Thousand Kites

Location:  Whitesburg, KY
Project Description: 

Thousand Kites is an ongoing national storytelling project that uses performance, web, video, and radio to open a public space for incarcerated people, corrections officials, the formerly incarcerated, grassroots activists, and ordinary citizens to have dialogue and organize around issues related to the U.S. criminal justice system. It is based on the belief that the criminal justice system is the most pressing civil rights issue in the United States and that breaking down the silence surrounding the criminal justice system through story-telling and listening helps people find effective solutions to over-incarceration in their communities. Kites began with “Holler from the ‘Hood” on Appalshop’s radio station WMMT, the only hip-hop radio program in Appalachia. In response to the program, producers Nick Szuberla and Amelia Kirby received hundreds of letters from inmates recently transferred from distant cities into two new SuperMax prisons located in the region. Prisoners told of racist abuse and human rights violations, and Szuberla and Kirby responded with arts projects, including bringing hip-hop artists together with mountain musicians and organizing radio broadcasts with prisoners’ families. The success of their efforts sparked the founding of Thousand Kites, a national dialogue project addressing the criminal-justice system. And in 2010, Kites launched the Campaign Center, an online communications platform for national organizing, and has formed working partnerships with over 50 organizations locally, regionally, and nationally to build its communication and outreach capacity. Two modes of operation stand out with Thousand Kites: openness to user input and national and international networking for results. The Kites website openly encourages and facilitates users in generating their own content and posting it to the site. The site uses the latest technology to engage users in the subject matter and is also linked to its own pages on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, myspace, YouTube and Flickr. Kites artists meet face-to-face with other organizations and networks on a weekly basis, offering the media tools/models they have developed and researching innovative ways to help meet each others’ goals. Results: In June 2010, Kites convened 40 producers and activists from across the U.S. to explore the power of community radio to further social justice. Two national radio broadcasts connected Appalachia’s regional criminal justice story to a national audience. Kites’ partners were Pacifica Radio and Making Contact. Kites produced writing workshops for women in Kentucky’s Otter Creek prison. A number of the participants were residents of Hawai’i, and Kites helped raise the issue of prisoner renting in the Hawai’ian and national press, including The New York Times. Key participants in the project: Rend Smith, blogging; Andy Kachor, media developer; Mia Frederick, radio & web production; Dudley Cocke, theater production