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Penumbra receives $5M donation from philanthropist Mackenzie Scott

The award will help Penumbra evolve into a "center for racial healing," promoting equality and inspiring creative resiliency.
Credit: Penumbra Theatre
Penumbra Theatre's new play, "Benevolence."

ST PAUL, Minn. — A groundbreaking Twin Cities theatre will continue its evolution into something bigger with an infusion of funds to fuel the mission. 

Penumbra, known for decades across the Twin Cities and the country as Penumbra Theatre, confirms that philanthropist MacKenzie Scott awarded the organization $5 million as part of an announced $2.7 billion in donations to 200 groups across the country. 

Managing Director Amy Thomas tells KARE 11 the funds "will support the next stage of program development, refinement and infrastructure-building to set our direction for the next 40 years as a center for racial healing: serving as both a national beacon and a balm that heals, inspires, and drives racial equity."

Penumbra announced in August of 2020 that it would begin transitioning from a theatre company into a center for racial healing following the murder of George Floyd, and the subsequent trauma that enveloped the community. The new mission would position Penumbra as an organization that nurtures black artists, advances equity and promotes wellness for both individuals and community.

“When we announced the vision to evolve the organization, people asked, ‘How did you know?’ We knew because we’re living it. Minnesota is still reeling from tragedy that continues to be compounded by violence as recently as last week. Our work is urgently needed," explained Penumbra Artistic Director Sarah Bellamy in a released statement. "MacKenzie Scott’s strategy to invest so profoundly in organizations that are on the ground, doing the tough work, and committed long-term is a call for change: empower those closest to injustice to find lasting solutions.” 

Bellamy, the daughter of Penumbra founder Lou Bellamy, says the organization is fortunate to have found alignment with donors like Scott, who "understand the deep need for racial healing and authentic, loving celebrations of black life and culture.”

Scott's gift comes on top of a $2.5 million grant from the Ford Foundation Penumbra received last September. 

RELATED: 'Spend it however they choose' | MacKenzie Scott donates $2.7 billion

Penumbra was founded by Lou Bellamy in 1976, and through the decades has carved out a national reputation by producing more than 200 plays and cultivating artists of color that have earned Pulitzer Prizes, Grammys, and other prestigious awards. 

MacKenzie Scott, former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, vowed in recent years to give away the majority of her wealth (currently estimated at $60 billion) in her lifetime. She asked that attention from this week's $2.7 billion in awards be given to recipients and their missions, and not her. 

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