It’sshowtime for the participants of Pear Tree Performing Arts.The organization will open its doors this month after a four-year, multi-million-dollar historic renovation project.

The Beginning

The organization was founded in 2010 by Lawrence Butler and Natasha Partridge-Butler, a husband-and-wife duo that wanted to provide artistic opportunities for youth who may not have the means or access to quality, affordable lessons.

“Our mission is to nurture and cultivate a sense of culture, confidence, community and creativity in youth through the performing arts,” Partridge-Butler said. “To do that, we provide an array of dance and theatre arts classes at various levels and for ages 2 1/2 and older. We also partner extensively with organizations and businesses that share our mission to ensure students have performance opportunities, see live shows, and work with professionals in creative industries.”

Pear Tree Performing Arts started in the Benson Community Center and in 2013, moved to its current location on 48th Street and NW Radial Highway. In 2017, a renovation project was launched to add more space and increase the capacity of the center’s programming.

The Renovation

The project was originally slated to finish in less than a year, but funding fell through, and there were a lot of hoops to jump through. Finally, in 2020 construction began. The building, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places four years ago for being one of the original Hinky Dinky grocery stores, has a lot of history to it.

“There have been a host of other businesses to occupy the space before us, and it is always interesting to hear stories of what the community remembers being in the building,” Partridge-Butler said. “We were able to maintain the original ornate tin tile ceiling and trim.

“We kept the majority of the wood flooring in the ballet studio. The 8,800-square-foot facility updates include a 900-square-foot stage, complete audio-visual updates, multimedia area, additional classroom space and restrooms, efficient HVAC systems, solar panels, and the 1,200-square-foot Hitchcock Ballet Studio. We can’t wait to invite students and the community back in.”

The Support

Much of what Pear Tree Performing Arts does is funded by the community.

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“We have many parents, grandparents, and community members who make
monthly donations and contributions,” Partridge-Butler said. “Their support
has been instrumental in making sure that we can stay financially viable.”

There were a variety of major donors for the renovation project including
the Gilbert M. and Martha H. Hitchcock Foundation, The Omaha
Community Foundation’s African American Unity Fund, The Dwain Horn
Memorial Fund, The Weitz Family Foundation, and many more.

Students can take as many classes as they want, instead of paying per-class.
This allows students to experience all different types of art forms, so they can
decide which one they love best.

“It can become a financial strain, especially if you’re purchasing new dance
shoes every other week because kids grow so quickly,” she said. “You’re
replacing leotards and tights, and those costs really add up.

“So, we want to make sure that’s not a barrier. We accept costume and
shoe donations, and through our incredible supporters, we can make sure
students have the tap shoes, jazz shoes, and ballet attire that they need for
classes so they can train properly.”

Focus on Family

When asked how the center is making a positive impact in Nebraska
and beyond, Partridge-Butler said that the students and leaders of the
organization are part of one big family. This is something that has the
potential to make a lifelong impact on participants.

“Pear Tree Performing Arts is known for our unique family feel,” she
said. “Our students and their families are a village. We make sure that
our families are supported with community resources and connected to
community organizations that help strengthen the family as a whole. Pear
Tree Performing Arts provides an artistic home for students. We’re hoping
that this little corner of the earth will positively impact young people for
generations to come.”

Setting the Stage for the Future

With the newly renovated space, Pear Tree Performing Arts will be able to
reach more young people and partner with more organizations. The team plans
on hiring staff so they can offer more classes and put a dent in their growing
waitlist. The partnership piece is also a critical part of their growth plan.

“There are so many organizations doing great work that I believe we should
all be working together, both nonprofit and for-profit,” Partridge-Butler said.

“We believe that our mission can change lives and transform families if we
collaborate with other organizations in the community to make sure families
have what they need to reduce barriers and young people can stay engaged and
passionate in the arts. We believe so much good can be done.”

The organization will also hope to expand efforts to rent the facility to
other nonprofits and select private events soon. A little further down the line,
establishing a middle school for the arts is on the agenda.

“The creative community in Omaha is doing fantastic and wonderful
work,” Partridge-Butler said. “We are so honored and blessed to be a part of
that and work to ensure that everyone has access to the arts. Our goals are
to keep the conversation going about art access, partner with organizations
dedicated to community growth, and keep dancing.”