
The project marked the first time that the St. Paul skyway system was sanctioned for a public artwork and was made possible by the close collaboration between the artist and fabricator, Archetype.
Speaking of Home explores the meaning of home for Twin Cities immigrants and refugees through their own family photographs brought from their native country, with accompanying stories. Each larger-than-life photograph is printed on a translucent scrim and installed in the windows of four connecting 77-foot skyway bridges––a network of over five miles of second-story glass and steel pedestrian walkways over the city’s downtown commercial zone.
Employing 58 semi-transparent, black-and-white photographs, the installation’s design enables 30,000 skyway pedestrians to view the city through new Americans’ eyes as thousands of street-level commuters and motorists engage with 58 faces that gaze directly onto the city. Throughout the day and night, the elevated bridges appear as stunning architectural lightboxes.
Working with 58 people from the Twin Cities immigrant community, it was very important that the project resonated with the participants and their families. Not knowing really what to expect many spoke of being awestruck to see them larger than life when the 600-foot project unfurled. A daughter wrote, “My mother’s story…you captured her essence very well…it was very moving.
- Generated empathy and a better understanding towards our immigrants’ lives
- Acted as ongoing reminder that the United States is a county of immigrants.
- Demonstrated to people from other countries – they are welcome.
- Brought humanity and emotion to an otherwise characterless space,
- Created a deeper sense of community.
- Engaged the space aesthetically and with a mission to “take you out of your day-to-day world to see bigger realities, stories and truths.”
- Provided an excellent example where public art/installation meets social justice
St. Paul Municipality and private property stakeholders praised the project for creating a sense of place by activating these historically underused spaces and transforming how they are experienced. A corporation and regional art museum have created place-making projects in their buildings Skyway bridge.