Community and Commerce Live Harmoniously at The Twelve

The Twelve is a new retail space in Union Market offering a new model for collaboration. Twelve creators have come together to work within a 12-month lease to actualize their shared vision.
Maleke Glee

The Twelve is a new retail space in Union Market offering a new model for collaboration. Twelve creators have come together to work within a 12-month lease to actualize their shared vision. Together, these friends and entrepreneurs provide a host of product offerings from plants to vintage finds. 

The Twelve retail space Union Market Washington DC
Image courtesy of Lori Parkerson

The pandemic is emphasizing the great benefits of togetherness; it’s under those challenging circumstances that The Twelve has opened and continues to operate. The planning began in the digital realm via text, Zooms, you name it. When The Twelve opened its doors on  January 27, 2021, the group’s plans became a reality.

At the core of their model and ethos is togetherness, sharing skills and resources as they pursue their individual goals. Collectively, they create an experience that makes visitors feel a part of the team. 

I’ve gone to The Twelve a few times now, and each time I learn something new, meet someone new and leave with heightened energy. The experience they provide is beyond customer service; it is of community care. In this interview Reggie Black, curator and connector for The Twelve shares how their ethos is in practice and active in all that this dynamic team accomplishes.

Reggie Black, “the OG,” is a multimedia artist, designer, speaker, mental health advocate, and principal of all things progressive. At The Twelve, Reggie supports the gallery space found in the back of the warehouse-esque store. 

The last exhibition featured fellow Twelve member, Obiekwe “Obi” Około. Obi’s solo exhibition “Objective: The Things That Are Real” focused on the meaning and memory we assign to objects. In this interview, Reggie details The Twelve journey— their collaborative intention, and the next exhibition, “Neighbors As Thyself,” that’s on view from Saturday, April 17 to July 11, 2021.

Twelve Space 41
Image courtesy of Lori Parkerson

Maleke: For you, what is the role of art and design in the retail space?

RB: Art and design is the cultural connection to conversations in the retail space. We’ve intentionally assessed the desire that everyone has to engage in human interaction and thoughtful conversations coming off a very challenging 2020. We want people who visit the space to feel at home, comfortable, safe, and not pressured to purchase anything. Love is the exchange. Additionally, art and design are present in the retail space to restore our internal feelings about the current state of the world. If we can begin to openly talk about how we all feel right now, we can reimagine what the future could be, together.

Maleke: Can you share your plans for the forthcoming exhibition, “Neighbors?” Who are some of the artists included?

RB: “Neighbor As Thyself” is our upcoming group exhibition that explores the various approaches that artists have taken to create during the pandemic. Our goal for this exhibition is to share the creative process of the participating artists and how they managed to engage with their neighbors and ideals during the lockdown.  This exhibition will also allow the artist to express how crucial it is for us to examine our own concepts of neighbor and what it means to love and be reliant on one another. We understand that creativity is not a monolith, and we want to share that with the community.

“Neighbor As Thyself” will showcase the works of David Ibata, Rhema Jordan, Serli Lala, and Craig Kraft.

Maleke: What is your take on D.C. and the broader art world? What makes this city unique, and what would you like to see become more present in the arts ecosystem?

Reggie Black
Image courtesy of of Reggie Black

RB: The interesting part about D.C. is that we have the largest museum system in the world right here in our backyard, the Smithsonian Institution. As a result of that, we have people from all over the world who visit to experience the 19 museums as well as the subsidiary attractions, monuments, and parks.

The unique opportunity that D.C. has is that the creative economy can collectively work together to strengthen the independent art and culture scene to showcase the talent that we have to a global audience. Of course, we have to consider the challenges that are in place due to the rapidly increasing prices of real estate, and property development. It makes it almost impossible for an artist, an inspiring gallery owner, or cultural engineer to enter the scene and build something. Nevertheless, that’s where I strongly feel like real estate developers, the city government, and institutions that are in positions of power could provide the necessary resources for the artists and cultural engineers to build an independent scene that tailors to the needs of the evolving art and culture scene.

Maleke: How have the members of The Twelve supported your professional and personal growth? What is the lasting imprint of this experience for you?

RB: I think I’m like the newest “kid” of The Twelve. All the members of The Twelve knew each other beforehand. I came into the tribe through one of my best friends, artist manager, and strategist Alison Beshai. Very ironic that I’m a “new kid” considering I think I’m one of two members who is a native Washingtonian. That said, I’m so happy to be amongst this community and the ever-changing fabric of D.C.

It’s been an amazing experience thus far. I typically work alone, so to have a community and team to work with is very refreshing. It’s phenomenal to have a roster of friends who are all working to enrich the creative community of D.C., individually as well as collectively.

Professional and personally, it’s allowing me to have a lot of fun! I think that’s most important.

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