From Discourse 5
All photos Jose Sainz
Scott Skinner and I launched the Drachen Foundation in 1994, incorporated as a private educational nonprofit. This began an incredible journey, one which neither of us had any direct experience in or idea of what would be the outcome. What did it actually mean to be a kite foundation?
Our start was an idealistic and energetic approach to doing it all. We staged programs throughout the world in almost all formats – festivals, exhibitions, research, lectures, publications, seminars – and got to know the world of kiting. Having made the conscious decision NOT to be a formal museum, we staged some of the most impressive on-site exhibits in some of the most prestigious institutions. The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, to name
The streets of Tieton, Washington, a small arts community and now home of the Drachen Foundation warehouse.
one, displayed the largest Japanese kite we own, 45 feet long. Loving the kite in exhibition, we developed 7 touring exhibitions for rent, and found a market that covered not only the United States with kites, but also Asia and Europe.
We t a u g h t t e a ch e r s , a r t i s t s , a n d professionals how to use kites in their daily schedules. Now, even the world renowned artist Francisco Toledo, of Mexico, has started his own kite collection.
We sat in small boats in Baja California and taught a Mexican marine biologist how to fly a kite and safely use it to hoist his camera equipment to document and survey whale migrations. He now flies on his own with great skill, and this year he will
document the shark whale.
W e w o r k e d w i t h a w o n d e r f u l l y philanthropic duo, Wally and Suzie Marks, as we orchestrated flying 10,000 kites over the wall of separation in Palestine.
When I look back at the number of individuals we met and how many projects we created, sponsored, and executed, I have to say, we did more than our job! But our job is not done.
It is almost 15 years after that altruistic beginning, and not only have Scott and I reflected on what we’ve done, but a wonderful 7-person board of directors has as well. Our programming has slowed down, and in some areas has been terminated. We have not been accounted for at many venues, and rumors began to circulate: “Drachen might be closing down, or perhaps even disappearing.”
On the contrary, we just took some quiet time to focus on our future. To analyze the movement of the kiting industry and our fellow organizations – American Kitefliers Association, Japan Kite Association, World Kite Museum, and the Kite Museum of Ottawa, just to name a few. We found our future was that of our original mandate: the three Ds, Discovery, Documentation, and Dissemination (of information) of the world of kiting. But how does one do that in a terrifyingly threatening economy?
With the help of our board, we created a realistically workable plan and spent the last three years testing whether or not it would work. That plan was:
- Designate a stable and affordable location for the continually growing collection.
- Create an affordable, accessible database for our collection and everything which belongs to the collection, no matter what media it is in.
- Create an affordable, accessible, and manageable system to give the world access to the information in a universal manner.
- Create an endowment or sustainable income for the continuance of the systems for generations to come that will buffer the swings of global economic change.
In 2006, we created a model to test the four goals above. We moved from our modern office building to our less expensive space at 3131 Western, Suite 400.
We closed down our warehouse and moved the collection out of Seattle, cutting costs by two thirds. As luck had it, we were able to find similar individuals in the arts who invested in a small town two and a half hours from Seattle, and we moved into a cooperative warehouse there which had a more than adequate storage facility.
3,000 square feet with 24 foot ceilings gave us a working area for our kite kit production (the sale of our kits have tripled in the last year, making profits from sales a stable income for us) as well as a base for shipping and receiving our traveling exhibits (which doubled in rental fee profits last year). It also gave us a home for conservation- minded and archival-qualified paper and ripstop storage.
We were able to obtain use of a nearby 1,800 square foot modern condo for serious kite enthusiasts to rent/stay as they work with the collection. An individual is able to
The board of directors tours the Drachen Foundation storage and production facilities in Tieton.
have the kites brought out for study or viewing and only pay for the time used.
Both the condo and the warehouse are located in Tieton, a town with local restaurants, stores, and a post office, not to mention 11 acres of cleared kite flying fields at our beck and call. (See MightyTieton.com for more on this small arts community in eastern Washington.) The results of the location test seem to be solid after three years!
With little programming in 2008/2009, we were able to finally insert a major part of our collection into a workable database. Having tested the archival software, Past Perfect, we were able to bring the coveted Cody collection onto our website and make international access available. The results of this are stunning, and the number of inquiries about items in the collection are still increasing. It is the basis for dialogue and exchanges of information.
The success of this database means two things: putting together the right team and prompting the board to find funding to support this team. I am happy to have one of the finest groups of museum/digital media professionals:
Kiyomi Okawa Graphic arts
Oregon State University, Portland, OR
Digital archives/operations Adobe Systems, San Jose, CA
Masters of Arts in museology University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Visual communication design University of Washington, Seattle, WA
And myself, Ali Fujino
Archival conservation/museology Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
It is our job in the next three years to input all the collection and make it accessible through our website. It is also our job to continue to house the collection in the safest, most affordable manner. It is our job to continue to find kites and document their story. Funding research through our granting program is important.
The future is that of maintaining the website and new developments that come into the world of kiting. Our operation in Tieton, Washington will continue to grow, and we are certain that we won’t grow out of it.
The sales of our kite kits will help to sustain our economic needs, and continue to provide educators a resource which is successfully affordable. Assembly of the kits will help to employ individuals in Tieton.
Our location in Tieton gives us the ability to host seminars, workshops, and gatherings in the future, as there is rentable community space. It also allows us to have professional contractors continue servicing those who are interested without constant cost to the Foundation, billed on an as-needed basis.
Our foundation is not based on one individual, but on a group who has had the foresight to look into a viable cash flow for support of operations. The creation of an endowment, sales of kite kits, and touring exhibition rentals will sustain operations for a long time to come.
I am proud and pleased that we have come this far, and I am happy to know after 15 years, there will be a Drachen Foundation well after me.