Theater leader Faye M. Price named this year's McKnight Distinguished Artist

A woman smiles for a photo.
Faye M. Price is the 2021 McKnight Foundation Distinguished Artist.
Courtesy of the McKnight Foundation

The McKnight Foundation has named Faye M. Price its Distinguished Artist for 2021.

Price was long a driving force behind the Pillsbury House Theatre, the landmark stage and community center in the Powderhorn neighborhood of Minneapolis.

She has been a stage actor, director and leader in bringing Black theater to the forefront of the Twin Cities cultural scene, with work also as a dramaturg at Minnesota’s premier theaters, including the Guthrie and Penumbra. In addition she was a founding member of both the Penumbra and Mixed Blood theaters.  

She stepped away from Pillsbury House this summer but spoke about her work on the way to her latest endeavor: a production of “Angels in America” at her alma mater, Macalester College. 

“We tried to produce provocative, not for the sake of being provocative but thought-provoking if you will, pieces. Challenging pieces that maybe allowed people to think in ways that they hadn't considered before. Maybe sit in an audience with a bunch of people that they would never sit with us before and have a conversation,” Price said. 

Price has also been a force for the arts off stage. She’s long served on the board of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, one of the key advocacy organizations that helped create and win approval for the Minnesota’s legacy amendment, which puts sales tax revenue into the state’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. 

Price has also been a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts, Jerome Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board and the McKnight Fellowships for Theater Artists. She was herself a recipient of the August Wilson fellowship as she earned a graduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where she studied dramaturgy and literary criticism. 

Price said the award was welcome, but an emotional experience, coming after what she called the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racial strife that followed the killing of George Floyd — just blocks from the theater she helmed for 21 years. 

She said she hoped the unrest and self-reflection that followed Floyd’s killing would help spur a new understanding of and emphasis on diversity in the theater.  

But she also said theater itself would have to adapt to a new age, transformed by COVID. 

“We all made adjustments as to how to keep the artform going,” Price said. “And I think some of those adjustments may stick, I think there may be a lot more content available online, for folks to view. It's not necessarily my definition of theater, I prefer mine live. But I think we found a way to pivot during 2020 and early 2021. And I think some of that may stick” 

The McKnight award has gone previously to artists such as Wing Young Huie, Libby Larson, Lou Bellamy and Bill Holm since 1998. It includes a $50,000 award. 

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