LISTEN: UNICEF CEO Michael Nyenhuis walks GPB through the organization's new immersive exhibition, Heart Strings.

UNICEF executives and supporters celebrate the opening of Heart Strings at Atlanta's Pullman Yards on April 18, 2024.

UNICEF executives and supporters celebrate the opening of Heart Strings at Atlanta's Pullman Yards on April 18, 2024.


UNICEF USA has come a long way since it launched its cardboard trick-or-treat boxes 74 years ago.

Established in 1946 as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, the organization began its Halloween fundraising in 1950, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965 and has since led the world in the movement for children’s rights and childhood vaccinations.

The aid group is known for high-profile campaigns, including Picasso’s 1961 UNICEF greeting card designs, George Harrison’s 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, actress Audrey Hepburn’s support of the organization until her death in 1993, and its multiplatform 2007 Tap Project for clean water, which Ad Age magazine named one of the top ad campaigns of the 21st century.

Now, UNICEF USA is taking an all-ages immersive exhibition, Heart Strings, to cities across the U.S. — and the event lands at Atlanta's Pullman Yards through May 5, 2024.

The all-ages experience remixes light, touch and music to bring awareness to health care, education and protection of youth.

UNICEF USA President and CEO Michael Nyenhuis told GPB the Heart Strings journey includes eight interactive stations akin to a “global field trip” which takes about 45 minutes to peruse.

“Rather than just showing someone a three-minute video of our work, we let them walk through an exhibit and see and feel and touch, read and connect to children all around the world,” he said. “And to do it in a way that inspires hope and optimism.”

There’s also a virtual gift shop at the end of the journey, where patrons can purchase bundles of soccer balls, backpacks, first-aid kits and school supplies which UNICEF delivers to children in over 190 countries.

Nyenhuis noted progress over the past century, including a 59% drop in the mortality rate for children under 5 years old since 1990, a dramatic increase in the number of kids in school and lower morbidity rates from preventable diseases.

But today, with UNICEF and other NGOs calling for ceasefire in Gaza and Ukraine, and more children across the globe displaced from their homes due to conflict, climate change and economic issues than ever before, Heart Strings serves to promote youth engagement with the issues that will shape their futures.

UNICEF supporters and school groups put the Heart Strings stations to the test during a preview event on April 18 in Atlanta, where visitors grooved to “Our Song,” featuring the recorded voices of several children’s choirs.

In the Heartbeats area, an attendee placed their hand on a handprint as lights in the room flashed to the rhythm of their pulse; in Voices of Power, a child used a megaphone to speak words of encouragement as their voice was auto-tuned in real-time to the "Our Song" melody that played throughout the event space.

Moment Factory Multimedia Director Aaliyeh Afshar, whose company designed Heart Strings’ interactive elements, said music is at the core of the current immersive exhibition trend.

“If you look at it on social media, it’s the visual, but what you feel when you're [inside Heart Strings], is that sound component and what the music makes you feel," Afshar said, "whether it triggers a memory or makes you dance or makes you feel emotional.”

Beyond the music, Nyenhuis said Heart Strings is meant to reignite interest in UNICEF’s mission — and kick-start local action, such as Georgia communities joining the Child Friendly Cities Initiative.

Decatur, Ga., is already participating in the program, where “the community itself doing its own assessment and identifying what those gaps are that they want to address,” Nyenhuis noted. “And then the second piece of it is youth participation, making sure that youth are at the table, that their voices are being heard and that they're being considered as plans are being developed.”

Heart Strings is open daily from April 24 through May 5 at Pullman Yards. Click here for tickets and more information.