by Margo Dalal and Lex Draper
Photos courtesy of Detroit Kite Festival and Daniel Wylie-Eggert
For nearly forty minutes this complete stranger and I negotiated give and take around trees, other flyers, and each other. We untangled by ducking armpits, hi-stepping over strings and at least once sharing water from our coolers. Eventually we broke free from one another. Once a high-stake twist-up, it turned into free ’n’ easy smiles and fist bumps to acknowledge our accomplishment. What a relief and what a feeling! — Dean Kuhnlein
I remember my first kite-flying experience as a child. It was terrible. My mother took my sisters and me to the National Kite Festival in Washington, D.C. We were late, and a Spiderman kite was the only one left. I was seven and preferred anything but Spiderman. My kite barely flew, and somehow I missed the excitement of watching the hundreds, if not thousands, of kites flying above my head.
I grew into an adult who now finds immense joy and satisfaction in bringing people together, in connecting people. One afternoon last March, I jotted an idea in my journal: “Kite festival in Detroit? What better way to bring together people?”
A few months later, something serendipitous happened. My idea for a kite festival won at the first Belle Isle SOUP, a gathering where individuals compete for community funding of their projects. I had doubted it would win, and almost left before the announcement was made. I was surprised to be handed an envelope of cash and permission to host a kite festival on Belle Isle. I probably had not flown a kite since that day in D.C. I had no team, and no idea what I was doing.
It turned out others were excited about the idea of a festival and had much more experience flying kites than I did. The Detroit Kite Festival team came together quickly: Matt Tait, Katie Hearn, Zoe Minikes and Arthur Bledsoe, along with Dylan Welch, Erika Linenfelser, Tucker Adams, and so many others who made signs, donated materials, shared posters, and connected us to people and organizations around the city.
In the months leading up to the Kite Festival, we worked really hard to learn more about the history of kite flying in Detroit. We learned that young men flew kites on Belle Isle in the late 1800s, that there were “Kite Ins” in the ‘70s, and that the Detroit Free Press had hosted a series of “Kite Kaleidoscope Days” downtown, with kite-making competitions. We spoke to Detroiters and community leaders, and they shared their memories of kite events they had put on across the city. We featured their memories in our on-site “kite museum.”
Word got around in the Michigan kite-flying community, and The Windjammers, one of the oldest kite flying teams, came out and performed all day. We welcomed other avid kite flyers from across the state. We like to think that well over 3,000 people attended the Festival. The Detroit Institute of Arts gave away 1,000 kites and we sold out of kites. Michele Oberholtzer mused on the experience: “There is something about a kite that renders articulate people tongue-tied — it’s hard to be eloquent about something so elemental. You could say that a kite is a way to vicariously experience freedom from gravity. You could say that it has a way of making adults smile and kids run and elders wax nostalgic. Either way, Kite Festival 2017 was one of my favorite days of the summer and one of my most treasured Detroit memories.”
This year we are thankful to say we will be flying kites together again, this time with new faces behind the scenes, and hopefully with even more Detroiters creating more kite memories together.
Margo and Lex are members of the organizing team for the 2018 Detroit Kite Festival. The Detroit Kite Festival 2018 will take place on Belle Isle on Sunday, July 15th from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., near the James Scott Fountain. It is free and open to everyone. For more information, visit www.detroitkitefestival.org .