’Tween Art and Heaven at The Riverside Arts Center

. February 1, 2017.

Riverside Arts Center

Ann Arbor has nothing over scintillating Ypsilanti when it comes to art opportunities for tweens. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Riverside Arts Center (RAC), an ongoing local labor of love, run entirely by volunteers until Director Will Hathaway assumed his post two years ago. Hathaway is something of a genius at maximizing the good of any organization. Before coming on board at RAC he served as director of human resource development at Eastern Michigan University, manager of the office of student conflict resolution at the University of Michigan, and executive director of the League of Women Voters of Michigan, where he obtained massive and well-deserved grants for that august institution.

Nice neighborhood

The Riverside Arts Center stands on the edge of the amiable Huron River in a stately edifice erected in 1909 as the local Masonic Temple. Next door is the formidable former Detroit Edison Building, built in 1915, now the “Off Center” RAC facility. Connecting the two is a sleek modern elevator column, connecting the magnificent, timeless architecture. But, it is what goes on inside that counts. Classes and exhibitions are for all ages, toddler to adult, so that tweens can find their level of comfort and ability and just jump in. There is every art imaginable, but my favorites are the fine arts, dance and theater programs.

The RAC is home to the Academy of Classical Russian Ballet, the only school in the greater Ann Arbor area with professional Russian ballet instructors. There is a one-time registration fee and an additional fee for semester or drop-in classes. Here’s something cool: boys get a 50 percent discount. Will Hathaway said that’s because for recitals there are never enough boys. Attention tween boys! Attention tween boys! Trust me, there’s no better way to make friends and work on your strength, coordination and balance.

In addition to ballet, the RAC offers instruction in “Unveiled Dance,” a.k.a. belly dancing! Don’t laugh. Classes are open to all ages with two levels of ability, and you can master the basics in just a few classes. This is fun and good exercise for tweens and at least as much fun for parents or the whole family. Parents, don’t tell your tweens I said this, just get some friends together and go for a basic class! You won’t be able to wipe the smiles off your faces for hours.


Perhaps the most ambitious RAC program is the Ypsilanti Youth Theater, which takes all ages and makes sure that anyone who wants to perform will get on stage. Tweens are always needed. These are real plays with at least one Shakespeare production each year. Director Hathaway pointed out to me that he salvaged the box office from the University of Michigan’s Hill Auditorium, 115 seats and risers from the Trueblood Theatre in the old Frieze Building, and curtains from the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater.

“We are the repository of the best of the spirit of UM theatre,” Hathaway noted. And well he might. That’s part of his genius. And don’t miss this month’s fourth annual special exhibition of art by black artists in honor of Black History Month. See you there, and keep an eye on this space for more tween updates. Tween word of the day: Scintillating— meaning sparkling, shining and excitingly clever!

Riverside Arts Center, 76 N. Huron St. | Ypsilanti
734-480-2787 | riversidearts.org