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Creative Process Begins Here: Meet Kristen Kosmas 

December 18, 2020

Not all of the artists at Meany Center perform on our stage—some of them work in our offices!

Take, for example, Kristen Kosmas, Meany Center’s Creative Fellowships Coordinator. For the past three years, Kristen has provided critical support to more than twenty artists participating in the Creative Fellowships Initiative at the University of Washington, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The core principle of these fellowships is privileging process over product—i.e., Fellows are encouraged to use the time, space and resources provided to explore their own creative process without worrying about what the final result might be.

When not doing her “day job” at Meany, Kristen is an accomplished artist in her own right. That identity was forged in New York during the early 90s—“a fierce time in the arts,” Kristen recalls. “Karen Finley, Holly Hughes, Act UP, Adrien Piper—the Brooklyn Academy of Music was still new, and the neighborhood around it hadn’t gentrified yet.” 

The times were vibrant and vital, a heady mix of arts and political activism that galvanized her. Moving between New York and Seattle, she spent several years as a solo performer before evolving her creative process to incorporate influences from multiple disciplines—experimental music, visual arts, poetry, playwriting and performance among them.

So, to get a sense of what an artist’s “creative process” looks like, we asked Kristen to talk about hers.

Sometimes it starts with “a thing that won’t leave me alone,” she says. Maybe a question, but not always. “One time I began wondering about the relationship between being in love and experiencing a spiritual ecstasy or insanity/a breakdown…” She ended up making a play about those three things.

Sometimes it starts with being drawn to an impulse or an emotion out of which questions come. In 2016, for example, in the aftermath of the presidential election, Kristen felt an urgent, insuppressible need to create a sanctuary space for people whom she loves—many of whom are very vulnerable. The result was her most recent work, The People’s Republic of Valerie, commissioned and presented by On the Boards, in which she created a utopia by “rewriting—inverting— the news to create a manifesto for what the bright future will hold.” 

The Chocolate Factory Theater in New York City then commissioned a pared down version, The People’s Republic of Valerie: Living Room Edition, which Kristen completed in November, 2019.

She decided she needed a rest from the language generating part of her brain. For the past few months, she’s been creating collage-based mail art—small pieces that she sends to people as a surprise. She’s documenting the project on Instagram and has been commissioned to continue it by On the Boards and The Chocolate Factory.

Whether she is creating an imaginary Utopia (complete with overhead projector) or tiny collages, using available materials is always part of her art-making and process. “Collage is easy to make out of garbage,” Kristen points out. “My work comes directly out of the historical and American avant garde movements,” she says. “There’s nothing about the practice of using found and available materials that is unique to me. It’s simply a value that speaks to me.”

What is unique to Kristen are the answers to the questions she asks herself for every project: "What do I need or want personally? What is happening in the landscape in the arts—what isn’t being done? How can I be of service?"

In this time of widespread social isolation, lack of physical touch or shared common spaces, Kristen’s response was mail art. For one thing, each piece is a unique expression of a singular personality. The work is also deeply personal on the most elemental level—hers are the only hands that have touched it, and it is delivered into the hands of just one other person.

So far, about 35 individual pieces have accumulated on Instagram—and people are beginning to receive them in the mail.  “Somebody said, ‘They sound like you,’” Kristen says, and laughs.