We Are the City Spotlight on Flyaway Productions
By Jo Kreiter, Artistic Executive Director of Flyaway Productions
Flyaway Productions makes dances in unlikely places. Our work is politically driven, site-specific, and off the ground. Our dances impact because they unfold at the very place where conflict lives. For us, a building is a witness. It holds the complexity of a neighborhood’s history in its “hands,” I-beams, or concrete walls. Flyaway’s free, outdoor dances bring communities together for safe, accessible, and culturally relevant events right outside their doorstep. Flyaway’s tools include coalition building, an intersectional feminist lens, and a body-based push against the constraints of gravity. We’ve spent 26 years building coalitions with women marginalized by race, class, gender, incarceration, and workplace inequities. Noted partners include Essie Justice Group, UC Hastings College of the Law, Tenderloin Museum, Code Tenderloin, Au Co Vietnamese Cultural Center, and Tradeswomen, Inc. Directed by Jo Kreiter, Flyaway is supported by Guggenheim and Rauschenberg Fellowships, National Dance Project, the Creative Work Fund, Wattis and Rainin Foundations, the CAC, GFTA and SFAC, and by seven IZZY awards.
GIRLFLY is our annual summer youth program for teen girls/gender expansive youth. GIRLFLY offers artist-as-activist training to low-income, culturally diverse teens in San Francisco. For one month each summer, GIRLFLY, supports 20 teens in body-positive dance-making and artist-as-activist training around a specific social justice issue. Students are paid a $500 incentive and the work culminates in public performances. We focus on working with young artists from San Francisco’s most disinvested neighborhoods. We alternate between site specific dance making in Quesada Gardens, in the Bayview, and aerial dance at CounterPulse, in the Tenderloin.
At Flyaway, we have done everything we can to resist the pull toward on-line artistry. In the throes of the shut down in the summer of 2020, we were able to offer our students some time in the studio to fly through the air. Aerial dance was and continues to be a gorgeous antidote to the fear, illness, and difficulty of the pandemic. GIRLFLY is a bold, physically spectacular program and we have not let the pandemic hold us back. We of course shifted aspects of our program to cultivate a COVID -safe environment, but overall, we have encouraged in person, physical self-expression, though dance.
In 2021 our students returned to Quesada Gardens. In the garden we saw a snake, ate black berries, learned what passion fruit looks like, pulled weeds, and danced daily among the plants and flowers that the neighborhood has been tending for more than a decade. Students also danced on a picnic table, on four street corners of the Bridgeview Gardens site, and on a playground structure. Via dancing we welcomed the audience to think about belonging to the neighborhood and its land in a new way. Through movement we tried to contact the heartbeat at the center of the earth. Our writing curriculum centered on race, belonging, and equity. Discussion topics included land acknowledgements, context and positionality statements, Bayview histories, creek daylighting, and decolonizing your diet. Native American Hoop Dancer Eddie Madril and former SF poet Laureate/Cherokee writer Kim Shuck joined the program as guest artists.
San Francisco has beauty, creativity, wonder, fantastic hills, and a several communities of educators committed to our youth. From free tennis programs in McLaren Park, to programs like GIRLFLY, Out of Site, and BAYCAT for teens, San Francisco has tremendous offerings for young people. I have been happy to raise my own child here, and to teach dance to youth from all over the city. Flyaway believes in San Francisco as a place where the arts can advance equity, joy, and deep learning.
We see youth thrive in San Francisco when they are supported by and with resources, mentors, artists, teachers, creative play, intellectual challenges, and love. When youth are valued, they thrive. DCYF recognizes this, and funds accordingly. That said, the wealth inequities in our city affect children badly. The disparities in opportunity between youth from well- resourced families and youth from low-income families is shameful. Racism is an inherent part of this equation as well. GIRLFLY was created to address these inequities. Our hope for San Francisco is that every child that wants to try something new, or go deep into something they are interested in, can. This is the political commitment that keeps us working hard for SF youth.
As a program, GIRLFLY has grown organically. We started with seed money, 12 girls, and our founder doing every single role to make it happen. Because of long term support from the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, the CA Arts Council, and DCYF, we have been able to hire part time staff to support a more robust program. But we remain small, by choice. Our program works because the students are able to build trust with each other and with the lead artists. They get to talk about hard, intimate, and emotional experiences in an environment that holds them well. In their own words:
“I learned that we shouldn’t be afraid to say the truth about ourselves. We should just say them.”
“GIRLFLY helped me examine my identity in my place in the world it also taught me more about the environment and how little things you might not think about really affect the world.”
Our continued success will depend on our staying disciplined and well researched in offering both dance training and activism training that impact the girls/gnc youth right where they are. It also depends on financial resources continuing to come our way.
GIRLFLY is accepting applications for the 2022 Summer Arts & Activism Project! The Project will bring together 20 young women/gender non-conforming (GNC) youth ages 14–19 from San Francisco to get hands-on experience creating and performing original aerial dances; learning about issues of girls’/GNC youth empowerment, body positive culture, and the politics of women’s clothing; researching and carry out a textile design project led by The Museum of Craft and Design and artist Charlotte Jones; and connecting with young women/GNC youth across neighborhoods, schools, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and gender identities. Participants who complete the program will earn $500. Applications are due by May 1, 2022.