Q&A With Kimi Eisele
Multidisciplinary artist Kimi Eisele is curator of TMY’s newest cultural area — Kidlore. Here’s the inside story on how KidLore is curating engaging and playful experiences that reflect imagination, cultural interaction and fun.
BL: What’s the main intention of Kidlore. How is play an important component of TMY mission?
KE: KidLore is a new area of the festival dedicated to celebrating the cultural expression of children. Whether kids know it or not, folklore is a huge part of childhood. The games, songs, jokes, stories and rhymes we learn or invent help us engage with one another and ultimately give us a sense of belonging. In other words, they define our “culture” as children. Within that, of course, there are as many variations as there are cultural expressions. While I sang “Shimmy, shimmy coco pop…,” a girl my same age somewhere in Latin America sang “Para subir al cielo…,” for example. These seemingly meaningless rhymes helped us learn language and rhyme and voice projection, and they were fun! Add to those rhymes other songs, dances, jokes, snacks, clothing, celebration rituals and games kids play, and you have a very lively folklore. The KidLore area of TMY was created to acknowledge this rich and playful “lore,” to celebrate it and to investigate new traditions being created by children today in Tucson.
BL: Engaging kids and communities – how is imagination and creativity important to building communities?
KE: Imagination and creativity are the building blocks for community. Are we going to stare at a screen or are we going to interact with our neighbors? Kids like to stare at screens, of course, but they also like to sing and dance and invent games and build things. I think kids are the greatest artists and designers because they never say things like, “We can’t afford that” or “That’s not possible.” In the land of make-believe, everything is possible!
One of the ways KidLore honors this spirit is through KidScape, an area where kids can create their ideal version of the city of Tucson using cardboard boxes and other recyclable materials. More trees? Better sidewalks? More parks? Less cars? What do kids want? A collaboration with the Living Streets Alliance (a nonprofit organization working to make our streets more livable and friendly for walkers and bicycles), KidScape aims to invite kids more fully into the conversation about how we might re-imagine Tucson as place where kids (and grown-ups) can walk, ride and play safely.
City planning isn’t exactly folklore, but the creativity of children is a critical thing to engage if we want to move forward as a city that considers spatial relationships and their integral role in creating tolerance, understanding, and shared experiences across race, ethnicity, class, and gender. Those spatial relationships tie in directly with folklore because how we express our culture has everything to do with how we are perceived by others. Will our future city include more places for these kinds of safe and interesting encounters to happen naturally and freely? If so, where?
My secret wish is that kids will pick up on the incredibly diverse and wonderful “city” that is formed by the festival itself. After making origami and eating fry bread and watching hip-hop dancers and making a costume out of recycled materials at TMY, perhaps they’ll start to ask themselves and their parents, “Hey, why can’t our city be like this everyday.” Maybe through KidScape, and through the other activities at KidLore, they’ll start inventing ways that it can be.
BL: Please share the nuts and bolts about KidLore, including plans for staging, programs, food, arts, performance and fashion.
KE: KidLore aims to touch upon all the elements of folklore in a kid-friendly and kid-centered way. It features staged performances by dancers, singers, musicians, jugglers, puppeteers and storytellers. Most of these performances will be interactive in some way and as such, serve to draw folks to the area. Who can resist a good drum rhythm or mariachi band?
Also on stage we’ll have kid-led “Jokes and Riddles” sessions where kids (and grown-ups) can share their favorite jokes. We’ll also have “Snack Attacks,” which involve demonstrations and samplings of selected favorite kid snacks.
Off stage, a series of ongoing activities will keep kids busy and creative. We’ve teamed up with the Girl Scouts to offer “Fashion Passion,” where kids can make clothing and costumes out of recycled materials and then model their designs during a catwalk fashion show on stage. There’s a “Games” area where kids can play tried-and-true games or invent new kinds of play with balls, hula- hoops, and jump-ropes. They also can learn from other kids how to make string figures (like cat’s cradle), solve the Rubik’s cube, and juggle. A group of writers called Sowing the Seeds will offer kids the opportunity to write a story and make a book. And in celebration of TMY’s 39th Birthday, we’ll have an honest-to-goodness birthday party complete with cupcakes, candles and the birthday song! Throughout the KidLore area, we’ll also have “chalkboards” that kids (and sometimes grown-ups) can write to share with others their own traditions and customs for play, celebration, entertainment, and expressions.
BL: Tell us about the KidLore team!
KE: We’ve worked hard to let KidLore be informed largely by kids themselves. I did a lot of research by asking kid friends of mine for their ideas, and to weigh in on some of the existing, grown-up ideas. We tweaked some things and completely overhauled others based on kids’ feedback. KidLore will have crew of youth volunteers helping throughout the weekend, so it will be fun to hear kids as emcees and as motivating mentors at some of the activities. We’ll have some teens from Finding Voice, a program for refugee and immigrant teenagers through Catalina High School, as well as some 9th graders from City High School who are going to help with the Games area. I hear there are quite a few jugglers and Rubik’s Cube masters among them!
In addition to the main activities, vendors and information booths also have a presence in the area. They include: Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona, Living Streets Alliance, Sowing the Seeds, Devereux Arizona, Julie’s Puppets, Seam to Sew and Rockin Mama Baby Gear, Postal History Foundation, Boy Scouts of America, Salpointe Catholic High School, International School of Tucson, Child Cognition Lab at the University of Arizona, Desert Sky Community School, Assistance League of Tucson, Learning A-Z, Tucson Waldorf School, Sonoran Glass School, Luz-Guerrero Early College High School, Southern Arizona Children’s Advocacy Center, Mad Science of Pima County, Los Changuitos Feos, Arts for All, Tucson International Academy, and Adela Antoinette Face & Body Painting.
The KidLore planning team is Alida Wilson-Gunn, Lisa Falk, and myself with oversight by Maribel Alvarez.
BL: Closing note about what kids, parents or curious adults can enjoy and learn from at TMY KidLore?
KE: More than anything KidLore is designed as a place to live and re-live childhood with all of its wonders and fun. Granted, there is no end to the wondrousness and fun at Tucson Meet Yourself in its entirety. So maybe KidLore, which is located at the Southern end of the festival grounds, is the gateway into the wondrousness: a place to listen, laugh, play and be delighted before moving on to the food and tremendous artistry offered elsewhere. Or maybe it’s the perfect festival exit, the last area you visit on your way home: a reminder that folklore and the joy of cultural expression begin in childhood and continue to carry us—as long as we’re willing to taste and play and listen and share—for the rest of our lives.