Creativity Fosters Understanding of ADA

Author: Disabled World - Contact Details
Published: 2010/06/03 - Updated: 2016/03/18
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Synopsis: Matrix and community make giant puppet of Justin Dart.

Matrix and community make giant puppet of Justin Dart


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Matrix and community make giant puppet of Justin Dart

Matrix Theatre Company is bringing together local youth, community residents, disability leaders and volunteers to learn about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as they put the finishing touches on Matrix's newest giant puppet, Justin Dart, a pioneer of the ADA. In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the passage of the act, the puppet will take to the streets of Detroit for the U.S. Social Forum on June 22, 2010. It will then head to Chicago for the Seventh Annual Disability Pride Parade on July 24, 2010 to help raise awareness for the rights of people with disabilities.

One of only a handful of theater arts organizations in the country to create giant puppets, Justin Dart will take its place among Matrix's impressive collection of historically significant "hero" puppets, which include figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, Mother Jones and Ella Baker.

The Matrix way of collaborative creation has been especially successful with this project. Calls went out to community members, college students and disability rights activists to help with the development of this historic work of art. "It was inspiring to watch as this diverse group of people worked together to bring the puppet to life," said Matrix Executive Director Shaun Nethercott.

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A young novice becomes part of the creative team as the puppet head takes shape
A young novice becomes part of the creative team as the puppet head takes shape

As the volunteers worked under the guidance of sculptor Carl Goines and Matrix Community Puppets Manager Megan Harris, curious youth wandered into the City of Detroit's Roberto Clemente Recreation Center to see what was going on. Matrix partner and project co-organizer Janice Fialka explained the history of the ADA to the children who then shared their own stories about loved ones with disabilities. "My Uncle Sam is in a wheelchair, and he sometimes gets real mad because he can't get though a door," said Kyle.

"Interest is nationwide," said Volunteer Coordinator Ken Srdjak. "Donations have come in from all over the country. We have even received money from Justin's wife, family and friends. If this continues, I am confident that we can reach our fundraising goal which will allow us to tour the puppet throughout the country this summer."

"It's time that Justin Dart and his ideas become visible to all," said Rich Feldman, Matrix partner and project co-organizer. "It's time that disability is recognized as a natural and beautiful part of human diversity."

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Volunteer Amanda Stahl smooths out the features of the Justin Dart puppet’s face
Volunteer Amanda Stahl smooths out the features of the Justin Dart puppet’s face

"Sometimes it happens that an image or a piece of art can reconnect a community with a fallen soldier's classic one liners that 'lead us on' to commit ourselves to 'the revolution of empowerment.' The Justin Puppet will be looming in streets shouting out the words, 'I am with you, I love you, Lead on,' for the 'solidarity among all who love justice," said Tom Olin, social documentarian and photojournalist for disability rights.

The Justin Dart puppet is funded, in part, by Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), Michigan Disabilities Rights Coalition, the United Auto Workers (UAW), and many donors from across the country.

Matrix Theatre Company is a non-profit community-based theatre located in Southwest Detroit. Established in 1991, it creates everything from scratch, from puppets of all sizes to over 95 original plays. Matrix Theatre Company uses the transformative power of theatre to change lives, build community and foster social justice. It creates opportunities for children, youth, adults and elders, especially those in isolated or challenged communities, to become creators, producers and audiences of original theatre. For further information or to follow Matrix on Facebook, Twitter or Blogger, go to

Justin Dart Biography

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Sculptor Carl Goines shows Volunteer Amanda Stahl how to create the details that bring the sculpture to life
Sculptor Carl Goines shows Volunteer Amanda Stahl how to create the details that bring the sculpture to life

Often called the Martin Luther King of the disability civil rights movement, Justin Dart thought of himself in much more humble terms. Born August 29, 1930 into a wealthy and prominent family, he was a self-described "super loser." Spoiled and difficult, he attended seven high schools, not graduating from any of them. After contracting polio in 1948, he used a wheelchair until his death in 2002. He went on to earn bachelor's and master's degrees in political science and history. After being denied a teaching certificate, because he used a wheelchair, Dart went into business in 1956 and in years later hired disabled people giving them a living wage within his companies. Working with President Ronald Reagan, he helped to draft a national policy calling for a national civil rights legislation to end the centuries old discrimination of people with disabilities. This legislation eventually became the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Although he received many awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton, he never wavered in his commitment to disability solidarity, insisting that all people with disabilities be protected by the law and included in the coalition to pass it. This included those with mental illness and people with HIV/AIDS. He often said, "I am a symbolic representative of thousands of ADA mothers and fathers."

Dart never hesitated to emphasize the community of support that made his work possible. It was never about him, it was always about the community working together to advance human dignity for all. Justin had the highest regard for his wife of 33 years who has enthusiastically given her full support to have the giant puppet built as a creative way to educate, inspire, and empower all, especially youth to realize and use their own power; and lead on.

Matrix Theatre Company presents

'Justin Dart - Giant Puppet'

Contact: David P. Anderson - - Robert Wotypka - - o. 313-967-0999

Event: Justin Dart Giant Puppet

Synopsis: A larger than life puppet depicting the "father of the Americans with Disabilities Act" Justin Dart, was built by Matrix Theatre Company, community members and people with disabilities. The puppet debuts at the U.S. Social Forum and will travel extensively in support of disability rights.

Where: Matrix Theatre Company, 2730 Bagley Detroit, MI 48216

Debut: U.S. Social Forum, June, 22, 2010, Detroit, MI

Appearances: Disability Pride Parade, July, 24, 2010, Chicago, IL.

More appearances to come!


Sculptor, Carl Goines

Matrix Community Puppets Manager, Megan Harris

Matrix Executive Director and Co-founder Dr. Shaun Nethercott

(Matrix Theatre Company's Inclusive Theatre Initiative insures that Matrix activities are accessible to all. Services includes: Accessible parking, seating and restroom facilities. Assistive Listening devices available at all shows. Justin Dart was made, in part, by people with disabilities and is being designed so the puppeteers can be people with disabilities.)


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