Refuge was a temporary public art project at the corner of 25th and Lake Streets during the summer of 2015. This project - a 1500 square foot garden on an empty lot - served as public space and a lifeline for migrating birds and insects. As urban decay gives way to demolition and open lots of lawn, Refuge sought to reimagine what might be a possible as a more valuable land use solution in a location near the Missouri river, a major migration route. 

As the plants grew, two distinct rooms were created by the species’ undulating heights. A room inside 12 foot annual sunflowers served as a shaded respite on hot days.  A second more intimate space was created with plants that have evolved to release fragrances that seduce night pollinators and humans alike.

Refuge celebrates beauty, provides a space for wonder and references the critical habitat once common along the Missouri River. 



Examining value systems and place is at the core of Heather Johanson’s practice. Her minimalist paintings, prints, drawings and gardens often focus on the invisible or unappreciated worlds we exist within and are rooted in vulnerability, grief, anxiety and a sense of responsibility while living in the time of the Anthropocene. Her most recent body of work focuses on the drastically changing localized ecosystem of the Midwest. 

Johanson earned an MFA from John F. Kennedy University in Berkeley, CA and BA in Painting from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Between 2008 and 2013 she served as Residency Program Manager at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. She has exhibited nationally. The artist lives and works in Omaha, NE. 

Photos by Dana Damewood