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Gray-Kontar launches unique artistic center in Collinwood

Daniel Gray-Kontar performing poetry

A rehearsal for the youth of One Mic Open, the organization responsible for sending youth to the National Youth Poetry Slam event

Daniel Gray-Kontar has been performing poetry for 25 years, but it was only recently that it dawned on him that there are no area venues dedicated to his art. “Usually you have to go to a coffee house or a bar [to perform],” he says. “Because there’s nowhere designed for poets and playwrights to craft and perform their works in the early process.”

Gray-Kontar decided to do something about that and now there is exactly such a place. Last month he launched Twelve Literary and Performative Arts Incubator, 325 E. 156th St. in Collinwood. The incubator is an intergenerational teaching, learning and performance space for poets, playwrights and performing artists.
 
The incubator’s unusual name comes from meanings in numerology, says Gray-Kontar. “The number 12 symbolically represents the building of transformative institutions,” he explains. “Hence, our mission is to nurture youth and adults through the creation of literary works that inspire communities to dream and build a more just and equitable society."
 
Earlier this year Northeast Shores Development Corporation approached Gray-Kontar about the 750-square-foot space after he formally applied to take it over as some kind of performing arts center. Gray-Kontar tossed a few ideas around before he came up with the mission of Twelve.
 
He knew what he didn’t want. “What I’m not interested in is adults coming into the space and teaching about their own interests,” Gray-Kontar says. “I really had to take a deeper dive into who I am as a person, who I am as a public intellectual, artist, and artivist, and what the needs of the community of artists are. I do want lifelong learners, adults engaged in working together with youth. Let’s merge the two so everyone becomes experts.”
 
Northeast Shores renovated the space for a variety of uses and leased the building to Gray-Kontar at a discounted rate that made it “relatively easy for a working artist to afford it,” he says. “It could clearly be a space for workshops, for poetry readings, dance rehearsals. But it can just as easily be an art gallery.”
 
Gray-Kontar plans to add a 10- by four-foot stage, lighting, soundproofing and a video projector to the space, which accommodates 60 to 75 people.
 
“The space will always change,” he says. “For some events it will feel more like a comfortable living room space, geared more for very intimate events and workshops/discussions. But for other events it will feel more like a performance space with folding chairs around the stage. It all depends on the feel of the performance.”

Twelve officially opens on Friday, May 6 with a poetry reading featuring Terry Provost, Eris Eady and Alishia McCoy. On Thursday, May 12, The center will host its inaugural Merge at Twelve DJ-poet collaboration with Eva Barrett and DJ Red-I. A membership drive will help fund programming. Memberships are $10 a month or $60 a year.

Those using Twelve are asked to conform to a community agreement, which is posted on the wall and states that people of all races, genders, religious backgrounds and health backgrounds can feel safe in this space.
 
Gray-Kontar unofficially opened last Friday, April 15, with a building session to discuss possibilities for Twelve, which the community has already embraced. “We've found that youth, in particular, really enjoy being in this space because it provides them with a writing space that feels more like their home environment and much less like the sterility of school spaces,” he says.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 18 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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