Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Holler to the Hood & The Thousand Kites Project

It wasn't as though we had plotted out a story were going to tell about prisons -- a prison came to our community.

Thousand Kites is a project based out of Appalshop that, as the above video explains, began with the hip-hop show that Nick Szuberla and Amelia Kirby hosted on Appalshop's fantastic community radio station WMMT (which is also streaming online):
In 1998, as co-hosts of the rural, Appalachian region's only hip-hop radio program, Thousand Kites media artists Nick Szuberla and Amelia Kirby received hundreds of letters from inmates recently transferred from distant cities into two new, local SuperMax prisons. The prisoners’ letters described racism and human rights violations, and Szuberla and Kirby responded with artistic projects, including bringing hip-hop artists together with mountain musicians and organizing radio broadcasts for prisoners’ families.
In prison slang to "shoot a kite" is to send a message. Thousand Kites is a national project that works directly with stakeholders using communication strategies and campaigns to engage citizens and build grassroots power. It uses performance, web, video, and radio to open a public space for incarcerated people, corrections officials, the formerly incarcerated, grassroots activists, and ordinary citizens to dialogue and organize around United State’s criminal justice system.
"Hill-Hop," this coming together of hip-hop and mountain musicians, was documented by Howard Birkus in an NPR piece a few years back--and many more cuts from these collaborations are available on the Holler To The Hood page.

From the original point of inspiration, Szuberla and Kirby's project has sprouted into a multi-disciplinary artistic endeavor, and is working towards asserting these issues on a national level. The Thousand Kites site features a project asking citizens to help record prisoner poetry, a database of the calls that are broadcast, and resources for downloading and performing a play composed of prisoners'  stories. There's a wealth of stories and songs contained within this gorgeous and uplifting site--and many opportunities to bring these discussions on criminal justice sytem into your own communities.