Whitney Richardson
From Discourse 20

Courtesy Whitney Richardson. Sit-spot for reflection and observation-making along Montrose Beach, Chicago. 


My experience with kites began on Coney Island with two female friends of mine, Lee and Julia. We made a beach date – our bags packed with some of the vices of youth (beer, cigarettes) and a handful of kites from the dollar store. I watched as Julia and Lee tried to assemble the kites and then fly them. They came without instructions for assembly. We felt a little inadequate not knowing how to put together such common objects without referring to directions. We tried to figure it out ourselves.

After four failed and broken kites, I put together the last one based on observations I’d made from what happened to the others, and it worked. It stayed up! It stayed up until a young boy and his mom marched along with their own kite, getting tangled up in mine. I laughed as I tried to unravel the lines. The parent and child gave up and moved on, letting their cheaply made kite die a lonely death. A small particle of air inside of me began to stir. The experience made an impression on Lee, too.

Lee began to make kites and included me in the process. I am often full of ideas but too hyper to carry them out, bubbling with more ideas and falling prey to the pinball mind. Lee’s proactive spirit assuaged me into sitting down to actually make them. So there we were, sitting down and making kites together. We would walk to the park to fly them, usually Bedford or McGolrick Park in north Brooklyn, New York.

We got into it. Sometimes we would meet people. We tried to give this newfound interest a name, rhyming words until something sounded right. First we went with “Kites for Rights.” We sold kitemaking kits on Bedford Avenue to raise money for what I remember to be an English organization that builds schools in Africa to confront “slaughter of child witches,” in other words, modern day witch-burning. Soon, though, we began to realize the power of kites for kites’ sake.

We were becoming inspired by the actual making of objects. We were meeting people we wouldn’t normally interact with. We were connecting with nature in a very elemental way, on nature’s clock, instead of our own. After a few workshops, we decided to change the name to “Kite Collective,” falling into a collaborative rhythm with friends and new kitemakers, reveling in the cooperation of making.

In Summer 2012, we ran the Kite Machine on Rockaway Beach, distributing 700 kites by donation along the boardwalk. It gave me hope, direction, and a process I could rely on, a form of active meditation I can bring throughout my life. I was at the beginning of a breakdown and left New York the way so many people leave New York. The breakup of fellow members and subsequent move of Lee back to Canada created a new dynamic for the project.


I came back to Chicago to find some peace and stability, re-focusing on what I can contribute to life instead of all the ills that can come along with it. Each day I began to operate a little less on fear, more on courage. It has been three years in Chicago, and the “Collective” today is now a member of one, me. Though in its form it has touched thousands of people.

After a beautiful last hurrah as a collective in a short-lived experience in the Kimball Arts Center, I am back to conceiving and developing the project as a single body in my own apartment. What remains is a firm belief in generating creative opportunities to connect with people, the air, the trees, the soil beneath our feet, and our own rhythms and styles and hands and inner selves.

Courtesy Whitney Richardson. “As a part of Museum of Contemporary Art’s ‘Family Day’ we created a pulley system for participants to offer their hopes and dreams to the great beyond.” – Whitney Richardson

Courtesy Whitney Richardson. “From an installation for the ‘Conceal & Carry’ exhibition, advocating for creative resilience and nonviolence.” – Whitney Richardson

Courtesy Whitney Richardson. “Kites make friends.” – Whitney Richardson

Courtesy Whitney Richardson. “RIP Paper Canoe, short-lived home for the Kite Collective at the Kimball Arts Center.” – Whitney Richardson 

Courtesy Whitney Richardson. “As a part of the ‘Open Parachute, Open Mind’ Project with Whatever Lab.” – Whitney Richardson 

I am struggling with the name change from Kite Collective to Whatever Lab, out of loyalty of purpose and a deep affection for the beautiful friends I have grown with, Lee and Maureen in particular, as a part of the Kite Collective. I am more understanding of my own limitations and my own interests and visions to develop further. I am thrilled to continue developing as a kitemaker in my natural habitat, letting my pinball mind take me on adventures in learning while I rely on my intuition to tell me when to rest and where to grow.

This past year I have worked at a public school in Chicago, primarily with kindergarten and first grade autistic youth, developing my awareness of sensory perception and environmental factors. I have watched my nonverbal student enjoy the laws of gravity as he plays with light objects, thrusting plastic bags in the air, watching paper fall, building paper airplanes and folded butterflies. These simple acts never cease to provide a strong sense of wonderment and appreciation for the earth as it is.

There is a whole summer ahead of me to develop Whatever Lab, fueled by inspiration and a drive to face fears and try anyway. There is a lot of development to drive a wide net for collaboration outside of the collective scheme. There is no one to help me make outreach calls this year. I have to do my least favorite tasks on my own. Chicago, as a city, appears to be growing in its earth consciousness, with newly developed bike lanes downtown and the re- opening of parks that were shut down from urban blight. I see creative agents of change everywhere I go, in activists and artists with seriously innovative perspectives and motivations. I walk through these streets and find creative sparks reflecting back at me.

That day at the beach led to a full personal revolution, reigniting the creative and curious voice I had dismissed out of fear. It opened me up to a world of like-minded individuals, to an octopus of pursuits I might not otherwise have acted on, as an arts writer, birth doula, designer with a focus on sustainability, gardener, teacher, teaching artist and, to some extent, an organizer.

It helped me connect with people I might otherwise miss, like the artist Amitis Motevalli who flew 23 kites at the Rapid Pulse Performance Art Festival in Chicago in early June to commemorate 23 people killed by law enforcement within one year in the state of Illinois. (Their faces and names were stenciled on the kites and flown across the street from police buildings.) It helped create a strong sense of camaraderie with artists behind Industry of the Ordinary, with an emphasis on challenging pejorative notions of the ordinary and, in doing so, moving beyond the quotidian, setting my sights toward stretching my comfort zone on where and how I address certain realities of society, industrialization, urbanization, environmental degradation, diversity, net creative loss, special needs populations, and loss of multi-generational connections.

This summer, I seek a new sit-spot for kite flying, building on a sense of place and purpose in this very big/very small world I am a part of. I find myself drifting toward a bigger sky, as usual, keeping my gaze upwards and feet on the ground. ◆

Whitney continues her journey to find ways to incorporate her love of kites in her art and life and community. – Alison Fujino, editor