This month, Pillsbury House and Theater is hosting a bronze sculpture by Allison Saar, a famous black 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 see a show performed on Broadway.
The statue was the focal point of a block party on August 20, which kicked off a month of celebrations for the theater’s 30th anniversary.
“This sculpture pays tribute to both the work and the legacy of Lorainne Hansberry, who is a brilliant playwright and a brilliant journalist. She was a brilliant civil rights activist for both black people and the LGBTQ community,” said Pillsbury communications manager Elise Gumm.
Saar hopes the statue will invite the community to “never be afraid to sit down and reflect” and encourages the community to sit on the sculpture.
Pillsbury Artistic Production Manager Signe Harriday, who has worked with the theater for over 20 years, explained how it allows the sculpture to better connect with the community.
“This art thing 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 control the kind of experience I have with this art, it’s so dishonest,” said Harryday.
“Why did you succeed in the first place?” Harrison continued. “And I appreciate that [Saar] is about wanting to move forward and touch it, to relate to it – it’s the kind of art that I think heals and does the things that we aim for.
Pillsbury runs a “Bold Artists” series alongside the statute, where 20 local black artists were encouraged to make Hansberry-related art. Five of the artists were asked to write contributions relating to Hansberry’s life on the five chairs accompanying the sculpture.
MSR CEO and editor Tracey Williams-Dillard offered a quote on an office chair representing Hansberry’s time working as a reporter 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 depicting when Hansberry was educating Robert Kennedy on civil rights; local playwright Vinecia Coleman wrote on a modernist chair depicting Hansberry also being a playwright; and local artist Milky Osman wrote on a bentwood chair to represent Hansberry’s childhood home and first room.
“The Bold Artist Series was born out of this idea of wanting to intentionally engage with artists in the community,” Harriday said. “People connected to this community – connected to this statue as well.”
A short film titled “Audacious Artists Salon” was also shot for the project. Harriday said hosting the statue was perfect for Pillsbury as it fits in perfectly with their operations as a community centre.
“Where we have stood and who we have been over time has always been an organization committed to black love and liberation,” Harriday said.
“We commit, both individually, myself, as a human being identified as black, as well as as an organization, to participate in a difficult conversation that asks complex questions that have no easy answers on how to make sure we’re not perpetuating colonialism, patriarchy, capitalism, homophobia, really all the systems of oppression that we experience acutely within the black community in a way very intersectional,” Harriday continued.
The “To Sit Awhile” sculpture will remain in the South Car Park of Pillsbury House & Theater until September 5. Pillsbury will also host several events over the following month.
“We are so excited to be able to celebrate not only [our 30th] anniversary, but let it be about our community and for the community,” Gumm said. “And that’s really what the Pillsbury Theater is: to be representative of the community. Our community is our artists; they are part of our art and we do it for them.
“We really strived to be a home for all kinds of art makers, especially black art makers.”
For a calendar of upcoming Pillsbury events, visit pillsburyhouseandtheatre.org/lhi_homepage.
Cole Miska is a Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder Contributing Writer.