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A city’s skyway system becomes canvas for telling its immigrant stories

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It’s the first-ever art installation for St. Paul’s 50-year-old network of pedestrian bridges

streetwalk installation with immigrant pictures
At night, the illuminated skybridges become “architectural lightboxes.”
All photos by Peter VonDeLinde unless otherwise noted

Skybridges are often objects of fascination and, sometimes, reinvention. The latest example comes from St. Paul, Minnesota, where the city’s famous skyway system just inaugurated its first-ever public art installation.

Speaking of Home, created by artist and designer Nancy Ann Coyne, invites a photographic and narrative exploration of the region’s vibrant immigrant community. Family photos shared by over 50 immigrants in the area now take center stage on four glass-and-steel pedestrian bridges, covering 600 feet in total.

These larger-than-life black-and-white images are printed semi-transparent, so they’re visible for both pedestrians crossing the bridges and street-level commuters traveling through the downtown commercial district.

“Speaking of Home is designed to invert the divide between the native-born and newcomers, situating immigrants as stationary onlookers as the locals pass by and move through the city,” Coyne states in a press release.

Their stories come alive to some 30,000 people who pass through the skyways daily. There, the enlarged portraits are accompanied by biographies, interview excerpts on why individuals made their journeys, and the lives they’ve made in Minnesota.

Nancy Ann Coyne.
Photo by David Turner

The project officially opened on Wednesday, September 27, but getting there has been tricky. Not only do all of the skyways connect private properties (meaning Coyne had to get multiple buy-ins for a permit for the project), but the bridges are also only authorized for carrying foot traffic. To get around that, Coyne worked with the St. Paul City Council to craft a new ordinance that would open the skyways up for Speaking of Home and future art installations.

The project, arriving in time for the 50th anniversary of St. Paul’s skyway system this year, takes on extra resonance in light of ongoing national debates on immigration.

Just last month, French artist JR also commented on the topic with an installation on the U.S.-Mexico border, which, similarly, takes the form of an enlarged black and white photo.

Speaking of Home will be on view until March 8, 2018.