HERITAGE WORKS

RHONDA GREENE

Rhonda Greene started Heritage Works in 2000 out of her own love for African dance and drumming. It’s since grown into a program that teaches cultural arts to youth, prepares them for employment in the arts and exposes them to artists from around the world. In 2011, Heritage Works became one of the first tenants in Ponyride’s dance studio.

How Ponyride gave her organization a stable home where they can grow: 
Something we’ve struggled with in our evolution is being able to find a space, especially when the city started coming back, because then you can get priced out. Ponyride has allowed us -- the rent has changed, but as it’s changed we’ve been growing, so we’ve been able to keep pace with that. We’ve had the stability to say, this is where we are. 

When we have an event annually, because we know what the space is and the setup, you can kind of envision more. Because the first year you’re just trying to get it done. The second year, it’s how can you improve this.

Now there’s a nice tension, to say we need to grow out, and how do we plan for that. It’s nice, sort of like leaving mama’s home -- no one’s showing us the door. 

On the changes she’s seen at Ponyride:
They’ve become really clear in their vision. When they started, it was very much artist, community-driven, and they’ve brought a business practice to it. I think of infrastructure and capacity about making your bowl bigger, and the bigger your bowl is, the more you can hold. So they had a great idea, and it was awesome with just a little bowl, but as they build their capacity you can really just see things come into place.

On building out the dance studio with her students:
Ponyride found wood at another house and we put it down, and we scraped the windows, we got mirrors at one point and lights. We had our kids working in there some Wednesdays. It was hard work, but they appreciated it. That first group is in college now, and they feel like they know how to do so much more than their peers. The opportunity to be at Ponyride and doing some nontraditional stuff -- now they’re more hands-on people. Because of the spirit of volunteerism there, you feel like you’re part of a community.

On the value of teaching young Detroiters traditional arts:
For African-Americans, both because of slavery and the breach in heritage, and then you have a media machine where black is always the evil thing, that then we see ourselves as evil and we behave that way. So how do you counteract that. In a lot of parts of West Africa, they transmit heritage. Heritage and air have the same root word, and they transmit things from one generation to another one with dance and drum. It really is an acculturating force or tool, and so that’s really why we wanted to do it.