A dialogue with Nancy Ann Coyne, creator of Speaking of Home

Arts / Article

By Adrienne Kleinman, Forecast Public Art

Hailing from New York City, artist and designer Nancy Ann Coyne is no stranger to busy metropolises. In 2008, she launched Speaking of Home, a radical new public art project in bustling downtown Minneapolis. She was the first artist in the city’s history granted permission to install a project in the skyway system, a network of glass-enclosed bridges connecting buildings throughout downtown. When asked how it felt to pioneer a project that faced challenges and barriers all along the way, Coyne eloquently replied: “I’m driven by the idea: how can one re-imagine and re-design urban architecture and the built environment? There is an extraordinary power in visualizing — and then realizing — how a banal, uninspired space can be transformed into an evocative site of emotional connection, inquisitiveness and beauty. I also find it a positive challenge to engage municipalities and city stakeholders as partners in the process.”

Nancy Ann Coyne, pictured in 2008, in front of a Speaking of Home image. Photo by George Heinrich.

Beginning her career in the early 80’s as an editorial photographer, by 1997, it became evident to Coyne that “audiences were oversaturated by an image-laden culture.” It was then that her work took a dramatic shift as she became more focused on design, the built environment and the impact that documentary photography has when presented in the public domain. As demonstrated in Speaking of Home, she started to create “documentary environments, often in collaboration with local communities, amalgamating large-scale photographs and narrative texts using the built environment to explore democracy, citizenship and identity.”

With the second, expanded version of Speaking of Home to be revealed in the skyway system of downtown St. Paul in 2013, Coyne is now looking to the future with an eye to developing Speaking of Home in other U.S. cities and abroad where it can serve as a model on “how to use public space to create a sense of place and identity through innovative design strategies.”

At its root, Coyne says, it’s all about the story, and as a designer and artist, finding meaningful and new ways for audiences emotionally to connect to it. As a project that celebrates the Minnesota immigrant experience, Speaking of Home “amplifies voices” that may not be heard: as widely or as loudly as they deserve.

If you want to learn more about Speaking of Home, visit the project website.