Speaking of Home was a public art project that sought to reimagine the use and experience of the Twin Cities skyway system—the most expansive in North America—beyond its function as a utilitarian above-ground pedestrian thoroughfare.
The first skyway public art project in the history of the Twin Cities, it was installed in the IDS-Macy’s skyway bridge, 20 ft. above one of Minneapolis’s key downtown arteries and in the heart of the city’s financial and commercial district.
Timed to coincide with Minnesota’s sesquicentennial, it was conceptualized to give voice to Minnesota’s growing immigrant population. It was realized as a 150-ft.-long installation that tells the stories of 23 new Americans living in the Twin Cities area, represented by 13-by-10-ft. photographs mounted within the skyway bridge’s large windows, accompanied by silkscreened translucent text panels. The panels featured excerpted quotes describing journeys to the U.S., reasons for leaving the immigrants’ native countries, and individual meanings for the word “home.” Additionally, each subject’s word for home—in their native language—was installed on a panel overhead, adjacent to their photograph.
Other graphic elements included a 50-ft. wall graphic installed on an adjacent vacant storefront, freestanding introductory panels with project brochure dispensers at the end of each skyway, and a collection of backlit posters placed strategically throughout the skyway system. More than 60,000 brochures were distributed during the installation.
Speaking of Home was conceived to be experienced both inside and outside the skyway bridge. Using photographs printed on seamless, semitransparent scrim fabric, the installation mixed and intermingled individual histories and stories with the surrounding dynamic character of the city. Seen from the street below, the images appeared to change from opaque to transparent, depending on the time of day and the angle of the sun, with passersby moving between the still images in a steady back-and-forth parade. At night the image-filled skyway resembled a monumental lightbox suspended over Nicollet Mall.
Designed to symbolically invert the relationship between the city’s native-born citizens and its recent arrivals, the installation situated the immigrants as stationary onlookers as locals passed by and moved through the city. In this way, the project cast its audience as part of the piece, contributing to the ever-evolving story of immigration in American society. During each of its 100 days on display, approximately 90,000 people were impacted by the project—16,000 inside the skyway and 75,000 pedestrians on Nicollet Mall. The project took four years from concept to completion and cost $550,000.
Due in part to the precedent-setting nature of the project, there were many design challenges and constraints, including respecting the architecture of Philip Johnson’s IDS Center, ensuring the return of space to normal conditions following removal, and avoiding impeding the flow of thousands of people through the busiest skyway in the city. Speaking of Home, as a pilot project, sought to counter criticism of skyways as sterile, restrictive pass-through spaces and demonstrate innovative ways to effectively and creatively enhance the daily experience of citizens.
“This exhibit is best if thought of as a place for pause and reflection in an otherwise chaotic world. I was drawn first to the content, the clarity of glance of the subjects, and the otherworldly quality of their lives. There are a series of heavy but open hearts here, bringing us home again, whatever time or place that may mean to each of us.”
Nancy Ann Coyne (principal in charge/concept artist); HartungKemp Design Agency, Ideas that Hurt (graphic design);Larsen Design (environmental design)
Jack Becker, Forecast Public Art (public art manager); Shawna Nelsen, Family Housing Fund (communications); Mary Jane Jacob (writer); Ilze Mueller (copy editor); Kristin Constantineau, ILS Translations (translations); Joseph Borman, Borman & Schulkers Law Firm (project attorney)
Portland Color (photos), Archetype Signmakers (printed graphics), Serigraphics Sign Systems (silkscreen signage), Albinson Reprographics (scans and lightbox graphics), Brad Palm LLC (photo retouching), Erickson’s Enterprises of Stillwater (installation), Fisher Textiles (textiles), Hi-Lord Chemical Co. (dye sublimination inks), Spectra Jet (transfer paper)