Our Core Beliefs and Commitments

Twelve Literary Arts’ core beliefs and commitments form the foundation of our organization’s daily practice. Our core beliefs and commitments are practiced by our board of directors and staff and are shared with every person and organization with whom we commit to a deep level of engagement.


We believe that youth are more than the answers to the future. Youth are the answers to the important questions posed in the present moment. The development of youth voice isn’t just about youth developing the capacity to write and perform strong creative writing. Strong youth voice is about developing the confidence of our youth to speak their truths at boardroom tables where public policies affecting their lives are shaped.

Transformative Education for Lifelong Learners

We believe that true education begins with reflective self-analysis combined with critical analysis of our environment. We believe that individuals and communities are always in states of becoming. We believe that the work of self-reflection and community analysis is never done. With this in mind, we believe that true education is a lifelong pursuit that allows human beings to answer the important questions posed by the collective self in which one lives. We believe that education works best in intergenerational contexts. Intergenerational learning fosters a genuine respect for the intelligences brought by all, and emphasizes the belief that we are all experts. 

Tradition and INNOVATION

We believe in studying history. We believe that by studying the writers, the movements, and the moments of the past that we learn more about ourselves, our communities, and about how we have arrived to the present moment. We believe in answering the questions of the present by thinking creatively. We believe in dreaming future worlds within the context of what has come before us, and with a sense of mindfulness in the present. This core belief grounds us, while reminding to always dare to shape new possibilities.

Cultivating Safe Spaces

We believe that the creation of more safe spaces for youth living in urban environments is an essential part of critical self-reflection and self care. By creating safe spaces, youth are able to be at their most authentic. They are able to peel back layers, engage in critical analysis, and establish commonalities with other youth instead of existing in the states of opposition that have become commonplace in urban communities.

We believe that in too many instances, schools have become institutions that are more punitive than nurturing. Given this understanding, the development of true safe spaces counteracts the institutionalized harm done to so many of our youth in the schools and on the streets.


We believe that everything we do must come from a place of love. We believe that love is an action. We believe that it is important for us to see the baby in each human being we interact with because babies are precious and are in constant states of becoming. We believe that all lives are precious, and that we are all in states of becoming. This value guides our understanding of art and education.


Twelve Literary Arts is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) literary arts and education organization founded by Executive Artistic Director Daniel Gray-Kontar in May 2016. Twelve Literary Arts originated in a 750 square foot storefront space in Cleveland’s North Collinwood neighborhood.

At its inception, Twelve Literary Arts placed an emphasis on providing quality literary arts programming for youth and writing workshops for adults while operating as a small performance venue for emerging poets, hip-hop artists, and playwrights.

In 2017 the organization ceased operating as a small arts venue, choosing to focus on providing literary arts instruction to high-school-aged youth, supporting beginning to mid-career adult poets and writers with professional development, performance, and publishing opportunities, and broadening the audience for performance poetry in Northeast Ohio by bringing poetry to public spaces.

Today, Twelve Literary Arts are housed in a 4,000 square foot house in Cleveland’s historic Glenville neighborhood. The organization provides literary arts instruction and leadership development to elementary and high school-aged youth while offering an expanded slate of programming to adult poets, writers, and storytellers.

Working in collaboration with other community and arts organizations, Twelve Literary Arts has played a key role in making poetry more accessible to new audiences, developing a cadre of young talent committed to writing in and about Cleveland, and contributing to the local dialogue about the arts and social transformation.

We believe in Youth Voice

We believe in Transformative Education for Lifelong Learners

We believe in tradition and innovation

We believe in the power of Safe Spaces

We believe in Love