For two years in the 1960s I was the assistant to Benjamin Thompson, the Chairman of the Department of Architecture at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard. Each spring the students held a Beaux Arts weekend which included a Kite Flight on the banks of the Charles River. There were elaborate and beautiful kites and silly prizes. It occurred to me at the time that the Kite Flight could be expanded to both sides of the river and hundreds of people could participate.
A couple of years later the Mayor of Boston, Kevin White, appointed John Warner to be the Parks Commissioner. The story of his appointment in the Boston Globe suggested a man who might be up for a kite festival. I wrote him a letter including a vision for a huge event which combined a kite festival and a Venetian inspired water festival.
He responded immediately, but said the festival should take place in Franklin Park in the Roxbury/Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. He felt that Franklin Park, Boston’s largest and most underutilized park, would benefit enormously. My husband Bill, a professor at the School of Design, and I set to work – forming the Committee for the Better Use of Air – composed of architect and design friends. We chose May 17th as the date of the first Festival and recruited additional friends to staff three Saturdays of workshops at the Parks Department Recreation Centers, where we taught kids to make simple kites, guaranteed to fly, such as the Scott Sled.
A couple of weeks before the Festival, Michael Sand, one of the members of the Committee for the Better Use of Air, installed a spectacular exhibition of kites, lent to us by Charles Eames, in the atrium of Boston City Hall and we held a Fly In press conference on City Hall Plaza. A week before the Festival several huge donated billboards inviting people to “GO FLY A KITE” appeared. And that Sunday the Boston Globe wrote a front page story about the exhibition and upcoming Festival: “Winds of Change Sweep Through City Hall.”
We gave a good deal of thought to the possibilities of too little or too much wind. We invited Otto Piene, a celebrated German artist from the Fluxus Movement and then at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies, to create one of his enormous inflatable sculptures. A noted Boston socialite was challenged to put together the John Finley All Girl Kazoo Band. Marching bands from several Boston neighborhoods were invited.
Saturday, May 17th, 1969, was a glorious day and hundreds of people showed up on Franklin Park’s golf course. There were Indian fighting kites, Bahamian humming kites, and for the people without kites we gave away hundreds of commercial kites. It was very windy and Otto Piene’s sculpture, which was supposed to spell out “SKY, WIND, AIR” in huge white inflated tubes, wound up in beautiful chaos. Life Magazine reporter China Altman did manage to ascend in a hot air balloon and two sky divers “judged” the highest kites.
The Committee for the Better Use of Air ran the Festival for 13 years. As it evolved, it attracted an amazing array of home cooked foods, as local churches and barbecue entrepreneurs set up along the edge of the golf course.
The City took over the Festival in 1982 and moved it into a nearby stadium and let the town’s loudest radio station blast soul and rock. The crowds disappeared and the Festival shut down a few years later.
But the good news is that I hope to find some young people to work with to revive the Festival – on Boston’s new Greenway or on a hill in Dorchester where I hear lots of kites are flying on windy days. ◆