Widely known for its diverse exhibitions and Live at the Five Spot jazz and blues events, the Contemporary Art Center of Peoria (CAC) has branched out recently by hosting Nabi’s House spoken word poetry.

Nena Daugherty, founder and coordinator of Nabi’s House, said the project was introduced to the CAC through the encouragement of CAC founder Preston Jackson. "I’ve known Preston for years, and he knew that I held Nabi’s House spoken word events at various locations, such as Bradley University, to raise finds for securing a permanent location downtown. CAC offered Nabi’s House a transitional home. In turn, we provide the members of CAC and guests of Nabi’s House with a wonderful evening of spoken word and open forums, along with cultural and artistic expressions. We, at Nabi’s House, believe we complement the CAC as it helps build Nabi’s House in the positive manner that will allow for growth and development of both entities."

Daugherty said her children were the inspiration behind Nabi’s House. "In August 2001, my daughter, Kayenecha, was returning to Morgan State University in Baltimore for her sophomore year, and my son, Kyrus, was to be a freshman at SIU in Carbondale. This was going to be my first time by myself. A change of life had occurred, and I needed to know what to do with both of my children away at school. I’ve always loved poetry in the form of spoken word, along with books and knowledge. I wanted somewhere to perform my poetry and share knowledge with other individuals, but there wasn’t a venue established in the Peoria area. After discussions with my children, my daughter, who’s also a poet, solved the issue. We had our first open mic outside at the pavilion area of Carver Community Center that August before they left for school."

The event was a success, and Daugherty began a search for a home for Nabi’s House. "I realized after that first open mic-and during my search for a venue-that our African American cultural forum and platform were very limited, if not almost non-existent, in the Peoria area-especially downtown. This inspired me to want more than a place for spoken word, but a place where my culture could be celebrated. Through my love of books, poetry, and the performing arts, the vision of Nabi’s House emerged," she said.

Daugherty explained "Nabi" is the Hebrew word for "prophet," while "poet" means "one who is inspired." She said in its ultimate incarnation, Nabi’s House will be a bookstore/coffeehouse that features spoken word and other artistic venues. "We, at Nabi’s House, believe our mission is to enlighten, inspire, and enlist individuals in the pursuit of and crusade for the betterment for one’s spirit, soul, and body. This, in turn, uplifts, strengthens, and establishes positive neighborhoods and communities. As a mother and poetess, I’m aware of the need and desire to cultivate and encourage young and old alike in the area of the performing arts and other artistic expressions, as well as serve as a venue for positive entertainment. My passion for literature and the reading and writing of poetry inspired me to create a platform in this community to enlighten, educate, expand, and encourage the appreciation of spoken word and many other forums that need positive exposure, along with an establishment where individuals can socialize and interact with others."

Daugherty said there’s never a typical night at Nabi’s House, which is fine by her. "I believe that’s part of why the spoken word events are successful. I use themes for the events, which allow for versatility and structure, and we work from that format. At the start of the event, you’ll see Khalilah Campfield, who’s originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., as the emcee. She’s a very multi-talented young lady who really keeps our guests on their toes and starts each event with our ’house rules.’ But there are occasions when we have a guest host because of the theme or the nature of the event. The atmosphere is always filled with music, which is coordinated by DJ ISE (Paul Okojie) and DJ MARVEL (Mark Kirksey), both of whom are very talented. With DJ ISE on the turntables and DJ MARVEL master mixes, it brings uniqueness to our events. We have intermissions and provide refreshments. There’s a lot of socializing and networking, which is an opportunity to meet and greet other individuals, and we encourage it."

She said the format of the evening depends on the theme. "If it’s an open mic, there’s a three-minute time limit for each poet, which allows others to have an opportunity to speak. The poems aren’t censored-I believe in freedom of speech-but I also believe the poets who come to our events respect the stage and share their life experience, so other individuals can be edified and benefit from their poetry. There are other events where I showcase different poets, and those poets have more time to perform their craft. I’ve had events that focus on young adults and children at the CAC, but usually I partner with another organization, such as the Lincoln Public Library, for their poetry workshops they’ve established for youth. The venue at CAC is more for adults, but again, that depends on the topic of the event for that evening. Our guests’ ages range from late teens to individuals in their 60s. It’s a very diverse crowd."

Daugherty said Nabi’s House had a small but faithful following from previous events at other locations, but now that there’s a stable location, that group continues to grow. "We’re very appreciative that the CAC allows us the use of their facility, and it’s been a great transitional home. I believe Nabi’s House and the CAC have benefited in this joint effort in a very positive way. We aren’t sure how long we’ll be there-our desire is to have our own location-but until then, we’ll keep having spoken word events and bringing cultural expressions to Peoria via the CAC."

Like many other artistic ventures, lack of funding is a constant issue, Daugherty said. "Nabi’s House is at its beginning stages and is very interested in speaking with individuals and companies that would like to invest in a program that uplifts the community and enhances the diversity of Peoria. Without the proper funds, the full potential of Nabi’s House won’t be realized, and Peoria will have missed out on the chance to possess something wonderful." AA!