Pillsbury celebrates 30 years of community engagement

Photo by Paige Elliott

This month, Pillsbury House and Theater is hosting a bronze sculpture by Allison Saar, a renowned Black female sculptor whose work has been featured in Times Square. The sculpture, titled “To Sit Awhile,” depicts famed Black playwright Lorraine Hansberry, who was the first Black woman to have a show performed on Broadway. 

The statue was the center point of a celebratory Aug. 20 block party, which served as the kickoff for a month of celebrations for the theater’s 30th anniversary.

“That sculpture honors both the work and legacy of Lorainne Hansberry, who is a brilliant playwright, brilliant journalist. She was a brilliant civil rights activist both for Black people and the LGBTQ community,” said Elise Gumm, Pillsbury’s communication manager. 

Saar hopes the statue will invite the community to “never be afraid to sit back and think,” and encourages the community to sit on the sculpture.  

Pillsbury’s Artistic Producing Director Signe Harriday, who has been working with the theater for over 20 years, spoke on how this allows the sculpture to better connect to the community.

“This business of art being behind a bar or a piece of glass and there’s an alarm that you’re going to set off, and you’re going to police the kind of experience that I have with that art just feels so disingenuous,” Harriday said. 

“Why’d you make it in the first place?” Harriday continued. “And I appreciate that [Saar] talks about wanting to go ahead and touch it, be in relationship with it—that’s the kind of art that I think heals and does the things that we aim for.”

Pillsbury is running an “Audacious Artists” series alongside the statute, where 20 local Black female artists were encouraged to make art related to Hansberry. Five of the artists were asked to write contributions relating to Hansberry’s life on the five chairs accompanying the sculpture.

MSR CEO and Publisher Tracey Williams-Dillard offered a quote on an office chair representing Hansberry’s time working as a journalist for Freedom magazine; writer Sharon Bridgforth wrote on a stool representing Hansberry’s time as an LGBTQ activist; Minneapolis City Council President Andrea Jenkins wrote on an ottoman representing Hansberry’s time educating Robert Kennedy on civil rights; local playwright ​​Vinecia Coleman wrote on a modernist chair representing Hansberry also being a playwright; and local artist Milky Osman wrote on a bentwood chair to represent Hansberry’s childhood home and first play.

Photo by Cole Miska

“The audacious artist series was born out of this idea of wanting to have intentional engagement with community artists,” Harriday said. “Folks connected to this community—connected to this statue as well.”

A short film entitled “Audacious Artists Salon” was also filmed for the project. Harriday said hosting the statue was perfect for Pillsbury, as it fits in nicely with their operations as a community center.

“Where we have been situated and who we have been over time has always been an organization committed to the love and liberation of Black people,” Harriday said.

“We are committed, both individually, myself, as a Black-identified human, as well as an organization, to being inside of difficult conversation that asks complex questions that don’t have easy answers about how do we make sure that we are not perpetuating colonialism, patriarchy, capitalism, homophobia, really all the systems of oppression that we acutely experience inside the Black community in a very intersectional way,” Harriday continued.

The “To Sit Awhile” sculpture will remain in the south parking lot of the Pillsbury House & Theater until Sept. 5. Pillsbury will also be hosting several events over the following month.

“We are so excited to be able to celebrate not only [our 30th] anniversary but have it be about our community and for the community,” Gumm said. “And that’s really what Pillsbury Theater is about—being representative of the community. Our community is our artists; they are part of our art and we do it for them.

“We have really strived to be a home for all kinds of art makers—especially Black art makers.”

 For a schedule of upcoming Pillsbury events, visit pillsburyhouseandtheatre.org/lhi_homepage.

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