A Word From Skirt Design Challenge Coordinator, Kim Neeser
I can still picture the place perfectly. My very own grown-up studio loft. It’s at least 1500 square feet of wide-open space. Long, narrow, two-story, stained-glass windows with arches, frame the room on either side. My bed is centered on the far-back brick wall with soft linen sheets tossed perfectly imperfect. Thin hardwood floors in a herringbone pattern, with markings of time gone by, connect my bed to my art studio which occupies at least 2/3 of the wide-open space. I have come to realize this place I picture is unusually grand for a single room in New York City, but that was my vision.
I think it was about grade 11 that I placed my vision in NYC, but I was about 5 when I decided I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. I spent hours sketching Betty and Veronica fashion spreads while I started to picture details of this space in my mind. It’s no wonder I ended up in the interior design industry specializing in textiles.
In reality, at the time I first saw this vision I was in a suburban St. Albert home with my two parents, a little sister, and a dog. It was the 90s. In my perfect made-up space, I located my studio directly above my own art gallery. I can still see all the canvases, antique frames, and art easels tumbling over one another. The only thing that separated the art from the bed was a magnificent chaise lounge in a jade green cotton velvet; for portrait art of course. While I write this, I picture a fancy sequin dress thrown across the back as though I wore it out last night. On the right-hand side of the long wall stands a clothing rack full of over-the-top couture outfits and fancy costumes. Shoes, jewelry, and handbags promulgated throughout the room. There was no kitchen or laundry room in this vision.
My first time in NYC I was 24, where I spent my time in museums like MOMA and The Met, and a lot of time on Broadway. There is nothing like live theatre where you can see the sweat on the brow of a human, or at a gallery when you can see brush strokes on the canvas, nothing inspires me more than people’s ability and determination, and to see it at this magnitude was quite frankly life-guiding for me. Seeing spaces like these lit the spark that was already in me. I wanted others to feel that kind of invincibility. The feeling that I could make this kind of impact on someone else if I could just spark one idea! That would become my life’s creative mission.
This mission started becoming tangible when I met the SkirtsAfire Managing Director, Brianne, and Artistic Director, Annette. It’s as though they too had the same vision of connecting creative people together for a bigger purpose. I instantly wanted to be a part of the festival and I started competing in the upcycled skirts competition about 6 years ago. Every year pushing myself further creatively in an effort to be closer to these amazing women. In efforts to inspire and spark new ideas and conversations among my own peers.
Just before this time, I had my first baby Julia, and then Isla came 14 months later. I had made it a goal in my early 20s (a decade before having my girls) that I would be an interesting person. I wanted to always have something to talk about at a party or social gathering. I know it may seem vague but it truly led me to participate in challenges like the upcycled skirt competition. If I could pull this upcycled challenge off, I would certainly have something to talk about. I didn’t realize at the time but being a mother would give me endless things to talk about. However, I am so grateful to have my own thing, as most parents would likely agree children can be a tad consuming. While they are at school or sleep, I work, but together we create and for that I am super grateful.
I still imagine the kind of gallery shows I would host, fancy parties with haute couture outfits and hats. There will be pink champagne in silver cocktail glasses and long cigarette holders in the gloved hands of the women who wear said hats. There will be live music and all kinds of interesting people will attend to discuss world affairs. I imagine the party atmosphere that would inspire movements, world peace, solutions, and would connect all the right people to make it happen. Of course, in this idealistic version of my life “when I grow up” I am all things; the gallery owner, curator, party planner, PR marketing, host, and artist. HA! Imagine? I can barely get my dishwasher to run once a day and my kids rarely have matching socks let alone fancy clothes.
I let that vision of the loft over the gallery guide me artistically and I embellish it still to this day. I may not own the gallery in my mind but because of leaders like Annette at SkirtsAfire, I certainly am experiencing that feeling I had in my vision. I have never met a more open-minded human than Annette. I am paraphrasing here but she pretty much told me “What’s your idea? How can I help it come true?”
This year we have brought 10 artists together to create one exhibit. I am thrilled to be the Skirt Challenge Coordinator for 2022 and my role is to create four separate window displays in Old Strathcona with 9 other amazing artists. As a graduate of MacEwan’s visual merchandising and display program, this is another dream come true twenty years later.
My day job at Rainbow Draperies is to design and project manage custom drapes; I am so thrilled to create beautiful upcycled drapes for SkirtsAfire’s displays from our cut-offs and discontinued fabric samples. These drapes will set the backdrop for the 4 skirts. It’s been a great morale and team building exercise for the seamstresses and me.
Each upcycled skirt is designed by a local designer, and 5 prop artists are also coming together to create supporting details for our theme “Four Directions.” Each skirt designer was given the same box of waste from retailers on Whyte Ave. Each window represents a different colour, and phase of life that the viewer can transcend through time, experiencing the variety of perspectives. The overall experience from window to window is to take you into four different directions of life from birth, adolescents, adulthood, and then to afterlife and circularly around and around again.
The ideas and interpretation for these windows may have been sparked in my made-up lofty studio, but the displays are real, and there are real human artists coming from all different directions to show what they do and how they interpret the theme, all through upcycled art. Life isn’t always what we imagined it to be but in this case I do get to be an artist at home with my girls, and I get to participate and create with SkirtsAfire Festival, and that is far more rewarding than I ever could have imagined. It’s become a family affair, something I intentionally incorporate in my parenting. I get to be me, the artist and mom, and my kids get to express themselves, inspiring me every time. Even my engineer husband got behind the concept of upcycled art with Julia’s grade three bridge building project this past month.
I hope you find the time to visit the windows, and experience them first hand for yourself, maybe they will spark an idea, who knows maybe you will be that person I imagined so many years ago in my ridiculously awesome vision. One thing I know for sure is that the synchronicities that have connected my childhood vision, this festival and the moments that have already happened between me and the artists is enough to fulfill a lifetime. I know I am connected to that world-changing community I saw in my mind so many years ago. I am so honoured to be a part of this group of creatives and SkirtsAfire Festival.
SkirtsAfire Festival is a theatre and multidisciplinary arts festival featuring the work of women and non-binary artists, running March 3-13 in Old Strathcona.
The 4 Directions | Skirt Design Challenge will be displayed in the following retail windows from February 28 – March 13. Find out more info here and be sure to check out the rest of SkirtsAfire Festival, featuring art, design and live performances throughout Old Strathcona. Programming includes theatre, dance, music, spoken word, workshops and more!
- C’est Sera (8239 104 Street NW)
- The Paint Spot (10032 81 Ave NW)
- The QUILTBAG (10516 82 Ave NW)
- Gravitypope Tailored Goods (10414 82 Ave NW)
See a full schedule of events at skirtsafire.com!
April MacDonald Killins