The first thing you’ll notice when you walk into Kamilla Nikolaev's downtown Toronto apartment is the sea of blankets and pillows that make up her entire living room floor - everything has a story.
“This is the first piece of furniture I’ve ever owned,” she says, pointing at her dining room table.
Growing up in Uzbekistan, Nikolaev didn’t have tables and chairs - her family spent time eating and being together on pillows and blankets on the floor. When we sat down to talk, it already felt comfortable; being in a nest of blankets overlooking the bustling streets below.
Here’s a bit of that conversation: how she discovered Artery, why she loves Toronto and the one thing she’d tell someone who’s interested in hosting showcases but nervous about having people in their home.
Who are you and what do you do in the world?
I’m an Executive Art director for AKA Media, which is a web design agency in Toronto. I also do freelance for bands and DJs in Toronto.
I started going to Artery shows because I was organizing a lot of events at the time including Cirque Du Soleil, and I didn’t want to go by myself and I wanted to a chance to bring friends with me sometimes.
What was the first performance that really inspired you to get into the arts?
Radiohead [shows a tattoo on her hand as the band]. I saw them ten years ago for the first time and I’ve seen them five times since then.
The first Artery show I saw was a cello showcase in the Junction at [Host] Andrew Williamson’s house. I brought my dad, who is a little traditional, and he loved it.
How did you end up at that first showcase?
I first heard about Artery through Facebook ads. I thought it was a really cool project and a great idea for a date, especially with someone you don’t know. I was single at the time, and I thought it would be great to go with a Tinder date. The first one I wanted to go to was a rooftop salsa performance. My date stood me up, and I didn’t go, but I always remembered how cool Artery looked.
At the first showcase I went to, my dad said, “Why don’t you do something like this at your place?” And I thought that was great. You have to understand, my dad is introduced me to The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and everything that has to do with music. Music was very rebellious because of the Iron Curtain.
So it was that first showcase that turned you into an Artery host?
I think it’s cool to have a platform to host shows outside of Facebook.
The whole concept of secret, small events appealed to me a lot, it almost reminded me of Parisian 'salons' where you had to come in knowing a special code word, etc. Also, the atmosphere is very trusting and open, knowing you're at someone's personal space, and can interact with the performers closer.
Artery only asks for 5% of ticket sales so the money goes to the performers. It’s just so supportive.
And how did it go, that first showcase you hosted?
When I was inspired to host my own showcase, I thought my place was perfect because it’s so central. I’ve already been hosting movie nights for eight years once a month watching weird movies you might not see in theaters.
The first showcase that I had was a contemporary dance performance that sold out in three days. I was amazed to see it here. It was fucking awesome. It was just so amazing and the dancers loved it as well and so they’re doing it again this Friday and it’s already half-way sold out.
Is there one thing you’d tell someone who’s nervous about hosting strangers in their house?
They're not total strangers - they've rsvp'd on Artery so I know who's coming and all of that is tracked. In my experience, people are not going to steal from you when they've paid to support local culture.
What do you <3 about living in Toronto?
When my family moved here 14 years ago, the immigration officer at the Canadian border asked my dad, “Why move to Canada and not the United States?” And my father replied, “Because of the diversity. I want my children to feel safe and be who they want to be.”
I’ve always felt comfortable here. I have a huge community here. I love traveling, but I always love coming back here. I was born in Uzbekistan, and lived in Moscow for six years, but this is the first time I’ve felt like I’ve been home in my life.