LETTER FROM THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR MAY 29, 2020
#PenumbraStrong | A Letter from Sarah Bellamy
Penumbra Theatre is a black institution. It has made art by, for, and about black people for 44 years. We have stayed close to black community inside the Hallie Q. Brown Martin Luther King Center, even as the neighborhood around us has gentrified. Everyone is welcome in our space, but we have always been crystal clear about our intention to serve, love, and protect black community and resource black artists.
Today the black community is experiencing a deep and all too familiar pain with the murder of George Floyd. Righteous anger, boundless sadness, and blossoming fear are in our guts, in our throats. All of it is valid in response to such an insane violation of humanity. Today our black community needs all of the gentleness, resources, protections, and love that can be collectively mustered.
Our babies are waking up to yet another tragedy. Our elders are grieving the return of behaviors they laid their lives on the line to end fifty years ago. We are fatigued by complacency, by the politicization of our hurt, by those who see our wounds and lecture us about how our woundedness inconveniences them. We are tired, but we are not diminished.
As a black institution that has carried the water of racial equity work in Minnesota for decades, whose artists have given their breath and bodies and blood to the work of building our personal resiliency and deepening our collective humanity, we must be permitted the space to grieve right now. We will take the space that we need to be silent, to weep, to feel our way into what comes next. We have the right not to react but to marshal our reserves. We are mourning.
Give us a moment while we practice deep self-love. Give us a moment while we gather our strength.
There are so many ways that that we can show up for each other, many ways to demand justice, many ways to tend to the wounds that our community members are suffering. All of it is needed. Justice doesn’t come from one person pushing against a system, or one group making noise. It comes from the mighty confluence of many streams all rushing forward to say, enough. No more. Not in our names. Not on our watch. It seems that moment has arrived for Minnesota and the United States of America.
On Tuesday Penumbra virtually gathered a group of artists, healers, and activists in service of building a space of racial healing. We were silent. We sang. We danced. We trumpeted. We cried. We laughed. We spoke raw-throated into the moment. Some of us left to take care of our broken hearts. We made plans. We spoke wishes like secrets into a virtual space and felt ourselves get bigger and stronger as those wishes were caught and amen’d and ashe’d. May it be so. May it be so! We called deep on our intuitive knowing, our creative resiliency, our rich ancestry, our love, and our collective trust. And while that may not be all we can do, it is fundamental to whatever comes next.
In the past Penumbra has been a gathering place in times like these. Because of COVID-19 we cannot hold community in the way that we have historically done. So we are moving forward with deep intention into the virtual space. We are building a place where the work of racial healing can be manifested. It needs many hands.
For white folks who want to help the black community right now, if you have the energy to act: step into the space and put your comfort at risk. Stand with us. Stand next to us. Be kinder. Be even more compassionate. Listen better. Dig deeper. Move past fear. Don’t wait for us to tell you what to do but be ready to listen when we offer constructive criticism or advice. We can’t do this alone and we need everyone, everyone, in this fight.
Penumbra stands ready to both initiate and support efforts toward our collective liberation and we will continue to create spaces where dreaming, building, and witnessing the fruit our labor can be done. Penumbra will be here. And that, in these times, is revolutionary.
I know that this art is nourishing, life-giving, and sometimes life-saving. In my human experience, I know of no more valiant effort than to create in the face of destruction. And that is what we will do.
We will hold this space, this sacred ground, so that when you need loving, when you need replenishment, when you need a space to dream, you can find it here.
With abiding love,
“How are we going to take the songs of all of this wonderful flock here and weave them together to create this great orchestra that will sing the song of healing? ”
—Seitu Ken Jones