The Art Cure

Can art help pull people from poverty? Noel Raymond of Pillsbury House Theatre talks about why it might just work

Read more about Noel in “Playing for Keeps.”

The theatre in Pillsbury House always sat a bit strangely in this south Minneapolis social-services agency, with people seeking medical care or counseling crossing paths with award-winning actors. Now, it doesn’t seem so incongruous, as the one-time settlement house works to integrate art into its services whenever and wherever possible. Noel Raymond, the co-artistic director of the theatre explains why.

Q: Pillsbury House is rebranding itself this fall as a center of creativity. What’s the connection to the social services offered here?
Noel Raymond: There’s a whole wave across the country right now of including artists in discussions of civic revitalization. Because we know that arts participation stimulates troubled communities.

Q: And how do the arts help?
NR: Finding creative solutions is really important when things are falling apart. Creativity is about the ability to see options, ways to get from here to there. And when you’re in poverty, you perceive fewer options.

Q: So how are you integrating art?
NR: Well, for instance, we noticed that people were sitting for up to three hours outside our clinic here. So we started doing play readings for the people in line. We’ve brought in boys from the County Home School and asked them to write a monologue about their personal stories, which makes them ask themselves, “Am I really a thug?” And makes them think about their future—you have to envision your goal to go after it.

Q: As we know, art and creativity are taught less and less in schools. How problematic is that, that the only people with access to this instruction are those who can afford it privately?
NR: The impulse for creativity is universal—it is for everybody and it is important. It’s not a luxury. It’s important to have a self-determined life.

Q: More people are living in poverty now than anytime since the early 1990s. Do you feel you can make more than a dent in this massive block?
NR: I do feel hopeful. The kids who come here come up some amazing ideas. We’re just facilitators, but we’re privileged to see people discover their creativity for the first time.

Read more about Noel in “Playing for Keeps.”