The Pillsbury House + Theatre Oral History Project collects stories of the art, care, and community work centered within the space of Pillsbury House + Theatre (PHT). The project understands PHT as an abolitionist space that envisions alternative futures of care, mutual aid, and community, rather than carcerality. Coordinated by University of Minnesota graduate student Treasure Tinsley, the Oral History Project documents the experiences of individuals connected to the theater’s community. As an effort to bring together all of the voices which have shaped Pillsbury House + Theatre’s history, the Oral History Project is an ongoing effort to interview artists, residents, and neighbors of the surrounding community alongside Pillsbury staff and leadership.
Pillsbury House + Theatre is a part of Pillsbury United Communities, a collection of former settlement houses and their offshoots in Minneapolis. Based within the settlement house tradition, Pillsbury House has long engaged in the ‘provision of social services.’ Since its reimagining in 1992 as the Pillsbury House + Theatre, PHT has embraced art as integral to the work of community care. As the oral histories collected here show, pairing art and community care provides the space to envision and imagine alternative futures. It embraces beauty and joy as fundamental and necessary.
The Pillsbury House + Theatre Oral History Project originated through conversations with Leslie Parker around Black feminist theory, radical care and improvisation. Leslie embodies these principals in her collaborative artistic methodology A Call to Remember (CTR). Building with and through CTR, the interviews collected here were approached as collaborative improvisations. There were no scripted questions prepared, and the interviews did not occur in a particular order. By allowing these stories to ebb and flow, and move through themes collaboratively and together, we do not pretend to present an unbiased narrative (as if one might exist…). Rather, these stories tell of people holding space together and attempting to bring their whole selves into that space. This project also fundamentally calls us to understand the role of the past, and of those who came before, in shaping our futures. The history and legacy of PHT is complicated, and yet it is through the work of our predecessors that this institution is the Pills House we know today.
This project has been funded by Minnesota Transform, a major higher education initiative engaging anti-colonial and racial justice work through the public humanities at the University of Minnesota, in the Twin Cities, and across the state of Minnesota. Supported by a Just Futures Mellon grant, MN Transform puts “humanities on the front lines” through numerous public and university partnerships and hundreds of student internships on racial justice. Minnesota Transform is part of, and helps to support, universities’ reckoning with racism, dispossession and exclusion, in ways that reimagine the university and elaborate its possibilities.