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Karina Kaiwi, Member & Provider Service Manager at SMASH

SMASH is excited to introduce you to our newest team member, Karina Kaiwi. In her role at SMASH, Karina is the bridge between members and providers and is integral to our mission to provide access to health and wellness services to Puget Sound area musicians. As the SMASH Member & Provider Service Manager, she has the highest engagement level with our SMASH members and our network of health service providers. The goal of the SMASH Member & Provider Service Manager is to ensure the smooth utilization and implementation of the many moving parts that come together to create the services members receive and support providers to administer effective care.

What made you want to work at SMASH?

I was ecstatic to work at SMASH because I know how our health directly impacts our music. In college, I was diagnosed with a lifelong injury to my ulnar nerve that put me out of commission for 4-6 months. Losing the ability to play in ensembles, play gigs, and connect to music greatly impacted my life and mental health. Looking back, it’s still one of the darkest periods of my life. I was 19, studying away from home, had little to no support from my parents, and had no idea where to start regarding getting the right healthcare resources to heal my body and mind. I was lucky enough to have an amazing cello professor who, through her experience of being an independent contractor, was able to help me enroll in state healthcare and connect me with a local musician-focused physical therapist at little to no cost to me. With her support, I could fully recover, find a consistent mental health therapist, and return to playing. My experiences pushed me into social service and community action after college, so I honestly couldn’t believe it was real when I learned about SMASH. I had always wanted to find a way to take the experience I had and use it to serve fellow musicians in my community, so the opportunity to work at SMASH was the perfect place for me to utilize my experience to support my passion.

What are you most looking forward to in your new position?

I look forward to supporting our members with social service and healthcare navigation. Our current systems suck! They’re not set up for us to succeed - healthcare and social services continue to be confusing and difficult to understand and access. I primarily used to do resource referrals in my last position, so I’m excited to use my experience to help relieve our members’ stress. I’m a firm believer that centering and nurturing our most diverse communities strengthens our community at large. Learning more about our provider network and how I can build upon and support our network of providers so that we can help to offer targeted and necessary care excites me too. I’m happy to be in a role that can help offer support and care around the nitty gritty so that my fellow musicians can focus on making and producing the music we all enjoy and love.

Why do you think it is important to offer healthcare to musicians?

Healthcare isn’t optional; it’s a necessity. As musicians, we are forced to prioritize making rent and paying bills over our health. Too many friends I know have done gigs suffering from the flu, horrible colds, inclement weather, you name it - pushing their bodies to the limit because it was too expensive for them to go to urgent care or find a primary care doctor. When I was young I put my body through the ringer because of lack of access to healthcare as a poor musician of color, and I shouldn’t have had to! Going to the doctor shouldn’t be at the bottom of the list; everyone deserves access to free healthcare or, at the very least, low-cost healthcare. As a society, we place so much value on music and art, but we don’t take care of the artists that produce the music and art we love. Financial barriers to care shouldn’t exist for our artists. Just like food and housing, healthcare is a human right.

What is your current favorite local band or artist?

I will shamelessly plug my friends here, but my current favorites are Your Son the Professor and Sita Zamora. Your Son the Professor is a great up-and-coming local post-punk/heavy club music band, while Sita makes super cool electronic-influenced music with a new-age spiritual focus. I’ve learned a lot from these musicians and recommend catching them at a local venue or joining them at a local jam sesh! In terms of Seattle mainstays, I also regularly listen to Tacocat. They were one of the first bands to get me to start listening to bands, so I had to shout them out.

Dead or alive, if you could see any artist live, who would it be?

Hitting me with the hard questions! Regarding deceased artists, my classical background demands that I say British cellist Jaqueline du Pré. I would love to have seen her 1967 performance of the Elgar Cello Concerto in E under Daniel Barenboim. As cliche, as it is to say how much I love Elgar as a cellist, it’s still my favorite concerto to listen to and play. The intensity of her stage presence and the emotions she could express during that performance, and in all of her other performances, continue to inspire me to this day. In terms of live artists, I would love to see The Sundays. They no longer release music or tour as a band, destroying me. If a reunion tour ever happens, I will be there!

Are there any upcoming shows or music festivals you are excited about?

I’ve been lucky to score tickets to see most of the artists I like - Caroline Polachek, mxmtoon, Conan Gray, NMIXX - to name a few. The upcoming show that I’ve been super jazzed about is Beyonce. I’m excited to see her live after all these years, and I am grateful to my best friend for securing tickets for us! In terms of festivals, I’m not a big festival goer, but I’m eyeing tickets for Capitol Hill Block Party this year to see Muna and Pink Pantheress. I also might have to go to LA for Head in the Clouds to see Rina Sawayama and XG. I started listening to Rina in 2019 and was super bummed not to be able to get tickets for her Seattle dates, so hopefully, I will get to see her at Head in the Clouds!

What is your go-to song for feeling low or needing a pick-me-up?

I have two go-to pick-up songs - Disco Hue’s “Can’t Be Mine” and hemlocke springs’ “girlfriend”. I love the groovy bass lines, synth, and overall 80’s or 90’s throwback feel. I’m a huge sucker for a fun, nostalgic sound. I grew up with a single mom who played CD’s of Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, and Prince in the car. Whenever I hear these two songs, they always put me in the best mood!


Karina was born and raised in the self-proclaimed “entertainment capital of the world”, Las Vegas, Nevada. Influenced by PBS concert specials, at 10 years old she picked up the cello and has over 15 years and a Bachelor’s in Cello Performance with a minor in Arts & Cultural Management to show for it. She made her way up to Seattle to find a like-minded community and has found her home here for the past 5 years and counting. Growing up below the poverty line in Las Vegas, she has experienced and seen the intersection between human needs and the healing power of the arts. In 2019, she worked with the Seattle alumnae chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota to help secure grant funding to support Seattle Pacific University’s music therapy program. She has spent the past 2 years working with direct service nonprofits and helping others connect with the programs and resources they need. In her downtime, she loves to try new restaurants, attend local shows, and hang out with her partner and their two cats.


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