Photo essay by Alison Kizu-Blair
In the beginning of the summer I was invited by my friend Lee Dares to do an artist collaboration with The Kite Collective project at Far Rockaway. The Kite Collective was founded to empower and educate people on a local level about the vast potential of sustainability through individual creation and communion with nature. Back then, I did not know just how fulfilling it would be to create kites to share with the public at the beach. For the project, I made enough hand-marbled paper to make 100 kites, then Lee and I constructed them together. I truly felt part of the collective, however, during the weekend launch at the boardwalk on Rockaway Beach, where the kites were sold in a re-purposed vending machine, “The Kite Machine,” at the Beach 96th Street concession stand. This was the perfect place to station the machine; it’s a meeting point for people of all ages, with enough wind to power the kites to flight!
At the Beach 96th Street concession stand wooden picnic benches reside underneath a canvas tent, from which lampshades made from colored plastic baskets hang, swinging in the wind. Here one can snack from any number of vendors (including Veggie Island and Rockaway Taco) serving fresh oysters, frozen yogurt, cucumbers and mangos with chili powder, tostadas and flautas, fresh smoothies, or fried fish sandwiches. People take residence at the picnic benches, leisurely drinking pitchers of beer or just stopping for a quick snack before heading back down to the water. After spending two days on the boardwalk monitoring The Kite Machine, I picked up on a strong sense of community, running the gamut from the younger employees of the concession stand to older veteran beach goers, to wide-eyed 3 year olds enjoying some of their first summer days at the beach. I met a kite-enthusiast named Charles who spends at least one day a week at the beach, toting his enormous kite bag and sharing tips with us less-experienced kite fliers. Although there was minimal instruction on The Kite Machine, patrons were surprisingly patient in figuring out how to dispense a kite of their very own (not to mention how to fly it, although we did offer assistance). Watching fast-paced New Yorkers shift into slow down mode as they prepared and flew their kites was in itself a learning opportunity. I think it is one from which many residents of NYC could benefit, and this relaxed state was more easily obtained than I would have imagined. Perhaps the sun exposure or pleasure of looking into the sky to watch a flying kite calms the nerves in such a way that time goes by slower, people become less self-conscious, and one can easily subsume oneself in the typical notion of “laid back" beach culture.