Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Integrating space, programs, and people

The Pillsbury House Neighborhood Center is a three-story cinderblock building on the edge of the Central and Powderhorn neighborhoods in Minneapolis. The main lobby is big and open to the public outside through the two-story high wall of windows that faces the street—except for the fact that there are three foot wide concrete pillars in front of the windows. The whole thing gives the impression of a party hidden inside a Soviet post office.

When you enter, you can see into the Day Care on your right where we serve anywhere from 12-20 kids five days a week. Then, through the atrium, there’s a lobby with couches and tables and even trees, and a front desk at which people sign in. If you didn’t know, you probably wouldn’t guess that through the door to the left of receptionist is a wide, 96 seat theatre with ample (for a small theatre) backstage area and a dressing room. Now that I’m trying to describe it for you, I realize, that the entire building, like the programs inside it, are secrets inside secrets. Cool secrets, but unfortunately, still secrets.

Upstairs on the second floor is a wide open banquet-area, an industrial strength kitchen, two reading rooms and libraries, an art studio, a teen lounge and even—though few people know it—a pottery studio. On the third floor is the integrated free health clinic (every Wednesday and Saturday you can get acupuncture and massage); the open computer lab, and lots of offices. Right now, I bemoan the fact that we don’t have any old theatre posters on the walls.

In years past, the theatre was housed in a special section on the third floor, isolated from the rest of the activity but now the theatre offices are right between the elevator and the computer lab, meaning that it is likely I will be interrupted while typing this by someone who needs help opening up a word processor program and printing their resume. I probably like it better this way—though I wasn’t around before.

I mention all of this because two weeks ago the entire staff of the building participated in the first two 4 hour sessions of our Cultural Community Hub Institute. It was fascinating and probably a shock to many people who have been around this building longer than I have, to sit in a circle with the 25-30 full-time staff members and suddenly realize that we’re all working on this together, we’re all in this neighborhood together and there’s a lot we can accomplish together. In the past, I think, the theatre staff at its largest was maybe 8 people; it was a small scrappy theatre and proud of the incredibly high-quality we could manage with what we had. But now we’re a theatre and a neighborhood center and a cultural community hub—and we’re still trying to figure out what that means. We’ve got another two Institute meetings scheduled for mid-January—and I think the size and scope of the enterprise, and the quality of the participants, was perhaps the most important lesson of the recent Institute.

Also, I should say, it was fascinating and important to share stories with people who have come from different backgrounds but wound up in this same place. Turns out that everyone—from Day Care workers to social service agents—value art in their life. It just hadn’t occurred to them before that art could also be an effective part of their work life and not just their hobby life. We’ll see how these revelations develop in January.

But, worth noting, if you’re ever in Minneapolis and need a bicycle to get around (it is officially the most bicycling city in the U.S. after all), make sure you visit our bike shop Full Cycle, which restores used bikes and sells them all while providing job skills and life training to homeless teens. When I took this job, I didn’t even know that we did that.

Every day here is really a trip.

Happy Holidays.

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