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Art meets racial healing at Penumbra Theatre

(Photo Credit: Penumbra Theatre)

For decades St. Paul’s Penumbra Theatre has been known as one of the nation’s most successful Black theater companies, staging compelling plays that speak to the African American experience.

Now, after taking the last few years to redefine its commitment to community, Penumbra is transforming itself into both a performing arts campus and a racial healing center. According to Senior Marketing Manager Tiffany Johnson, the outbreak of COVID-19 and the uprising following the murder of George Floyd put the decision to center racial healing in full gear.

“That's when there was really a need for racial healing - we were obligated to meet the call,” said Johnson. “As we're evolving into a center for racial healing, we’re able to see in real time why that is so important. For our local communities, it was a matter of finding a refuge and a resource, being connected to people and an organization that has an understanding and a grasp of what the Black experience means, especially when dealing with the racial tension in 2020. That understood what it meant to be Black in that moment.”

Located in the historic Black neighborhood of Rondo, Penumbra Theatre was founded by Artistic Director Lou Bellamy, Sarah Bellamy’s father, in 1976. It grew out of the Black Arts Movement, and played a part in launching the career of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson.

In June of 2021 the company received a transformative gift of $5 million from philanthropist Mackenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, which allowed Sara Bellamy to realize the dream of becoming a center for racial healing.

As part of the new wellness program, Penumbra is now offering free “Racial Healing Circles” on Saturdays from 12 – 4PM.

Johnson says Penumbra recognizes there isn’t just one universal key to Black wellness. As a result, each healing circle serves a specific community. The upcoming session on October 7th is curated for Black artists.

“It really takes you through this process of defining your own healing journey, identifying where you are, where you want to go, and being able to share these conversations in community–in a safe and facilitated space,” said Johnson.

To register for a healing circle, visit the link here.

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