A local artist has paved her own way to success — and her move to Binghamton sparked her journey.
Kristen Nicole Mann is a Binghamton-based painter who focuses her work on African American women. Mann said her unique art style is a reflection of her culture and what she saw was lacking in the art community.
“I would describe my art as being abstract in technical terms, but I kind of created my own style as time went on,” she said. “A person like me, that looks like me, I want us to be represented in the correct way, the correct manner and not always in historical terms, but what black women are dealing with or inspired by, or just being as beautiful as she can be through a day-to-day task or life in general.”
While she mainly works with canvases, Mann also paints on different objects, including denim jackets, hats and earrings. She does custom work, but often collaborates with local organizations to share her experiences and art with the community.
Although Mann has long had a passion for art, she didn’t always make it a priority. By the time she was 4 years old, she knew she enjoyed painting, but was discouraged from pursuing painting as a career when her friends and family shared their concerns about her dreams.
“People were telling me that I wasn’t going to make a lot of money,” she said. “They didn’t understand what the art industry was like. They didn’t accept it really too well.”
After an abrupt reality check, Mann tried to pursue a more conventional career path and majored in journalism and business. She even worked at a law firm for a few years and thought she would become a lawyer, but nothing compared to how she felt about painting.
“I just kind of suppressed it and that was probably the worst thing that I could have done for myself, because I went down this path of trying to replace that void that I was feeling with different things like bad relationships and going out and partying,” she said.
However, Mann said her creative spark returned after she moved to Binghamton to raise her son.
“One day I just snapped out of it and I was like, ‘Let me go get supplies and see if I still have it,’ and I went and I just started painting whatever came to my mind,” she said.
Once Mann started creating, she couldn’t stop. For fun, she shared one of her paintings on Facebook, and that’s when she knew she had to fulfill her passion.
“[People] were going crazy over this basic piece that I thought was crap, but they thought it was great and they started asking how much,” she said. “It was so fast that I was like, ‘I have to do something with this,’ so I was like, ‘I’m going to come up with an art show.’ I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t have resources in Binghamton — I just kept putting it out there.”
But it wasn’t easy at first. New to Binghamton, Mann didn’t know much about the local art scene. She said she has made her own mark on the artistic community, combating the idea that events such as First Friday are the only venue for emerging artists to showcase their work.
“I would say I influenced [the art scene] because there was this distant or divided type of nature that I was starting to recognize in the art community here,” she said.
Seeing this gap, Mann decided to create her own art show to allow other artists to showcase their talents. By networking through Facebook, Mann gathered a few artists for her first show, which gained a crowd of about 60 people. However, Mann said they had no idea she was behind the magic.
“They didn’t know who I was,” she said. “I kept hearing them in their conversations, [and] they were like, ‘Who threw this together? Who is this person?’ and I would come up to them and I would say, ‘It’s me, my name’s Kristen.’”
After gaining local buzz, Mann received more recognition when the Broome County Urban League donated a building in Downtown Binghamton for her art shows. From then, Mann regularly hosted shows directly competing with First Friday, and added live music, poetry readings and local vendors to her events.
Now Mann has grown into her role as an artist and has evolved her work, coordinating with the United Way of Broome County and Binghamton University. She served as an adviser for the curation of BU’s current art exhibition, “not but nothing other: African-American Portrayals, 1930s to Today,” and hopes to work with the University again in the future.
Mann is also the founder of 1VersatileChic, her own painting business, and Grow.Bloom.Project, a project aimed to help local entrepreneurs find their following. She is also the owner of Mannifest, an online boutique, and a motivational speaker.
“It’s really branched out into more meaningful projects which made a world of a difference to me because I wanted it to mean something, so I’m very pleased with how the journey has went with that,” she said.
Through Grow.Bloom.Project, Mann said she hopes to inspire others to follow their dreams like she did.
“We continuously grow and we continuously bloom, but we’re always going to be a project,” she said. “I just starting seeing people blossom. It really created an atmosphere where people were getting out of their comfort zones and growing into who they’ve really been all along.”
Along with these projects, Mann runs a podcast titled “Karefully Kreated,” where she discusses her childhood and everyday thoughts. Mann said her podcast is a relaxing outlet for her to show another side of herself.
“I wanted to have a fun way of expressing my emotions in more of [a] conversational way,” she said. “If a person relates, they relate, if they don’t, maybe the next episode they will, so it’s really a therapeutic thing for me to talk about my opinion and put it out there because maybe other people feel the same way. You don’t always have to look at a painting to get to know me. I want you to know all of me.”
Mann said she hopes her work will inspire young artists to follow their dreams no matter what obstacles they may face.
“I want the generation that’s coming up now in Binghamton to know that they are able to achieve anything that they put their minds to,” she said. “It’s your determination that gets you to a point of living in your perfect life in your passion. I want them to see someone like them and to know that it’s possible, and to know that they can do so much with the gifts that they have.”