MY ART STORY by

Heather Pickering

Rapid City
South Dakota

The ASCENT Dragon by Flutter Productions.jpg

Children holding up a dragon on stage.

Ascent by Flutter Productions. Photo by Amber Heredia

Flutter Productions was founded in 2008 with the inception of Flutter, produced by Black Hills Community Theatre and the Suzie Cappa Arts Center, and funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Allied Arts Fund - Stanford Adelstein grant. Flutter Productions, formally established in 2010, continues to create new works for those who want the opportunity to shine and express their inner potential. It is our goal to create opportunities for all performers to soar and to challenge the perception of people with disabilities; while creating a new community in which performers with and without disabilities come together to create works that celebrate the human spirit.

In 2008 I was hired as the education and outreach director for Black Hills Community Theatre in Rapid City, South Dakota. I inherited a project, which was set to feature the Suzie Cappa Players, a group of players from the Suzie Cappa Art Center, which exists under the umbrella of Black Hills Works—an organization that serves over 600 individuals with disabilities. The project had received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts but had not yet been fully realized. I went to visit the Suzie Cappa Art Center and saw a painting hanging on the wall that featured a series of three-dimensional butterflies rising out of a canvas with the quote: "Diversity creates beauty in our world." After researching and discovering that butterflies are the most diverse species in the world, I requested permission to create a new story which would feature performers of all abilities (with and without intellectual and/or physical disabilities) and permission was granted. The decision to use movement as the medium to tell a narrative was selected as it was the great equalizer which all performers could easily use to communicate with an audience.

Our first all-ability, movement-based piece, entitled Flutter, featured large moving puppets created from recycled goods that were designed by Christopher Lutter-Gardella of Puppet Farm Arts and local artist Jolene Schafer. A partnership with local choreographer, Andrea Schaefer, was formed and has continued through the creation of four more productions.

In 2011, the ANCOR Foundation, an organization that supports over 500,000 Americans with disabilities, recognized Flutter Productions and our sister company, Outright Dance Theatre, for community building from over 600 agencies across the United States. In 2013 we also began to work with Children's Care Hospital and School, now LifeScape, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on the opposite end of the state. Over 450 all-ability cast members, age three to 80, have now soared across the stage. The productions have created educational environments that are incalculable in which we have watched new friendships blossom, and new volunteers spring forth long after the curtain has lowered. Performers have found a voice, an outlet for expression, and self-empowerment.