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August 4 – October 31, 2008
IDS Center /Macy’s Skyway
between 7th and 8th Streets, spanning Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, Minnesota


In Nancy Ann Coyne’s Speaking of Home, the Twin Cities tell a surprising story of who is a citizen here. Today, more than 120 languages are spoken by children enrolled in the public school system — a diversity that many may envision as the demographics of, say, New York or Los Angeles.

The frame for this picture: the skyway system, so visible and present — to some a convenience, to others an oddity, or just a vestige of 1960s urban planning. Coyne’s piece is activated 24 hours a day by 23 individuals — immigrants and other new Minnesotans — with whom Coyne collaborated, as well as the general public who pass through and below. The project is comprised of family photographs and portraits from these newcomers’ native homes, accompanied by their stories, as presented by the artist.

Speaking of Home’s monumental scale is appropriate; it parallels the enormity of investment made by these individuals in making a home here. The artist integrates the word for home in each collaborator’s native language as a prominent part of the installation. “Having a home is important to every culture,” Savandy Yin, one of the collaborators, eloquently states. Speaking of Home underscores this idea, and the importance of an affordable and safe dwelling for everyone to come home to.

There are well over 100 forms of home in the English language. It is not just a thing we see (a house), a sound we hear (a word), or even the belongings we touch that fill our homes. It is one of those very few words that is not contained by any one definition that transcends the senses. As the state of Minnesota turns 150 years old, Speaking of Home invites its audience to consider: What is this elusive thing, home, that we all know in our way?

-Mary Jane Jacob

Mary Jane Jacob is a curator and writer, and serves as professor of sculpture and executive director of exhibitions at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This introduction was excerpted from Ms. Jacob’s essay for the Speaking of Home catalogue.

About the Artist

Nancy Ann Coyne is a photographer and public artist. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. She has received numerous grants, fellowships and awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship, a Koerner Fellowship at Oxford University and in 2007, a SEGD Merit Award. Her recent work involves creating large-scale installations that explore and expand the narrative qualities of documentary photography in the built environment. Speaking of Home, initiated and conceived by Coyne in 2005, is the first public art project created for the Minneapolis skyway system.

Project Collaborators

Jim Denomie
Ilze Mueller
Kim Mai Cao
Elsa Mekuria
Addis Abeba/Ethiopia
Savandy Yin
Delia Quito
Octavio Cordero Palacios/Ecuador
Thierry Chevallier
Ibrahima “ IBe” Kaba
Mai Chue Vang
Shama Saqi
Yacov Schmunik
Vlad Hurduc
Alba Iulia/Romania
Ethelind Kaba
Leila Habashi
Anna-Lena Skold
Adnan Shati
Nasireyeh City/Iraq
Lobsang Dorjee
Gustavo Lira
Mexico City/Mexico
Shakun Maheshwari
Bhilwara, Rajasthan/India
James Farlough
New Orleans/Louisiana
Jianzhong Chen
Nasra Mohamed Noor
Bronya Mayzlin

A Tale of Immigration

Minnesota was still a territory, home to Dakota and Ojibwe tribes and French fur traders, when the first great wave of immigrants began streaming across its borders. Scandinavians and Germans arrived first in the largest numbers, followed after the Civil War by the Irish, English, Scots, Poles, Czechs, and a host of others.

These newcomers were farmers, merchants, and domestic servants, uprooted by a farm crisis in Europe and the uncertainties of the Industrial Revolution. Famine gripped Ireland, unemployment swept across the Rhineland, Scandinavians felt the heavy hand of the state church. Meanwhile, in America’s Upper Midwest, on the plains and woods west of the Mississippi River, land was up for grabs, and workers were needed in Minneapolis factories, on the railroad, and in the mines of the Iron Range. And so they came.

In 1860, two years after Minnesota became the Union’s thirty-second state, New York Governor William Seward, campaigning here for presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln, reached out to the foreigners populating the young state. The governor, historian Theodore Blegen writes in Minnesota: A History of the State, considered the untapped West “a harmonizer of races, a region where the immigrants and their children became American citizens.”

As Minnesota celebrates its sesquicentennial, it remains an unlikely “harmonizer of races” where new immigrants — mostly from Africa, Asia, and Latin America — are creating new lives while discovering what it means to be American. In 2005, more refugees came to Minnesota than to any other state except California. Like those who came before them, these newcomers have fled a host of social ills: political oppression in Laos, civil war in Somalia and Liberia, economic hardship in Mexico. And they have brought with them to Minnesota another batch of new traditions, languages, and customs that now compete with the old.

The North Star State — cold and remote, far from the melting pot of the coasts — may seem like an odd destination. Yet its appeal can be explained, in part, by its generosity of spirit. Minnesota, after all, has been a leader in refugee resettlement for decades, stretching back to the post–World War II years when Eastern Europeans fled communism to find refuge here. Two institutions, Lutheran Social Services and Catholic Charities, both identified with the state’s most prominent religious traditions, were pioneers in resettlement work and remain leaders in the field today.

As the images and words in Speaking of Home remind us, Minnesota’s newest immigrants and refugees are broadening the state’s ethnic tapestry, which also includes its original inhabitants, American Indians, as well as African Americans. But as they do so, they face the timeless challenge of balancing the most closely held parts of their heritage with their obligations in a new and, to some, strange land. That is the trick, and ultimately the beauty, of assimilation.

Bronya Mayzlin, an immigrant from Belarus who is featured in this public art project, puts it this way: “I have adopted Minnesota and it’s adopted me.”

-Gregg Aamot

Gregg Aamot is a reporter for The Associated Press and the author of The New Minnesotans: Stories of Immigrants and Refugees.

Welcome Home

Human survival and stability depends on having a safe, affordable place to call home. In addition to providing shelter from the elements, a home provides a foundation for individuals and families to grow and succeed in their jobs, at school, and in their communities. Yet finding an affordable home in the Twin Cities has become increasingly difficult as rental rates and home prices climb far out of reach for most low- and moderate-income families.

The struggle for affordable housing is even harder for the region’s growing population of immigrants. Between 2000 and 2006, more than 87,000 immigrants settled in Minnesota, with 18,000 arriving in 2006 alone. These newcomers face additional barriers to finding affordable housing, such as language, employment, discrimination, and lack of credit, rental, and employment history.

Housing is generally considered to be affordable if it costs 30 percent or less of a family’s income. In the Twin Cities metro area, a recent study indicated that nearly 50 percent of low-income households are paying more than this amount for their housing — often forcing them to cut back on other necessities like heat, food, and clothing. The need for affordable housing in the Twin Cities has been exacerbated by the recent foreclosure crisis, which has pushed many previous homeowners into the rental market or emergency shelters.

The number of homelessness individuals and families with children remains in the thousands. Studies indicate that on any given night, nearly 8,000 adults and children are homeless or living in transitional housing in Minnesota. Of this number, nearly 3,000 were children. We know that homelessness endangers children’s health, development, behavior, and school performance. No child should have to wonder where they are going to sleep at night.

Fortunately, organizations and individuals in the Twin Cities are working together to create and preserve safe, healthy, and affordable homes and communities for everyone — including housing opportunities for recently arrived immigrants and refugees who often face multiple barriers and have unique housing needs. Both the public and private sectors are joining forces in unprecedented ways to tackle the foreclosure crisis, end homelessness, provide increased workforce housing options, and bring stability to all families and neighborhoods throughout the metro area.

Nasra Mohamed Noor, an immigrant who participated in Speaking of Home, recognizes the difference that safe, affordable housing has made in her life as a new arrival. “Everywhere I live, I bond with people and places. For me, home needs to be a place of peace. Seward Tower East [an affordable housing residence] … has helped me to become an independent and powerful woman in my own right.”

-Shawna Lynn Nelsen

Shawna Nelsen is communications director of the Family Housing Fund where she is engaged in the Changing the Face of Housing in Minnesota initiative and the Home Sweet Home art and poetry exhibitions.

Public Programming

Speaking of Home: Conversations & Context

The Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota (IAS) is sponsoring a series of free public conversations to give greater context to the Speaking of Home project. Join us for after-work discussions on topics including immigration, affordable housing, public art, and the background to the project.

All events are in Macy’s Skyroom, on the twelfth floor of Macy’s downtown store, 700 Nicollet Mall. For details, please call IAS at 612-626-5054. Go to www.speakingofhome.org to learn about future events.

Tuesday, August 12 – 5:30 p.m. at Macy’s Skyroom

Speaking of Home: Immigration to Minnesota – Donna Gabaccia and IBé

Join us for a conversation about the experience of immigrants in Minnesota, led by Donna Gabaccia and IBé. Donna Gabaccia is the Director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota. IBé is a writer and spoken-word performer who was born in Kankan, Guinea, and grew up in Koindu, Sierra Leone; Evanston, Illinois; and St. Cloud, Minnesota. Although his mailing address is in Minneapolis, he says his home is “the middle of the Atlantic.”

Tuesday, August 26 – 5:30 p.m. at Macy’s Skyroom

Public Art As Conversation Starter – Jack Becker and Peter Eleey

Public art succeeds by stimulating specific dialogue around its situation, and might best be judged by the quality of that dialogue. Hear Walker Art Center curator Peter Eleey and Forecast Public Art founder Jack Becker discuss the general condition of public art in the United States, and the challenges facing artists addressing diverse audiences.

Tuesday, September 23 – 5:30 p.m. at Macy’s Skyroom

The Making of Speaking of Home – Nancy Ann Coyne, Vickie Benson, and Ben Heywood

This conversation with Nancy Ann Coyne, Vickie Benson and Bey Heywood will explore the creative forces that led to the construction of the Speaking of Home project. Nancy Ann Coyne is a photographer and public artist. Since 1984, she has lived and worked in the United States, Europe, Israel, and the Republic of Georgia as a photographer, consultant, and independent scholar. Vickie Benson is program director for the arts at the McKnight Foundation in Minneapolis. Ben Heywood is executive director of the Soap Factory, a contemporary art center in Minneapolis.

September 26-27: Forum on Public Art and Democracy

What makes a space public? How can public art instigate civic discourse? How can artists and designers working within constraints create more meaningful public spaces? Internationally renowned artist Suzanne Lacy joins local artists, architects, designers, and scholars for an evening keynote address on September 26 in Macy’s Skyroom, followed by a full day of panels at the University of Minnesota, and a performance of Daak: Call to Action by the Ananya Dance Theatre. Free and open to the public. For more information contact the Institute for Advanced Study, 612-626-5054, ias@umn.edu, www.ias.umn.edu/calendar.php