Today we’d like to introduce you to Eleanor Kahn.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Eleanor. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My undergrad degree is in Architecture, which was an impulsive switch I made the summer before starting classes. It was fortunate that the university I had already gotten into also had the only accredited architecture program in the state! Then, almost equally impulsive, was the choice to shadow the scenic design professor my first semester to satisfy one of my honors requirements. At that point, I had no idea that that was a career that anyone would have. But, I had participated extensively in music throughout my life, and scenic design sounded like music + architecture to me. I left it behind to continue focusing on architecture.
The architecture program, amongst other things, really stressed the importance of site specificity. Every semester we would have one primary project based on a real-life location. We would spend time at that site studying everything about it. What was the community around it, what could our building contribute to that community, how does it speak to or respond to the environment and geography around it, and so on and so forth. In the 3rd (out of 5th) year we had a project based in SoHo, New York. After spending a week on location, we were back in the studios. The design basically was just to design a loft building and I had a major designer’s block. It was here where my amazing professor changed my life. She told me that my concept for buildings was always really excellent and that I should focus on creating a story for the building. This unlocked the design and prompted another conversation wherein she asked if I had ever considered scenic design as a career. I hadn’t until that moment! Everything about this made so much sense, though. I loved designing buildings, but I, even more, loved the power the design of a space has on everyone who experiences it. Designing spaces for stories afforded me the opportunity to more immediately impact a large population of people. We figured out how I could add it as a second major.
Following graduation, I decided to focus on finding a good graduate program where I could get dive deeper into theater. I ended up at Boston University, which I can best describe as the dive bar of grad schools. It’s down and dirty and really knows what the eff they are talking about. I was challenged artistically and intellectually about how to create theater in every capacity. I graduated in the spring of 2012 and decided to move to Chicago. I wanted to move to a city that was making really exciting stuff. And I’ve been here since!
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Ha! Does anyone feel like the road is smooth? As smooth as skipping thru a dark forest maybe. I will say that looking back, I can pinpoint a series of choices that my gut told me were correct and were critical for all my forward motion. If I were to connect those moments, the line is probably a relatively smooth upward journey. The in-between stuff is all over the place, and I think most artists have a decent pile of self-doubt that continuously make for the ongoing struggle. I think a lot has to do with priorities depending on your age and about where you are in your artistic development. For example, when I first moved to Chicago, it was about getting myself out there for the first time ever. I was learning a new community, a fairly new art form and how to really provide for myself. Certainly not smooth. But I’ve met amazing people and more and more, opportunities come to me rather than me having to seek them out. As that initial step recedes into the past, new challenges present themselves. I’m getting to be more picky about the work I take on and am more actively interested in prioritizing my time and how I use it. I recently quit my day job which is a huge step in valuing how I’m choosing to spend my life. I’m positive it will not be effortless, but it will certainly be worth any of the struggles.
Please tell us about Eleanor Kahn Design.
I came to Chicago with the intent of focusing on scenic design, and that’s certainly what I’ve done the most of while here. I’ve also had many other opportunities that have allowed me to branch into other realms of design. I have painted in many scales, built/crafted/designed props and objects, assisted on art installations in several capacities, dabbled in interior work and am continuing to expand what I can do as a designer. And my unique educational background definitely helped curate a diverse and flexible skill set. I love the challenge of taking on a new medium and always feel that new skills help inform older ones. I want to keep expanding what I’m known for and am excited to have made the time to do that.
If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
Nothing. And my plan is to always feel that way.
- Website: www.eleanorkahn.com
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: @eleanor.kahn.design
Stephanie Jensen, Eleanor Kahn