For Kristen Mitchell, SPACE is the Place
A journey from journalism to music
BY PAT MORAN
For Kristen Mitchell, her pivot three years ago from online editor at The Everygirl to live music venue manager at SPACE was one of the hardest decisions she’s ever made.
“But I knew it was the right move,” Mitchell says today, even though the transition from a female-dominated workplace to a male-dominated one has been challenging. By 2016, Mitchell had earned a BA in Creative Writing and Spanish at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, and an MFA in Writing at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. After graduating, she worked briefly for a nonprofit women’s organization’s print publication, before landing the assistant editor position at The Everygirl, a Chicago-based online resource devoted to informing and enriching the lives of creative, career-oriented
woman. The gig with the women-run publication was perfect for the writer in Mitchell’s mind, but her heart felt pulled by the music industry’s siren song.
While putting in full days at The Everygirl, Mitchell worked a side gig at SPACE, a concert venue and music and podcast production facility at 1245 Chicago Avenue in Evanston, which has hosted acts like The Lumineers, Alabama Shakes, Nick Lowe, Dr. John and Lucinda Williams. Mitchell started as an intern before graduating to production assistant.
“Sometimes I wouldn’t get home from the show until midnight or one in the morning,” Mitchell
remembers. “I was fascinated by the live concert experience and I thought it was a nice way to get my feet wet...in the industry.” She credits the venue’s great vibe and wonderful people for prompting her to accept the full-time position as manager of music operations and creative at SPACE, an acronym for the Society for the Preservation of Art and Culture.
“I felt it was more like a family than a job,” Mitchell says. “And it still feels that way to me to this day.”
What does your job entail?
At SPACE we do both seated and standing room only shows. Our capacity is from around 240 on a seated show to about 370 standing, which means we get a lot of different types of fans. We get rock shows, and plenty of folk shows, blues and jazz. There are a lot of genres coming through our doors in any given week which is exciting and keeps my job fun.
We’re a really small team, with four of us there full time. There is a talent buyer, general manager, a production manager and me. I oversee all of our room operations and our creative – design, social media, and marketing. I also make sure that our shows sell and that people are enjoying the experience when they come.
The music industry is a male dominated field. How have you navigated that?
There are so many wonderful agents, publicists, promoters and owners of spaces that are female or identify as female. But in terms of running a venue, the boots on the ground operations, it’s been difficult to find other women in those roles in Chicago. Our sister venue Thalia Hall has a female general manger
and it’s been nice to have her as a resource in terms of the way we approach our jobs and deal with customers. At my venue I’m the only female on management staff, which sometimes poses challenges. The most important thing is having supportive co-workers that you can communicate with readily and honestly. My co-workers have always been supportive.
When you’re the one making the decisions, you have to convince people to take you seriously, whereas that respect is just inherently earned by my male colleagues. One of the quotes I have hanging up in my office is the phrase, “Kill them with kindness but don’t be afraid to stomp your boot.”
Tell us about the outdoor summer series Out of Space.
We started it last year. SPACE opened its doors in 2008 and with our ten-year anniversary we wanted to do something special and give back to the community. Out of Space was at three locations around the city. We did Temperance Beer Company which is west on Dempster Street. We did two weekends there with six or seven shows. Then we did two nights at Canal Shores Golf Course which is a public golf course north of Evanston. We had Mavis Staples and The Indigo Girls there. Then we did a three-block party at the intersection of Chicago and Dempster Streets. We had five or six acts a day, and then we had after shows inside the club following those events.
We did it again this past summer. We had a weekend at Temperance Beer which was four shows, and then we did four nights at Canal Shores as well.
You also host live interviews with bands on music label Audiotree. How did that start?
I had met someone from Audiotree and they asked if I would be interested in trying it out. I did an interview and had a lot of fun. It just kept snowballing [after that]. It helped having a writing and journalist background, because it made interviewing the band and coming up with the questions easier. The only difference is there’s a camera in your face, which tends to be a little stressful.
You also manage the band The Evening Attraction. What was the genesis of that?
I learned about them through a website called Deli Chicago which I go on to listen to Chicago bands. I was looking for a local support band for a show here at SPACE. I reached out, [and] they played a show for us. Once I saw their live performance, I was intrigued. I was surprised that they weren’t bigger than they are.
I offered to help [because] it was something I was interested in. I work with band managers on a day-to-day basis at SPACE, so I wanted to try my hand on that side of things. The band doesn’t have an agent. I handle all their bookings, PR and marketing. They did a west coast tour; an east coast tour and they have tons of gigs that we’re trying to amp up around the city as well. They released a single, “Something Bout It,” [produced by TEA and mixed by Adam Thein] on September 6 which is really awesome.
Do you still write?
I’m writing a book now that is set in Nashville, Music City. It’s about the murder of a country music star. So I found a way to put my experience in the music industry towards writing. It’s kind of fun. I’m only halfway through. I’m working with an advisor who is a professor I had at Northwestern, who’s helping me edit and work through the first and second drafts. It’s just a fun challenge to keep myself writing. I don’t even care if it gets published.
You could adapt it into a movie treatment.
(Laughs) That would be nice.