July 2019 Member of the Month
As our inaugural TAC Member of the month, Kristin West makes us do a double take on the meaning of artist. When we think of an artist, we don’t usually think of a gardener who collaborates in designing private gardens or public landscapes, and we probably don’t think of a roller dancer busting out some pretty sick moves. We chose Kristin as our member of the month not only because of her unconventional artistry, but because she shows the TAC community a different way of finding how we can support ourselves and other people as working artists.
What brought you to TAC?
Design Wilde works mostly in Hells Kitchen and I came on when they just became members. We have done some design and maintenance for Clinton Housing Company which owns the building (that TAC is located in), and that’s how we found Rachel and the space. Design Wild has been working out of the space since April of this year, so it hasn’t been that long, but we love it. I love the natural lighting, the people, being able to switch up where we sit, being able to sit next to different people each time, connecting, and collaborating.
How do you define yourself as an artist?
I’ve been a gardner for five years in various places, like Brooklyn Botanic Garden for example. Then I came to work with Shanti (principle/founding partner of Design Wild), and I love the collaboration we’re doing. I know gardening isn’t the first thing people think of when they think “artist”, especially when we’re working at TAC and we’re sitting next to theater companies and writers, but I remember Shanti saying “gardening is the slowest of the performing arts.”
I also am a roller dancer. I’ve been roller skating for fifteen years and played roller derby for eight. When I moved to New York, I wanted to roller skate, but in a different way. I love roller derby, but it is a team sport that takes up a lot of time, so I eventually found roller dancing about three or four years ago. Recently over the past year, I’ve actually been getting paid to do roller dancing. I have a team called the Miss’iles, and we have a team in Paris and a team here in New York City, and we work nightlife gigs and events. I’ve also done music videos and have been working on getting myself into commercials. There’s a team in LA called the LA Roller Girls, they’re considered LA’s premier roller girl entertainment, and eventually I would like to have the Miss’iles be considered as NYC’s premier roller girls. People don’t think at the top of their heads that they should hire roller dancers as their premier entertainment, but I believe there’s just something about roller skating that people respond positively to. For example, Design Wild just did this block party, and I brought out my roller skates and wore them just for fun, and you can feel it adds an extra element of entertainment that people respond to.
How were you able to become a working roller dancer?
I have to credit Cecil Klaus. She has been one of my teachers, mentors, and I’m on her team. And also it’s been a lot of New York City hustling, with networking and meeting people at different events that I’ve been doing. And some of the events weren’t necessarily for roller dancing. Sometimes I’d meet people who are very involved in the roller skating community and I would see if they wanted to roller skate sometime.
Also, I’m not an actor, but I’m on some acting breakdown websites, and I have gotten booked for some gigs as a special talent based on certain breakdowns I submitted for. I’ve also found a lot of different gigs that I just didn’t know were possible, and I think New York really provides different communities and opportunities where roller skating has value. I’m just taking one day at a time and moving towards a goal of what I hope will become a roller skating empire
You’ve achieved a great victory in being able to do not just one, but two very different jobs in the arts, and you’re able to be a working artists and not have to wait tables. How did that come about for you?
I was already doing my roller dancing, and right before I started at Design Wild, I was serving at a comedy club. It was great working there but very hard on me. It was physically and mentally exhausting. And my therapist was telling me that I don’t have to tie myself to one job, I can find other possibilities, and work towards jobs that are in avenues that I love doing. And that just made me think about what I really liked doing, and I knew I liked gardening and I wanted to get back into it, and that’s where I found Shanti.
Is there any advice that you would give to other artists who are working on getting out of the waiting tables game?
Rachel sent out one of her newsletters called “The Third Place” where she talked about the third place being “not your home (first place) nor your work (second place)... a third place is a welcoming space that cultivates essential social experiences in the company of like-minded people.” What I really liked about that newsletter was how the third place is neutral ground, and you’re not tied down to anything or anyone and it’s a space you don’t have to get anything out of. And for me, having that neutral space is what has helped me spark ideas and push forward in my artistic goals.
Because gardening and roller dancing are at VERY opposite ends of the artistic spectrum, is there anything in particular that you can connect them with?
It’s interesting because gardens create an oasis that sparks creativity and joy, and I’ve also seen that when I’m roller skating. A lot of people ask me where I roller skate, and I’ll skate anywhere and I really do love roller skating outside. Anyone can skate anywhere. As long as you have roller skates and are ready to roll, that’s all it requires. And usually when I’m out skating, or not even skating, I would just have them out over my shoulder carrying them, people will respond very positively. I remember I was out skating and there was this guy that was watching me approach and I was expecting this cat calling interaction with him, but he was like, “Roller skating… you must be a happy joyous person.” And yea, I do feel like a happy joyous person when I’m skating, but I feel like I’m bringing that joy to other people when I skate, and I feel like I’m doing the same with gardening as well. Like when we do field work are planting, people will walk by and thank us for beautifying the neighborhood. So I feel like gardening and roller skating give me joy in life, but they’re also giving that joy to other people.
If you would like to know more about Kristin and her roller dancing and gardening world:
Visit her website
Follow the Miss'ile Team
Learn more about her work at Design Wild