Who We are
We are cultural connectors for South Asian performing arts and community. Our goal is to facilitate the creation, presentation, and engagement with performing arts, artists, and communities connected to the Indian subcontinent. To achieve this, we produce South Asian performing arts shows and experiences, and offer services as cultural consultants, specializing in curatorial and booking services as well as cultural strategy and community building work with South Asian communities.
Who We’ve Worked With:
How we got here
Phase 1: In House Productions
MELA Arts Connect draws its roots from Rhythm Riders Music Productions – the production house and management company for creations by rhythm meastro Pandit Divyang Vakil and his son and world music composer Rushi Vakil. Affiliated with Pandit Vakil’s music institute – Rhythm Riders Music Institute in Ahmedabad, the company promoted Indian classical arts through performance and education. While the Vakils created high-quality accessible performances of Indian arts, contemporary and classical, the business head Heena Patel worked to build sustainable performing careers for the artists, honing her expertise as a manager, booking agent, and marketer.
Rhythm Riders’ first artist was contemporary classical tabla ensemble Talavya. In the process of growing the band’s presence and career in the United States and Canada, Heena became acutely aware of the hurdles that prevents South Asian performing arts from being as widely represented as they could be in the international marketplace – setting the stage for phase 2 of the company.
Phase 2: Expansion & New Avatars
Building on its ongoing collaborative efforts to promote Indian arts and world music, by 2014, Rhythm Riders began to more formally expand its booking and management roster, while also working with US and Canadian presenters to grow their programming of performing arts of the Indian subcontinent (finding the right artists for their needs) and matching a larger network of artists to the rights gigs, including performances for South Asian organizations and Indian weddings. In 2015, in light of the larger mission and changed goals of the organization, Heena created MELA Group LLC with two arms – MELA Arts Connect – a cultural connector and consultants for South Asian performing arts, culture, and community and MELA Agency – talent management and booking agency.
Phase 3: Creative Producer & Consultants
As MELA worked with organizations and artists across North America and the Indian subcontinent, it was uniquely positioned to facilitate partnerships. With broader sense of the needs and gaps within the performing arts sector, particularly with regards to cultural equity, in 2017, the focus of MELA was redefined. MELA Agency was shut down, while MELA Arts Connect would focus on creating and producing South Asian work; working with organization in presenting such work and building relationships with South Asian communities as consultants; and supporting South Asian artists in building their careers as a coach.
Notable productions include: Bollywood Boulevard, Garba360, Kathakaar: The Spinning Storyteller, and desi:NOW.
About the Founder
Founder and CEO
Heena Patel is a cultural strategist, consultant, producer, speaker, and coach.
The founder and CEO of MELA Arts Connect, Heena’s work has focused on nurturing the ecosystem around South Asian performing arts and community. A sanitation engineer turned tabla player and performing arts entrepreneur, she started off in the arts as a dancer and choreographer of Indian dance. Over the years and through MELA, she’s assumed the roles of producer, booking agent, manager, dancer, musician, teaching artist, and diversity and equity advocate. Recent credits as a producer and artistic director include the multidisciplinary stage show Bollywood Boulevard, immersive dance experience Garba360, desi:NOW – a showcase of hyphenated South Asian identities, and Woven: The Indian-American Story featuring 30 different artist ensembles. Through MELA, Heena seeks to foster partnerships to create meaningful cross-cultural experiences, help artists build sustainable careers and use the arts to build greater equity.
During the pandemic, she expanded her work beyond South Asian arts to support organizations in reimagining gatherings for changing realities, fostering connection and community in virtual spaces.
Currently living in the US, Heena is a Toronto native and for over a decade, split her time between the US and India as she build her career in the arts through cross-cultural exchange.
Heena currently serves on the board of NAPAMA (North American Performing Arts Manager and Agents) as Vice-President. She has been on several committees for Western Arts Alliance, Arts Midwest, and South Arts; and served as a panelist/jury member for the MAP Fund, Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, and North Dakota State Arts Agency, amongst others; and has been a speaker and moderator for numerous national and international conferences and events, including APAP, INK Conference, La Ciudad de las Ideas, IOMMA, and XChange, as well as at institutions like Lincoln Center, New York University, University of Utah, University of Denver, Sarah Lawrence College, College of DuPage, Sonoma State University, Dean University, and more. Heena has been awarded the APAP Leadership Fellowship and ISPA Global Fellowship, and is a member of WOCA (Women of Color in the Arts) and Women In Music.