(Pillsbury House & Theatre “House Values” developed by all staff through the PH+T internal cultural community hub institute session. This post is a part of the Audience (R)Evolution grant program and blog salon.)
Racial Equity, Economic Justice, Authentic Community Engagement. These have traditionally been significant challenges faced by cities, policy makers, and government institutions. Recently, they have become thorny issues and lightning rods for criticism within the nonprofits arts sector, particularly in regards to engaging people that reflect the true diversity and complexity of our growing and evolving communities.
As a hybrid human service and professional arts organization in the heart of South Minneapolis, these are challenges that we continue to face as we work and evolve into settlement house for the 21st century. During our 2012 season, 6,700 people attended performances in our 96-seat venue. Over 16,000 people enter our building each year to access our social service programming, 8,000 of these people are from our immediate neighborhoods, yet only 1,500 of our closest neighbors have been inside our theatre.
So, what’s an arts organization to do?
We start by asking tough questions of ourselves, for example; how is it that a family can have a child enrolled in our after school program (some for several years) pick them up five days per week for nine months out of the year and never be compelled to see an award winning play in our theatre? The same thing could be asked about people coming to access our wellness clinic twice a week, or a parent of a child in our Early Education Center, or an adult who regularly attends a weekly narcotics support group. Are the 8,000 people from our immediate neighborhoods who access our neighborhood center’s services as much our audience as the people who traditionally book reservations online or over the phone and drive in from elsewhere? And if so, what will bring these program participants to our mainstage performances?
We have already instituted new options to increase accessibility like a pay-what-you-can pricing structure for every performance and offering multiple events with free childcare in our licensed Early Education Center. These changes have brought a significant increase in overall attendance in our most recent season while increasing access to people of all income levels. Yet we know there is more we can do to reach our immediate neighbors and social service program participants.
We believe the answer is to engage more artists and make more art!
During our 2014 season we will commission artists to engage people both in our building and out in our community. Our resident teaching artists will create and embed arts curriculums that explore the central themes of our mainstage shows across all of our center’s programs. One example is having our resident teaching artists work with young people in our after school program to create visual art exploring mythology. Their art will then dress the set for our upcoming production of Gidion’s Knot, which takes place in a 5th grade classroom.
In addition, three public artists will produce exciting new socially engaged interactive artworks that will physically place art in our neighborhood and create pathways back to our mainstage productions. Our current artist is Allison Bolah, whose interdisciplinary practice draws on experiences in literature and photography to document through installations of video, sound, and paper-based objects the ways language and gesture shape identity and create complex worlds of human relationships. You’re not looking at this in the right light is a multi-media installation in response to the play Gidion’s Knot, and considers both Pillsbury House’s community and facilities as it explores young people’s experiences of miscommunication. Specifically, through video, still photographs, ‘classroom’ installations, and web-based pieces, this project will engage youths and adults who use and work in the Pillsbury House space.
We see this investment in art and artists as a way of engaging in a creative learning process about how to meet audience members where they are, reaching people traditionally disconnected from professional theatre. We hope to develop artistic pathways for our neighbors to access and connect to our work, while building recognition that the Pillsbury House & Theatre is really their neighborhood theatre.
Detail “looking Glass” by Allison Bolah
Michael Hoyt serves as the Creative Community Liaison and is a senior leader at Pillsbury House and Theatre, a center for creativity and community in Minneapolis, MN. Hoyt has been producing, managing and directing arts based community development projects, youth development programs, and placemaking for nearly 20 years.
Creating and facilitating unique shared experiences that connect diverse and often nontraditional art audiences drive his art practice. Hoyt’s work has been exhibited in traditional and nontraditional venues locally and abroad at the Seoul Olympic Museum of Art, Arts At Marks Garage in Honolulu, University of Hawai‘i Art Gallery, Pillsbury House + Theatre, Soap Factory, Soo Visual Arts Center, Intermedia Arts, Franconia Sculpture Park, Art Shanty Projects, and the Walker Art Center. He has received awards from the Minnesota State Arts Board through the Cultural Collaborations and Artist initiative Grant programs as well as a Jerome Foundation Fellowship and a Northern Lights Art(ists) on the Verge Fellowship. Hoyt’s artist residencies include the Intersections Visiting Artist and Scholar Program at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, the Visiting Artist Exhibition Program at Roanoke College, the Blacklock Nature Sanctuary, and Kulture Klub Collaborative.
Hoyt has the added benefit of raising a family three blocks from the PH+T, and is honored to have the opportunity to engage local artists and community members in creative practice towards the development of a vibrant and healthy community for all of its members.
Audience (R)Evolution is a four-stage program to study, promote and support successful audience engagement and community development models across the country. The Audience (R)Evolution grant program was designed by TCG and is funded by Doris Duke.