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Mixed Blood Theatre shares 30-year history of using art to advance health equity  

Arts & Culture

View a 30-year timeline of Mixed Blood Theatre’s customized plays and trainings focused on access to quality health care.

An increasing number of artists and creatives are leading efforts that contribute to health equity and collective recovery in communities. They are working to raise community members’ and government officials’ understanding of challenges in the healthcare industry. Many are also developing creative approaches to health organizing. One example includes Performing Statistics founder Mark Strandquist partnering with organizations and individual artists to create the “Fill the Walls With Hope, Rage, Resources and Dreams” project to showcase the vital role of artists during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another compelling example comes from the 10 Minneapolis artists who turned to their community to create a ripple effect of connection, healing and joy following George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent uprisings.

Springboard for the Arts has programmed space outside of health clinics to reduce barriers between patients and workers. Skid Row Housing Trust’s community-engaged design work has surfaced street infrastructure to support homeless residents’ health needs. Countless examples of artists and creatives working to advance health equity come from many Arts & Culture grantee partners including Center for Urban Pedagogy, East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, Enterprise Community Partners, Esperanza Community Housing, Inner-City Muslim Action Network, the University of Orange and many others.

Some grantees are also using arts and culture strategies to build the cultural competency of those providing health-related services. One such organization is the Mixed Blood Theatre. In the following feature story, the theatre’s Artistic Director Jack Reuler shares how his organization has used narrative activity for more than 30 years to help health practitioners explore potential biases and address health equity.

“It is imperative that the arts never be deemed not essential again. We must infuse ourselves into social equations, such that those social equations cannot be solved without the arts.”

~ Jack Reuler, Mixed Blood Theatre

Artists and creatives work to advance public health

Using theater to illustrate and animate, the Minneapolis-based Mixed Blood Theatre changes attitudes, behavior and policy by paying positive attention to difference. The company’s creative performances work to address injustices, inequities and cultural collisions by providing a voice for the unheard — on stage, in the workplace, and in the company’s own Cedar Riverside neighborhood.

Today, Mixed Blood continues to lead the field in programming and engagement at the crossroads of art, social justice and health equity.

“Mixed Blood Theatre has used its art to impact health care for 3O years,” said Artistic Director Jack Reuler. “In 2O2O, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death when half of the city was a food desert, Mixed Blood converted its facility, a former Minneapolis firehouse, into a food shelter, a COVID testing site, a place to get flu shots, voter registration center, and census taking hub.”

The history of Mixed Blood’s impact in health care and the arts dates back to 1991 when the theatre launched “Three Part Harmony,” a customized show about cultural integration as the Mayo Clinic expanded to Jacksonville and Scottsdale and acquired Methodist and St. Mary’s Hospitals in Rochester.

In 1993, Mixed Blood developed ‘Do No Harm,’ a tailored play about people who used the hospital’s emergency department as a primary care clinic, especially new immigrants, refugees and low-income families in Ramsey Co., Reuler shared. From 1993-1995, his team worked with the Minneapolis Health Department to produce ‘Baby Baby,’ a theatrical piece about infant mortality rates among African American and Native women, which was four times higher than the rest of the country in Minneapolis. This musical was about the cultural, racial and economic barriers to quality prenatal care. It became an educational tool of obstetrics in the West metropolitan area.

“The health of a community is far more than health care,” Reuler said. “It includes safety, nutrition, education, employment, housing, transportation, recreation, and so much more. It is not enough to raise awareness, it is our obligation to have calls to action that result in a change of behavior, attitude and policy.”

Another memorable play from the 90s era took place from 1995-1998 when Mixed Blood developed ‘Ring of Fire’ in partnership with Allina Health, the Junior League of Minneapolis, and the Greater Twin Cities United Way. This customized play was about the missed opportunities of the health care system to detect and prevent violence, contending that violence transcends race and culture and is an urban, suburban and rural issue. The play was performed throughout the region and across the country.

Mixed Blood Theater partnered with Minnesota Network of Hospice and Palliative Care to develop an original play about end-of-life care and quality of end of life. A 2020 statewide tour was planned and canceled. A 45-minute virtual presentation for Continuing Medical Education was created in 2O2O, offering health care providers tools to better serve immigrant and refugee patients.

Empowering residents to be advocates for their health care

Through Mixed Blood Theatre’s work, it is remarkably obvious that artists, creatives and culture bearers have played a critical role in raising public awareness of health issues.

Since 2017 the theatre has worked on an effort titled Project 154, using theatre, film and storytelling devices to empower the immigrant and refugee residents of Cedar Riverside to be advocates for their own healthcare needs. The project creates dialogue about community health and uses art as a means for overcoming stigmas and obstacles with healthcare by connecting community members, healthcare providers and artists.

View a series of videos called Stories from the Community, where Cedar Riverside residents of color share their own health challenges.

Mixed Blood has hosted story circles, recorded video profiles and hosted a community celebration to share the learnings of Project 154. In its next phase, Mixed Blood supported two emerging artists to ignite conversations around some of the key health issues that emerged from the community. A traveling exhibition entitled “Health Exchange: Stories from our Neighborhood” will be presented at healthcare institutions to share the stories, experiences, and lessons learned. From that has emerged the “City of Nations Storytelling Studio” to alter a community’s behavior around cultural taboos.

Creating a ‘radical’ approach to theatre

Mixed Blood Theatre is also known for its extensive efforts to eliminate barriers to access through its signature Radical Hospitality concept, which provides no-cost admission for anyone. Founded in 1976 amidst a thriving theatre landscape in the U.S., Mixed Blood Theatre sought a new vison of what theatre could be and do. For Mixed Blood, that vision was – and remains today – grounded in creating an audience and community of people who otherwise wouldn’t be involved in theatre and the arts.

Beyond no-cost admission, Mixed Blood also strives to be a destination for people living with disabilities by offering free transportation and a fully accessible building; working extensively with Cedar Riverside’s East African residents, Latinos, and transgender communities; and using art as a tool to promote civic engagement in creating healthier families and communities.  

Timeline: View Mixed Blood Theatre’s 30-year history of using art and customized plays to address health care inequities and provide solutions to accessible care.

2021: “City of Nations Storytelling Studio”

With an aim to alter cultural behavior among Cedar Riverside Somalis, this studio of performances tackles three cultural taboos – reproductive health, substance abuse and mental illness – by listening and partnering with health care providers, Imams and educators. 

2020: “Lily”

Created in partnership with the Minnesota Network of Hospice and Palliative Care, this original play is about end-of-life care and quality of end of life. A statewide tour was planned but canceled. 

2017-2019: “Project 154”

This series of 23 listening sessions titled “story circles” was developed to gather tales from East African immigrants and refugees from Minneapolis’ Cedar Riverside neighborhood about their interface with Minnesota’s healthcare system, resulting in 17 composite videos. A 45-minute virtual presentation was created, offering health care providers tools to better serve immigrant and refugee patients. 

2018: “Complications” & “NAMI Training”

Created in partnership with Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC), this original play with music was about diversity as a leadership issue and showcased how a trauma center can externally be a respite from trauma and internally can be a cause of trauma. It was performed for HCMC employees, staff and providers. Also in 2018, Mixed Blood worked on a series of training films with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

2017: “Because”

This customized play about mental illness, its stigmas and treatments was performed for Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) employees, staff and providers. 

2016: “Go Ask Alice”

A customized play about complicated relationships to medicine, pharmacies, pharmacists, and providers. Performed for faculty at the University of Minneapolis College of Pharmacy, both the Minneapolis and Duluth campuses. 

2015: Fairview Managed Health Care System partnership

A personalized training developed for hospitalists with the use of theater for cultural competencies. 

2014: University of Minneapolis Medical School partnership

A personalized training for providers on simulated patients. 

2013: “Come Anyway”

In partnership with the Wilder Foundation, Mixed Blood hosted a performance on mental illness in adolescents. In 2013, Mixed Blood also hosted several trainings for hospitalists with HealthPartners. 

2009-2012: “The EBAN Experience”

Four films on cultural disparities to quality health care were developed in collaboration with HealthPartners and Twin Cities Public Television. Numerous showings and live events were held as part of HealthPartners’ continuing medical education programs. These films included “Which Exit,” “Alberto’s Chicken Dinner,” and “From Head to Toe” about, respectively, the intersection of health care systems with African Americans, Latinos and Somali migrants. 

2001-2005: “Lazarus”  

In partnership with Medtronic, a customized play about inclusion and valuing employees’ special traits as strengths and not deficits was performed throughout the US, translated in Spanish and performed in Mexico and Puerto Rico. The play had two follow up components: Inclusion 101 and 201, presented one month and six months after the performances.

 2002: “Fire In The Bones”

Through a collaboration with HealthPartners, this customized show (with post-show facilitation) aimed to transform the HP culture from provider-focused to patient-focused. The play had 60 performances for 10,000 employees in five venues, ranging from St. Cloud to Minneapolis to St. Paul to Hudson, WI. 

2001: “Trumpeting The Brand”

In partnership with the Mayo Clinic, Mixed Blood created a customized play about women’s health care to attract the Jacksonville population to a new holistic women’s health care clinic. 

1995-98: “Ring of Fire”

Created in partnership with Allina Health, the Junior League of Minneapolis, and the Greater Twin Cities United Way, this customized play was about the missed opportunities of the health care system to detect and prevent violence, contending that violence transcends race and culture and is an urban, suburban, and rural issue. The play was performed throughout the region and across the country. 

1993-95: “Baby Baby”

Working with the Minneapolis Health Department, Mixed Blood created a play about infant mortality among African American and Native women being four times higher than the rest of the country in Minneapolis. This musical focused on prenatal care and cultural, racial and economic barriers to quality care. The performance became a tool of obstetrics in the West metropolitan. 

1993: “Do No Harm”

Created in partnership with Regions Hospital St. Paul, Minnesota, a customized play about people using the hospital’s emergency department as a primary care clinic by new immigrants, refugees and residents with low incomes. 

1991: “Three Part Harmony”

A customized show about cultural integration as the Mayo Clinic expanded to Jacksonville and Scottsdale and acquired Methodist and St. Mary’s Hospitals in Rochester. 

Mixed Blood Theatre receives funding support from Kresge’s Arts & Culture Program, which places an explicit focus on Creative Placemaking by elevating arts, culture and community-engaged design as central elements of community development and planning.   

Learn more about Mixed Blood Theatre by visiting https://mixedblood.com/.

Kresge staff is working remotely, and our offices are closed until further notice.  See our promise to partners during COVID-19.
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