Pleasant Ridge duo looks to bring performance arts to Detroit youth

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published September 25, 2013

 Rosa Parks Center for Performance Arts instructors Buddy Smith, left, and Audra Kubat give a performance at the center on Rosa Parks Boulevard in Detroit.

Rosa Parks Center for Performance Arts instructors Buddy Smith, left, and Audra Kubat give a performance at the center on Rosa Parks Boulevard in Detroit.

Photo submitted by Barbara Troy

PLEASANT RIDGE — Barbara Troy has been involved in the performance arts world for quite some time. A filmmaker with production studios in Michigan and Ohio, Troy has an eye for what looks good on stage and in front of a camera.

As a member of the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit, Troy helps put on exhibitions and performances while working with other contemporary art enthusiasts.

It is Troy’s latest project, however, that could help grow the industry of which she is so fond. Under the umbrella of CAID, Troy, a Pleasant Ridge resident, will serve as director of youth programming and president of the newly named Rosa Parks Center for Performance Arts, which was a formerly underutilized CAID facility, to help teach a new generation of students about the performance arts.

“Initially, the center was used a lot in the evenings and weekends for events and art shows, or for parties, but during the week, it was basically empty, and we were trying to find a way to utilize that space,” Troy said. “In the summer around metro Detroit, you can do something in theater or with a musical instrument — there are lots of options to learn that stuff — but in the inner city, not so much.”

The Rosa Parks Center is at the CAID location, 5141 Rosa Parks Blvd., in Detroit. Classes will run weeknights from roughly 4-9 p.m., and each class will be about three weeks.

Troy, who earned an art degree from Wayne State University, said CAID tried to get grants for the new center to allow students to attend the center free of charge, but they were not able to secure the funds for the start of classes Sept. 23. Tuition is $150 for seven weeks, but Troy said the hope is to have more scholarships available, come time for the next semester in January.

One big reason for starting the center, Troy said, was because performance arts classes are not readily available in public schools, and many students could benefit from an introduction to a different curriculum.

“I have talked to a lot of schools, and they don’t have drama departments, and the classes are not available. But we can do it for students after school,” she said. “We have all theses classes for kids who are interested in performing, learning to be in plays or costume design. Other schools have acting classes, but we have a variety of classes for a variety of students.”

One of the available classes is a writing course that focuses on novel and short-story writing. Frank Anthony Polito, one of Troy’s fellow Pleasant Ridge residents and an accomplished author, will teach the class.

Polito said since moving back to Michigan, he has looked for jobs nonstop, but when the opportunity came about to work with Troy and the Rosa Parks Center, he could not pass it up.

“I believe everyone has a story to tell; whether it is your memoir or your autobiography or some story you have inside your head, I encourage everyone to write,” Polito said. “I have a master’s degree in playwriting and I have never studied novel writing, but I’m hoping I can show other people who have an interest in writing that the hardest thing to do is to sit down and start. A lot of people call themselves writers or actors, but never write or act. Sometimes, you just need to enroll in a course and get that courage to sit down and do it.”

Originally from Hazel Park, Polito said many people have a perception of Detroit as being somewhere not to go. Having a performance arts center in the city will help students learn about ways they can better their lives and those around them.

“Most people have this negative view of the city of Detroit, especially right now, on what it is and what it has to offer, and people look down on it,” Polito said. “When I was growing up in Hazel Park, there was this unspoken thing that if you are from Hazel Park, you will never get out or aspire to be anything, and I think a lot of kids in Detroit feel that way, too. Having a place like the Rosa Parks Center will allow artistic people to go and share their talents and what they know with these young kids.”

Many Detroit kids don’t know about the possibility of performance arts, Troy said, as they have never been introduced to it. After taking some classes, she said the students would realize they have a whole world of possibilities ahead of them.

“In many ways, the kids will learn skills, but more importantly, they will learn that they can do something that they hadn’t done before — something new and different,” Troy said. “I think when you are a kid and you think you can’t do something and you learn you can, that helps you learn you can do anything you put your mind to. There are kids who can’t succeed at math or chemistry, things I wasn’t good at either, but they can succeed in other ways.”

For more information on the Rosa Parks Center for Performance Arts, visit