We had the good fortune of connecting with Justine O’Kelley and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Justine, why did you pursue a creative career?
When I was young, my mother was heavily involved in non-for-profit work with the city. I watched her and sometimes even helped her organize street fairs, block parties, festivals, and the like. When I was 20 years old, I began bartending in the Lower Eastside of Manhattan at an old 80’s club called The Pyramid. Here I began learning how to promote events, work on flyers, manage dancers and coordinate with other promoters and DJ’s. I had a healthy network of friends that were also in the industry. Every event is different, and although there is nothing new under the sun, I was willing to do something just a little different from the experience I learned. Until now, I did not think I had a talent, I thought I was simply good at getting people together that do have unique skills. Yes, I paint, and draw, I even attended Fashion Industries High School in hopes of becoming a fashion designer one day, but I did not finish. I make candles, restore dolls that have been thrown away, and a plethora of other hobbies. But how could I use all these little trades together and do something bigger? My creativity manifested in my ability to bring together the showcase that Haven Productionz LLC has become.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
In 2019 Haven Productionz LLC was born. Although the events were something I had been doing for years, a house fire led to a decision to legitimize the company. My mother owns a bakery (Gotham City Bakery) where she creates edible artwork in the form of 3D cakes. As a manager of the company, I began learning how to incorporate a business model into my events. So, after legalizing, we began booking shows, opening the doors to small business vendors who were looking for a platform to get their brand out. We provide safe spaces for our dancers and performers to express themselves freely without worry of judgement or ridicule. Toy Drives, Food Drives and Clothing drives have also been hosted during events to help those in need. All events are themed as the idea is to create an event where adults can relive concepts from their youth but enjoy the spoils of being an adult. Who would not want to drop the weight of a heavy work week and just be able to dive into the psyche of their youth?
At present, although I am the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of my own company, I must maintain a consistent paying job as startups can be difficult. I work as the manager of our family bakery where we teach an afterschool program as well as teaching baking and life skills to youth in juvenile detention. This is the reality of small business and startups, a lot of time, crazy hours, and many hats. Working for oneself is an exceedingly difficult path but rewarding all at once. My goal is to eventually acquire a venue of my own where I can host events, offer lodging for traveling performers, where I could also give back support to the local community by continuing supporting vendors of all kinds. I have been told that it seems unrealistic and unattainable, but I persevere, and I am a bit hardheaded when people tell me I cannot do something… LOL
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I live in New York City; a week-long trip is not enough to cover the variety of entertainment the city has to offer. I would first hope they are not traveling in the winter, but in the Spring, Summer or Fall, there are many enjoyable locations to visit. One of my favorite areas to visit is Lower Manhattan where many artworks cascade over buildings and streets, as the city sounds creating music that you adjust your step to. A nice walk on a cool day could take you down to Chinatown where there are a multitude of restaurants to choose from, my personal favorite is Roast duck and Pork buns as a yummy choice. If we go a little further down, we can visit the restored Pier 17 which sits alongside the Brooklyn Bridge. At night the NYC lights bring the place to life, but not with work and the everyday concrete jungle grind, the nighttime is when we look forward to being free. If we go just a little further down, to Battery Park, we can visit the National Museum of the American Indian. Followed by a carousel ride in the park and a Ferry Ride that passes right in front of Lady Liberty.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
The very first shoutout is to my mother Evelyn Vargas, who without I would not have learned and had the tools to properly execute my business. To my family, Tribe Lykaios for supporting me and helping me keep my head on straight even in the moments where I was overwhelmed and felt like I wanted to tap out. I also would like to thank Gotham (the New York City nightlife community) for all the support, for staying with us and giving us the chance to build, without you this venture would have been without cause. To all those event coordinators and promoters that gave me my chance to build myself up, the many DJ’s and hosts who have worked with me, my Gotham Gals, who have brought that extra oomph to our events. Lastly, to my mate and partner for life, who I found after so long and I will never let go again, and to my 3 beautiful children, Harley, Akira and Dorian, my babies, you are my motivation, you are what keeps me going, this is all to make sure you have something when I am gone, you are my legacy, I love you. Thank you all.