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Elementz of Youth

By Stephanie Dunlap · February 16th, 2005 · All The News That Fits
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The recording studio is ready to go. But the walls of Elementz, formerly known as the Hip Hop Youth Arts Center, will be bare for the grand opening Feb. 24.

The youth Gavin Leonard hopes to draw through the doors will design their own space, he explains.

"We're going to let young people make the decision as to how the space is going to look," he says.

He'll have big swaths of butcher paper taped up inside, along with a color wheel, so youth can decide what the walls around them should look like. He'll also post the center's budget, so youth can decide if they want one swanky $1,000 leather couch or 10 couches from the Salvation Army for half that.

"The concept is and has always been we're not going to pick everything," Leonard says. "It'll be a blank slate when people first come in for the first couple weeks."

He approached the naming of the arts center the same way: "Elementz" came out of 500 surveys.

It was through talking to youth that he realized the need for such a center in the first place (see "Hip Hop Hope," issue of Dec. 3-10, 2003).

"The primary goal is to give young people a place to go that's safe, that has resources they want and need," Leonard says.

"The secondary is to start finding new young leaders and finding the creativity in the community and starting to bring it out."

The Hip Hop angle ties it all together.

A production assistant is set to be on hand at all hours. It's not just anyone who will show young people how to use the studio's recording equipment and software: Mr. Diggs has worked with the likes of Talib Kweli and The Roots.

When they're not in the studio, youth can learn to surf the Net on one of the four computers. Leonard's planning programming on breakdancing, DJing, Hip Hop dance and possibly fashion design.

A new Web site goes up within the next two weeks (www.natiyouthcenter.org).

The space sits next to the Cincinnati Ballet at 1599 Central Parkway, at the intersection of Liberty Street. At first Elementz will be open 5-10 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

But there will be no letting up for Leonard even after the doors swing open. Fund-raising is a constant need.

"We got money up to now based on getting people," he says. "Now we have to get the people."

He's got a core group of about 20 youth spreading the word about Elementz and about 500 names on a contact list. He also has about 5,000 fliers to pass out before Feb. 24. But a year and a half after Leonard started talking up the idea, Elementz opens without a lot of hoopla.

"It's anticlimactic, but we don't have the money to do any big opening right now anyway," he says. "It's anticlimactic in the larger sense that we've been working on this since August 2003 and it's just one of these thing where we feel like we've been promising this for a long time. You see a lot of things like this that have been hyped and never come to fruition. I'm real close to breathing a full sigh of relief."

Elementz needs stereo equipment, couches, chairs and volunteers to help clean and set up the place. Contact Gavin Leonard at 513-266-1508.



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