CarryOn Homes working to connect communities amid COVID-19 pandemic

Minneapolis-based arts organization CarryOn Homes focuses on immigrant and refugee stories.


Courtesy of Zoe Cinel

Portraits of new immigrants are displayed at CarryOn Homes at The Commons. Photos like these will be displayed in their next project which is planned for Central Ave in Northeast. 

Ksenia Gorinshteyn

Right now, its more than obvious that many of us are yearning for that feeling of connection and community that the Twin Cities often harbors. We’re looking to Zoom, FaceTime and other means of communication to get closer to what life was like just a few weeks ago.

In Northeast Minneapolis, CarryOn Homes, a local arts organization, is asking residents to sew a flag for their windows, hoping to “mend the gap” that each of us is experiencing due to social distancing. The organization is encouraging residents to take any piece of fabric they have lying around and sew it into something they can hang in their windows in solidarity. This is part of a new project that CarryOn Homes hopes to introduce in Northeast Minneapolis to address the 2020 census and immigration.

“I was looking for ways to reach out and get immigrant populations, people of color and Indigenous people involved in the census because there’s a great deal of skepticism around civic engagement,” said Witt Siasoco, an artist and resident of Northeast. “So, this was the perfect opportunity to invite this group of artists to come together on this project.”

CarryOn Homes focuses on storytelling. Made up of a group of five artists, all from different countries, the organization uses art to illustrate the connection to home that immigrants and refugees may have. Their work was featured at the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s recent exhibit, “When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Art and Migration.”

“It started with a photo and audio story of immigrants and refugees,” said Shun Jie Yong, co-founder of CarryOn Homes. “[Co-founder Peng Wu] and I wanted to help new immigrants adapt to the United States, but we felt like we needed more publicity or platforms to show our work.” 

In 2018, Wu and Yong entered the Creative City Challenge, where artists of all mediums and backgrounds can win the opportunity to install a piece of artwork at the Minneapolis Convention Center Plaza. 

CarryOn Homes expanded from two people to five and created an installation at The Commons in downtown Minneapolis. The project resembled a home without walls, with a tree planted in the middle and a vibrant exterior built with suitcases. 

“That is when we really started using the term ‘community’ toward recent immigrant communities,” said member Aki Shibata. “We wanted to highlight that community who couldn’t find a lot of belonging, so we created that piece for everybody to be able to belong together.”

CarryOn Homes has created 11 projects since 2017, including a recent installation at the Weisman Art Museum. This next project will bring them to Northeast.

Northeast Minneapolis is home to a large number of immigrant families with whom CarryOn Homes will work closely to ensure the installation is what represents their community best. The group will also be working with Hennepin County Commissioner Irene Fernando and the Windom Park neighborhood. 

“We do cover a lot of different [art] mediums,” said Shibata. “And the way we think about it is, what is the best medium to carry this story? And who can we collaborate with? So that the authentic voice of the community can show up. Our art-making is also organizing.”

While the approval process has taken a bit longer due to COVID-19, the members of CarryOn Homes have jumpstarted the creative process by building the installation in their own homes. 

“This project that we’re working on is literally using some of the components from that sculpture that we built for The Commons,” said Preston Drum, a member of CarryOn Homes. “It’s like that piece still lives on, but we still want to create a piece of artwork that will fit the context in which it exists.”

With the coming installation and the current proposition of the sewn flags, CarryOn Homes artists continue to relate their art to their own experiences as immigrants, as well as the experiences of others in their communities.

“We’ve been good about [realizing], how can we work with the limitations that we have right now,’ said Zoe Cinel, a member of CarryOn Homes. “Often, immigrants have to do that. You have to look at your own inner resources, and that’s what CarryOn Homes does. If you adapt to different conditions, as immigrants have to do oftentimes, there’s ways that you can be creative, and you can feel each other’s presence, even if you cannot be in the same room.”