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The Dennos Museum Center
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Birds Fly In: a human refuge

Scheduled for September 1, 2021 — January 2, 2022

Artist Ellie Harold’s migration-inspired BIRDS FLY IN: A Human Refuge collaborative art project seeks to awaken individuals to the visible and invisible cages that separate people from the freedom they long for. When birds unexpectedly “flew” onto Ellie’s canvas in 2017, she understood them to be intuitive messengers of hope and healing for a troubled world. Ellie was inspired to create BIRDS FLY IN as a way of responding to human crises that elude political solutions. Visitors to the exhibit are invited to immerse themselves in avian-themed art and music within a secular sanctuary designed to encourage slow looking and deep listening.

A team of international collaborators were attracted to the idea and the cross-cultural installation began to take shape: Ellie painted large abstract bird paintings while listening to the richly evocative original soundtrack she commissioned from Mexican composer/multi-instrumentalist David Mendoza whose dream it was to come to the United States. The artist’s works are displayed on chain link fence material that forms a Refuge Structure designed by German architect Wilfried Schley. A group of Michigan-based poets created ekphrastic verse inspired by the BIRDS FLY IN art and music that are featured on banners throughout the exhibit. Filmmakers Fer Mos (Mexico) and Diane Frederick (U.S.) and Judy Jackson (Canada) created the documentary videos related to BIRDS FLY IN which are screened in the Dutmer’s Theater.

Layered with metaphor and meaning, BIRDS FLY IN: A Human Refuge has been described by numerous visitors as “moving and powerful.” To deepen their engagement, visitors are given materials with which to express ideas stimulated by the art, music, and poetry. As a result, visitors may find themselves inspired to take actions that are healing to themselves and helpful to others.

A full color English/Spanish Exhibition Catalogue is available in the Museum Store ($75) with 20% of sale price donated to ABBA House, Sanctuary for Migrants & Families in Celaya, MX. The catalogue features the art and poetry from the exhibit and includes interpretive essays by Harvard professor, PBS commentator, and author of Becoming Mary Sully, Phil Deloria; Jim Robbins, writer for the New York Times and author of The Wonder of Birds and The Man Who Planted Trees; and Jason Dake, Deputy Director of the Dennos. All texts from the exhibit have been translated into Spanish by Northwestern Michigan College Vice President of Lifelong & Professional Learning, Marguerite Cotto. 

More information about the project may be found at



Saturday, September 25, 2021 — 7:00 p.m.

Join artist Ellie Harold, creator of Birds Fly In: A Human Refuge, for a reception and book signing for the exhibition. View the exhibition, then make sure to get your copy of the Birds Fly In book. It can be purchased in the Museum Store for $75.00. From each purchase of the book, $20.00 will be given to ABBA House of Celaya, MX which provides humanitarian aid, including a new pair of shoes, to asylum-seekers.

You can also take the music from the exhibition home with you. 63 minutes of sublime avian-themed, migration-inspired music performed by Mexican composer and violinist David Mendoza. This richly textured soundtrack allows you to sink into a world of deep feeling and healing. Use as background for a yoga practice session or studio painting, and as the perfect accompaniment to a quiet evening of deep listening. Available in the Museum Store and online here

Image: Installation view of Birds Fly In at the Dennos.