Kristen Kaza.

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Edited by Nada Abdelrahim

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Recently, I hiked up the Sierra Nevada mountains at sunset with an inner tube and floated down the Palomino River until it met the Caribbean Sea, and I would say that was perfect. Happiness is an impermanent moment. Life must have balance to give us perspective and gratitude: Success doesn’t come without struggle; joy doesn’t exist without pain. So my perfect happiness is about being deeply invested in the beautiful moments, even if they are fleeting, and maybe because I know that they are. 

What is your motto?
“If longevity is your goal, be consistent with what you do well and respect your peers.” I see folks early in their careers who pop off or get an attitude like they are above others, or have reached their peak (please!) - and I think this is a mistake. Patti Smith said, “Be concerned with doing good work. And make the right choices and protect your work. And if you build a good name, eventually it will be its own currency.” That sums it up, and she’s put in just a casual four decades or so of work to back it up. 

What is your current state of mind?
2017 was a very challenging year for me, both personally and professionally. I was humbled by the challenges I faced, which at moments I wasn’t sure I’d see the other side of. But I did, and I feel a sense of confidence and calm restored. When before I felt I was just doing everything I could to maintain, now my current state of mind is focused on how I can thrive, and continue to support others in their thriving. 

How would you like to die?
Well there better be a damn party, with everyone dressed to the nines - absolutely no black; lots of colors and fabulousness! I’d like the life I lived, however long or short, to be celebrated. How would I like to die? If I could just dive into a warm ocean and dissolve into the curve of a wave, that’d be pretty rad.

What is it that you love most about what you do?
I love bringing people together to feel good, and even better, feel free. The nuance of interaction that happens in real life versus on the internet cannot be compared; the power of in person connection is essential to our humanity. For me to see people- especially queer people, women & femmes, people of color- just let go at a party or program I’ve produced motivates me to keep giving it my best.

When did you realize that you wanted to be a creative?
I come from a creative family with many musicians: my dad was a concert promoter, radio DJ and music critic, and then owned a creative firm, so I learned my place was in arts and culture early on. It was in high school that I realized I wanted to produce events with social impact. I started a club called WORD: Working On Respecting Diversity. When I directed our school play, one of the evenings was a benefit for the local Rape Crisis Center. We put out a press release, encouraged cocktail attire and had a jazz band play. So I’ve been “partying with a purpose,” as I like to say, for a long time.

What motivates you?
I am motivated by the power of a community connection to heal and spark joy. Doing work with the public can be so much pressure, particularly when you’re aiming to centralize people with marginalized experiences or identities. But every time someone takes the time to tell me the space is meaningful to them--whether it’s Reunion (a sliding scale event space I co-direct), or Slo ‘Mo (a queer dance party I produce) or another project--I am motivated to keep making spaces that are kinder, safer and more intentional. And just fucking fun.

What do you love about being a woman?
I love the empathy and enthusiasm I have for others, and the confidence in my sensuality and sense of purpose. My friend Coriama refers to this as the “femmergy.” When women & femmes fuse our femmergy, using it to lift up all women--including queer women, trans women and women of color--we are empowered and unstoppable. Femmergy is a big, fabulous “fuck you” to the Patriarchy. Femmergy is the future.

What is your experience of being a woman, while also being a creative?
My femme and queer identity and values are a part of everything I do, and so they are always integrated into my work and advocacy. If I’m being hired to book or produce an event, there will always be inclusion of women and people or color–from the vendors to the artists. You might be surprised how often this is not the case. No shade, because they are both legends for good reason, but everyone wants to book Wilco or Chance and it’s like, yo, there are other great artists – with loyal audiences too--in Chicago. Let’s try to provide more opportunities to lift up more artists. But it’s also important that companies/institutions don’t use minorities as props to make them look good, because this also happens all the time. We have to move beyond image and focus on impact. I try to look at events through a holistic lens and consider what kind of investment we are making in communities and what values we are showcasing with the resources we have. Because I am usually working with other women, there is respect, a collaborative attitude and work ethic I’ve found to be so much stronger generally than when working with men. I realize this isn’t a given with working with all women, but I believe in collaboration over competition and have experienced the former over the latter much more frequently.

I am motivated by the power of a community connection to heal and spark joy.