Q & A

Karin Bacon Has Seen It All

Karin Bacon
Karin Bacon Events Inc.

First job: "Running props for a music tent in the country at the Valley Forge Music festival."

What's the best party you've ever been to? "The carnival in Trinidad. I love the artistry, the costumes, the sense of transformation, the people dancing together, the music."

July 9, 2001, 12:00 AM EDT

Karin Bacon has to have one of the most disparate resumes in the special events industry. In the 60's she helped organize the first be-in in Central Park. Then she went from hippie to civil servant, working for the city government and organizing public festivals. Next she helped create some of the legendary parties at the original Studio 54. And since then she has been working on a mix of corporate, public and private events as the proprietor of her own company, Karin Bacon Events. And between work with clients like Chase Manhattan, Polaroid and Vanity Fair, Bacon did a stint consulting on festivals with the National Endowment for the Arts.

Yet despite working with such different clients, budgets and audiences, Bacon says her experiences have much in common: “They all tie back to some kind of need for people to be together to celebrate and find ways to do positive, affirmative, joyful things together.”

Bacon grew up in Chester County, Pa., a small artistic community near Philadelphia, as the oldest of six children (including brother actor Kevin Bacon), and she still seems more like an intense, well-traveled artist than a Manhattan power broker. Sitting in her midtown office, wearing three red beaded necklaces and two colorful beaded bracelets, she talks more about the fun of a public festival--a big influence on her work--than her high-powered corporate contacts. “We say that we design experiences for people,” she says, sitting at an Indian hammered brass-covered table (a find from ABC Carpet & Home) that her staff of five uses for meetings. “That's the way we're talking about it now, but that's kind of what I've always done. I was always interested in the kind of energy that was generated when masses of people would get together and celebrate in a really positive way.”

An important part of those celebrations, Bacon says, is a sense of interaction and a feeling of being immersed in a distinct visual environment--something she always tries to bring to her events. “All of them incorporate a lot of performance, and the performance is not so much 'OK, now we're going to have our main act on stage,'” Bacon says. “The performance is kind of woven all the way through the texture of the event.”

“It gives the participant a choice: Do I want to just sit here and look at it from a distance, or do I want to get a little closer and have a conversation? Do I want to dance and put on a costume and become somebody different from the person I ordinarily am?” Bacon says.

At Saks Fifth Avenue's annual Fashion Targets Breast Cancer benefit last November, Bacon stationed stiltwalkers outside the event, dressed in elaborate original costumes that incorporated the event's blue and white target logo. The performers drew people inside the store, where makeup artists gave people temporary tattoos of the logo, a way to get them personally involved in the event.

Bacon has worked with Saks since 1996, and her work draws raves--and frequent business--from Jaqui Lividini, Saks' senior vice president of fashion merchandising and communications. “[Bacon's] ideas are different and interesting and out of the ordinary,“ Lividini says. “It's very easy in retail to fall into sameness, and Karin always brings it to another level...There's no one like her.”

Bacon's trademark interactivity goes all the way back to her days at Studio 54, where she designed a hallway of doors, each opening to something different, for a Halloween party. She also built two walls of television screens showing different movie kisses for a Valentine's Day party (and, she notes, “People just weren't doing video walls then").

She also scoured the city to find different entertainment--modern dance groups, a Harlem gospel choir for a party for dance legend Martha Graham, aerial dancers she found on the Lower East Side. “I became a very good detective,” she says, still sounding surprised--but not a bit jaded--by the Studio scene. “I didn't ever work with agents. I just always seemed to find whoever I needed to find.”

Bacon took those hunting skills and her interactive, festival-inspired style to start her firm in 1981. Today, she has a database of thousands of performers, costume designers, makeup artists, models, stiltwalkers, set designers and other creative people, and she goes to lots of dance and theater performances to find new talent and inspiration. (She hired bodybuilders and drag DJ Lady Bunny for Alize's beachy Cruise to Passion event in June, and invited a gaggle of drag queens.)

She also loves to travel to festivals around the world--including a few favorites in Rio and Spain--and she manages to refrain from letting her inner event planner take over. “If it's a festival, I just love it. It makes me so happy to be seeing it without having to worry about it. Sometimes when I go to other people's events I tend to start redirecting them in my mind, but not a traditional festival,” she says. “I'm just sort of in awe.”

Posted 07.09.01

Read our coverage of the Alize cruise event...

Read our coverage of the Fashion Targets Breast Cancer benefit...

Your email inquiry will be sent to 3 venue