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Penumbra’s Sarah Bellamy on MacKenzie Scott’s $5 million grant: ‘This is just a huge green light’

ALSO: “Alchemy & Intention: Summer Solstice Performance Arts Festival” at Franconia Sculpture Park; Minnesota Boychoir’s “Spring Sings”; and more.

When Sarah Bellamy got the call, she was grocery shopping at Kowalski’s. The voice on the other end said something like this: Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott and her husband,  Dan Jewett, were aware of her work, Penumbra’s legacy and its history, and they wanted to make a meaningful gift in support. Penumbra would receive an unrestricted grant of $5 million.

Sarah Bellamy
Photo by Ann Marsden
Sarah Bellamy
But she couldn’t tell anyone until they officially announced it.

That was two months ago. From then until this week, Bellamy didn’t tell a soul that the wealthiest woman in the world was giving Penumbra its biggest grant ever. Not even her father, Lou Bellamy, who founded Penumbra Theatre 45 years ago.

On Monday, when Sarah finally could tell him, Lou realized that she had known for a while. “He was mad, but he got over it,” Bellamy said.

She had heard of Scott, whose donations last year included $1.7 billion to several historically Black colleges and universities. She knew that the former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos had pledged to give away as much of her vast fortune as she could during her lifetime. “But I never in a million years imagined that we would ever be proximate to that. It just felt like a different stratosphere.”

Her first thought when she heard the news: “I remember having a huge grin on my face. And I had my head kind of down between my knees, and I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this organization is gonna make it. The Center for Racial Healing is gonna happen.’ ”

In August 2020, Bellamy announced that Penumbra Theatre would become the Penumbra Center for Racial Healing, a new kind of organization devoted to the arts, racial equity, wellness and social change. How will the grant affect Penumbra’s plans and timeframe?

“There’s an infrastructural overhaul that has to happen,” Bellamy said. “Bringing the new wellness programming online, ramping up our equity program, investing in more commissioning and art that will be available in the future.

MacKenzie Scott
REUTERS/Danny Moloshok
MacKenzie Scott
“[The grant] gives us an opportunity to breathe a little and add more capacity to our team. The grind that we have all been in for so long is not sustainable. I’m excited to welcome some new blood to the team and see the dream realized.

“I don’t think it will change our timeframe. We have some deep strategic work to do in the next 12 to 14 months, and some capacity-building work. And then there will be a capital campaign because we need to expand our footprint.”

There are other benefits of suddenly receiving $5 million. “Our confidence is bigger. That’s the really big shift. The possibility is more concrete.”

What will this allow Bellamy to do that she couldn’t have imagined before?

“Believe that we can do this. I started talking to company members and other people about [the Center for Racial Healing] in 2015 and getting ‘yes, yes, yes,’ so I knew this was the right path. For Penumbra, having the potential hasn’t always meant we had the resources to realize our potential. Those two things are finally aligning.

“There’s been a level of risk, and a level of stress, and even a level of trauma that the people who have believed so much in [Penumbra] have weathered because of being undercapitalized. This gives us room. Room to sit with affirmation and abundance. That in itself is healing. It makes space for us to hold others in their healing. This is just a huge green light.”

And what was Lou Bellamy’s reaction, once he got over being mad?

“He gets quiet, and he gets contemplative … and now I’m going to get emotional. For so many years, he and the other artists were so deserving. They never got that recognition. So it’s bittersweet, I think, for him. But he’s very proud and very hopeful. And I’m glad he’s alive to see this.”

Basilica Block Party lineup announced

After taking a COVID gap year, the Basilica Block Party is back on the block. The popular annual outdoor music festival, begun in 1995 as a fundraiser for restoration of the first basilica in the United States, announced its 2021 lineup yesterday. Two days, three stages, 16 performances.

This year’s dates are later than usual: Sept. 10-11 instead of early July.

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The Main Stage and West Lawn Stage will feature national acts including the Avett Brothers, Spoon, Motion City Soundtrack and Black Pumas. The Star Tribune stage will be home to area acts like Koo Koo Kanga Roo and Diane (FKA D Mills).

The Avett Brothers will perform on the Basilica Block Party Main Stage on Sept. 11.
REUTERS/Brian Snyder
The Avett Brothers will perform on the Basilica Block Party Main Stage on Sept. 11.
Tickets are on sale now at early bird rates for one day ($70) or both ($125).

What’s the current status of the metro art fairs?

Some will return to their usual city streets and parks: Stone Arch Bridge this weekend (June 19-20), FLOW Northside Arts Crawl (July 29-31), Loring Park (July 31-Aug. 1), Uptown (Aug. 6-8).

Both the Edina Art Fair, traditionally the first art fair of the season, and St. Anthony Park Arts Festival have been canceled for the second year in a row.

The Powderhorn Art Fair (Aug. 7-9), now in its 30th year, will be online except for two weekday pop-up preview events. Next Tuesday through Thursday (June 24-26), you’ll find a small group of artists and live music at the intersection of Lake Street and Chicago Avenue from 3-6 p.m. Can’t make it next week? A second round of previews is scheduled for June 29-July 1.

The picks

V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.

A still from “Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts.”
REUTERS/Brian Snyder
A still from “Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts.”
V Available now at MSP Film Society’s Virtual Cinema: “Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts.” Born into slavery in 1853 in Alabama, Traylor spent much of his life after emancipation as a sharecropper. He didn’t start making art until he was in his 80s. He drew on whatever paper he could find – scraps, candy wrappers, other people’s stationery. Jeffrey Wolf’s “plain, sincere, nourishing” documentary uses tap dance, period music, photo and film archives to tell Traylor’s story and burn his images onto your brain. FMI and tickets ($12/9 members).

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L Saturday, June 19, 5 p.m.-11 p.m.: Franconia Sculpture Park: “Alchemy & Intention: Summer Solstice Performance Arts Festival.” Site-specific performances across Franconia’s 50 acres, two short films by Kenneth Anger, tarot readings, and a closing fire ritual will bring artists and audiences together to honor midsummer, mysticism and magic while exploring ritual and resilience as catalysts for social change and healing. A contemporary art space in rural Minnesota, Franconia confronts the tough issues of our time, including systemic racism and white supremacy. This event will feature important BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ artists from across the United States; among the Minnesota artists will be Emily Gastineau with Valerie Oliverio, Anna Marie Shogren and Judith Holo Shui Xiān. Free and open to the public. $5 parking per vehicle. FMI including a schedule of events and information about the artists.

Members of Minnesota Boychoir
Courtesy of the Minnesota Boychoir
Members of Minnesota Boychoir
L Saturday, June 19, 7 p.m.: Hilde Performance Center (Plymouth): Minnesota Boychoir “Spring Sings.” This is the last of three in-person concerts the boychoir will perform this week. Before the first (on Wednesday at Como Lakeside Pavilion), it had been almost a year and a half since they sang together. Members of the choir – 100 voices strong – range in age from 6 to 18. There’s no structured seating at the Hilde, so bring a blanket or lawn chair. Free.

L Saturday and Sunday, June 19 and 20, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.: The Shed at the Lab Taproom: Alternative Motion Project Presents “On the Verge.” Choreographed by Kristin Howe and Joanna Lees, with composer/musician/sound artist Dameun Strange performing his original music, nine movers will explore the limits, possibilities and connections of the body, space and identity. The Shed is outside the St. Paul taproom. FMI and tickets ($17-20).