Kites on Display

Chelsea, MA

Contact Name
Mimi Graney
Project Dates
October 1 to November 2, 2018
This All Souls Day event facilitates community conversations about both personal and community experiences of loss and change through Latin American traditions. Halloween (All Hallows), All Saints Day and All Souls Day are three related holidays and many cultures have their own way of grieving and reflecting through these days. Inspired by Guatemalan and Ecuadorian celebrations, small groups gather throughout October to process their experiences of grief and loss while creating colorful kites. These kites are then the centerpiece of a community festival where music and traditional special foods are shared. The conversations continue as visitors create tissue paper flowers and to write messages on strips of paper sent to the heaven on kite tales.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
Trauma and its effects are part of Chelsea's DNA. The City suffered two apocalyptic fires, one in 1908 and another 1973 that wiped out each time more than 1/5 of the municipality, destroying businesses, homes, churches, schools and other civic infrastructure. In 1991, the city collapsed under widespread corruption; nearly bankrupt it went into state receivership and it has taken twenty-five years for commonplace government services to be restored. Chelsea residents face multiple challenges, including poverty, unemployment, high rates of gang and domestic violence, limited availability of affordable housing, effects of the opioid epidemic/other substance use, and a large newly-arrived refugee and Central American Immigrant population.

Experiencing trauma has a tremendous lifelong impact on an individual’s health and quality of life, and makes the individual and the community as a whole vulnerable to additional harms. Across the city community groups are looking to how we can be a more trauma-sensitive, resilient city. This project seeks to facilitate community dialogue about trauma and loss, to break the cultural norms that can perpetuate negative experiences generation to generation and to rewrite Chelsea's trauma histories.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
Gentrification and the displacement of Chelsea's Latino community is a significant concern as housing costs continue to rise and development pressures in the city increase. A festival centered on cultural traditions of Central America serves to establish a Latino identity in the community. Through empathy and conversations about shared experiences of loss, the event helps to draw together diverse people towards a deeper understanding and connection.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
As the Downtown Coordinator, based in Chelsea's City Hall, my task is to advance the economic vitality of the neighborhood and to improve the quality of life for people here. A teen from Chelsea High School working with me over the summer researched Central American traditions of transformation and change and identified a kite festival held in Guatemala that could be a starting point for an event in Chelsea. A resident of the neighborhood, Jenna Kilman, an art therapist who works with Latino youth in cities north of Boston and in Central America communities but never before in her own city, was my key partner conceiving the project's implementation. Dan Cortez, the community liaison for the Chelsea Police Department and key coordinator of the Chelsea Hub, a network of community and human service providers, further helped refine the project.

Kits with the supplies for making kites and a discussion guide were created and groups were invited to either do the project on their own or Jenna was available to facilitate the activity and conversations with them. About 100 kites were created in groups of 5 to 30 including families at Chelsea's Boys & Girls Club, a women's substance abuse support group at CAPIC, a group of peer leaders and their adult mentors at Chelsea High School, two groups from the Chelsea Senior Center, older students at the alternative high school of the Phoenix Charter Academy, and staff of Healthy Chelsea.

On Friday, November 1, volunteers from Christ Church in Charlestown were joined by the regular visitors of a day shelter in the downtown with their support team helped set up the event. The kites were put on display on the walls of storefront established in a vacant retail space. Outside tents and tables were set up on the sidewalk and in the abutting parking spaces. Area businesses provided traditional colada morada, a drink made with fruit and corn and guaguas de pan, “bread babies,” sweet rolls shaped like swaddled infants and frosting. Visitors to the event were able to decorate the rolls and either ate them right away or brought them home. Visitors were invited to reflect on their own experiences of loss and change as they made tissue paper flowers. On a giant community kite, visitors selected tissue paper colors that reflected the positive ways they experience self care and glued them into place. Local guitarists and vocalists performed music in a variety of Latin styles.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
Chelsea seeks to be a more trauma-informed city, sensitive to the experiences of our residents and to support one another in healing. The project also supports efforts to improve the downtown, bringing positive, family oriented activity to the neighborhood. In a community that has no public art that reflects the significant Latino community living here, this community event that we hope to grow and establish over the years, helps to tell the story of our Central American neighbors.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
The annual kite festival that takes place in the cemeteries of Sumpango, Guatemala was a primary inspiration. As is the Lantern Festival that takes place at Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. The idea was to provide a simple, creative project to facilitate conversations, allowing for intimacy, reflection and mournfulness, while also providing the means to transform those feelings into something external, communal and towards release.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
- project planning
- engaging partners
- development of written materials - discussion guide, background info on the project's inspiration, instructions on kite making
- assembling kite making kits
- recruiting kite making teams, distributing materials
- groups meet for kite making, follow up with teams as needed
- collecting completed kites
- kite installation
- prepping teams for the festival events - training volunteers to facilitate conversations, recruiting musicians, prepping supplies
- festival activities
- hosting the exhibit for a period of time
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
- Engaging sufficient bilingual volunteers
- New England weather on All Souls Day, November 2, can be variable. Thankfully the rain didn't start until late the day of the festival.
- Because it was being held for the first time participants were not sure what to expect.
- We were creating a new tradition that would be similar to those of Central America and the Caribbean but is uniquely Chelsea's own. It provided an opportunity to compare the specific ways the holiday is celebrated throughout those regions but also made it important to be familiar with variations.

Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Now that the community has seen what the project looks like there are more groups interesting in participating next year. We also had limited space in front of the gallery. Next year I hope to use a different location with more room.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
- document activities
- create a strong logo and poster
- build over time
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
The conversations around loss have begun. Bridges are beginning as the experiences of loss are acknowledged not just by those who are coping with the most profound traumas and loss. People are seeing the storefront gallery as an opportunity not just for passive exhibits but to also do more interactive exhibits. Various community groups came together for the first time.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
It was a unique project for this city and is one that could become an annual event. This is only the second year of regular programming in the downtown and this one has proven to have deep resonance.
How did you measure this success or progress?
partnership building. Changing attitudes about Chelsea's downtown.
Please describe any unexpected impacts: