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Pillsbury House + Theatre marks 30 years in south Minneapolis community

The theater is hosting a block party Saturday next to its new outdoor exhibit featuring playwright Lorraine Hansberry, author of "A Raisin in the Sun."

MINNEAPOLIS — Pillsbury House + Theatre is celebrating its 30th anniversary and over the last 20 years, Signe Harriday has just about done it all.

"I have taught in our programs, I've been an actor on stage," Harriday said.

Now artistic producing director, she and the team are gearing up to host "Inside Out," an anniversary block party. It will be held Saturday from 1 to 6 p.m. in the parking lot of the theater located along Chicago Ave S between E 36th and E 35th Streets. It's just a few blocks away from George Floyd Square.

The event will feature free food, a bouncy house, art-making activities, and performances. Harriday says it will also be a chance for alumni of the theater's various programming to share memories with one another.

"No matter who you talk to, somebody's got a Pillsbury story," Harriday said. "We are an artistic home for great artists. Folks who are launching their careers, folks who are committed to staying in south Minneapolis."

Already, one special guest has taken her seat in the parking lot: a life-size statue of African-American playwright Lorraine Hansberry, whose many works include "A Raisin in the Sun."

The statue is part of a project called "To Sit a While." It was curated by the Lillys, a nonprofit known honoring women in theater by presenting them with Lilly Awards. Executive director Julia Jordan says, after reading a news article that highlighted how few statues there are of real women in history, the Lillys turned to sculptor Alison Saar to create the Hansberry statue. It's now on a national tour.

"It was unveiled in June in Times Square," Jordan said. "Then it was in Brooklyn Bridge Park. It was up at the Schomburg Center in Harlem. Then it went to Detroit. Now Minneapolis. Then back to New York then Howard University, Spellman College, Houston, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and then Chicago."

Saar's sculpture includes five empty chairs surrounding Hansberry.

"We gave her the quote, 'Never be afraid to sit a while and think,' which is a line from 'A Raisin in the Sun,'" Jordan said. "Each of the chairs symbolizes a different piece of her work and her identity."

All around the main artwork, Pillsbury installed several informational displays about local artists. Harriday says everything on site is also available in digital format.

"What this installation and this exhibit on this sort of momentous anniversary for us is emblematic of is the power that art has to pull people together," she said.

The Hansberry statue will be on display in the parking lot through September 15.

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