Pillsbury House and Theatre helps build a creative community

For the past couple of weeks I've been spending a lot of time at Pillsbury House and Theatre, as I worked on the latest installment of the Art Heroes series, which airs tonight on All Things Considered.

Faye Price and Noel Raymond co-direct the center which includes Pillsbury Theatre. Over the years the two have applied techniques they've learned from theater into the center's social service programs.

PHT oversees such an amazing number of activities, that I ended up interviewing many more people than I could actually fit into the radio story.

One of them was Dee McQuarry, who enrolled her daughter Isabella in the after school program. McQuarry says Isabella used to collapse in tears anytime she had to speak in school, but gradually the artists at Pillsbury have managed to draw her out.

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"They offer so much in terms of spoken word," explained McQuarry. "They teach the kids how to make a play - it just gives the kids so much inspiration, and now Bella's just all over the place. I think this place has really helped her."

McQuarry says Isabella is now working to get into a Pillsbury program, even though she'd be a year younger than the other kids involved.

And then there's Masa Kawahara, an accomplished puppeteer and mask maker, who is one of the resident teaching artists at Pillsbury, showing kids how to do everything from making stencils to walking on stilts.

"I feel very lucky to be in this place. I believe art has so much capacity - every kid has some kind of interest in the arts. Maybe not every kid likes puppetry, but some like drawing and some like dancing, movement or stilting. At Pillsbury House, through art, I think we're just giving each kid an opportunity to find where they can shine."

This summer as part of the "Arts on Chicago" project, Kawahara plans to build 30 pairs of stilts which kids can check out and use around the neighborhood. What an image!

Tune in to All Things Considered to hear more about Pillsbury House and Theatre, and how it's using the arts to transform the community and young people's lives. And later today, pay a visit to the Art Heroes web page, to see some lovely photographs of Pillsbury in action taken by MPR's Jennifer Simonsen.