The idea for the Ko-Falen Cultural Center began after years of family visits to Bamako by founders, Baba Wagué Diakité and Ronna Neuenschwander. Year after year, fellow artists and friends traveled with Baba Wagué and Ronna to visit Wagué’s home country and to learn about Malian art and culture. It was discovered during these visits that the sharing that came with art making was an easy and comfortable introduction into the culture. It was felt that this sharing offered a larger opportunity by building a place where people could come and experience art and culture side by side with Malians.
In 2001 Ronna and Wagué bought the land on which the Center is situated. In 2002, architectural plans were approved and the septic system and foundation were built. In 2003 the first story walls were completed. From 2004-2007, by the generosity of individual donors, the Center was built, brick by brick, by local neighbors and American visitors, family and friends. While the Center itself provided space for sleeping rooms, a kitchen and meeting space, it did not provide an area where workshops and classes could be taught. Local neighbors and Malian artists suggested that the mango grove adjacent to the Center would be an ideal place to hold workshops, to which everyone agreed. In 2007 Ko-Falen began the process of purchasing a section of the mango grove adjacent to the Center in Bamako. Working outdoors on the art projects gave a natural invitation to the neighbors and passers-by to join in.
The Ko-Falen Cultural Center was officially inaugurated on New Year’s Eve, 2007, with approximately 35 Americans joining forces with the Boulkassoumbougou neighborhood in Bamako in which the Center is located. The US Ambassador to Mali joined the celebration, along with his family and staff.
For 5 years, Ko-Falen enjoyed opportunities to bring westerners to the cultural center in workshops with Malian artists in textile dyeing, mudcloth making, basket weaving, calabash pyro-engraving, and recycled tin sculpture creations. In 2012, extremists moved into the North of Mali and began a series of takeovers of towns and villages. This was the last year that Ko-Falen was able to bring westerners into the country.
Since that time, Ko-Falen has focused their energies on a successful Tutoring program begun in 2007, giving students of artisans and gardeners in the neighborhood free tutoring. It began with 32 students that were taught French classes in reading and writing. In 2016 we built 2 classrooms in our mango grove across from the Ko-Falen Cultural Center to accommodate our growing Tutoring Center. It now enjoys 108 students ranging from pre-kindergarten to high school, with classes in French reading and writing, English, Algebra, and Physics.
In addition to free tutoring, we sponsor 32 students in their private school education, paying their tuition fees. In 2019, Ko-Falen Tutoring Center began a class in entrepreneurship through art for our middle school and high school students. In 2020, we began a Master class in mudcloth making for our older students in the Entrepreneurial class.
In 2018 we began a series of Storytelling workshops in Mali and in the US. A film was made with the Women Spinners of Baroueli, telling traditional stories from Mali. You may access this video on our website under Storytelling.
Ko-Falen Cultural Center Timeline
In 1993, baby Penda Diakite’s Naming Day was celebrated in Soni Cegni, Mali with music and masked dancing. It was at this time that Baba Wagué Diakité began imagining an art exchange, sharing Mali’s creative and artistic forces with people in the US. He began inviting Americans to visit, learn and work with Malian artists. In 2001, he bought property in Bamako, Mali to build a cultural center. The center was built slowly over the next 6 years with generous help from friends and with the blessing and participation of the neighborhood in Mali. In 2007, the dedication of the center was celebrated with Americans, Malians and the US Ambassador to Mali.
2007- Launching of the Ko-Falen Cultural Center with workshops in textile dying and batik, calabash pyro-engraving, mudcloth making, basket making, and recycled tin sculpture making. Excursion to Soni Cegni for a Masked Dance celebration. An informal tutoring program with teacher Modibo Diakité began in Ko-Falen’s hangar.
2008- Official 501c3 nonprofit status was received. First Mango Madness African Dance Party event in PDX.
2009- First annual fundraising campaign for art and education programs in Soni Cegni and Bamako, Mali; these programs continue to be funded annually. Return of Mango Madness in PDX.
2010- Ko-Falen workshops in Mali: glass painting, textile dying, calabash design, mudcloth. Mango Madness in PDX.
2011- Launched Mali Close-Up, a series of monthly cultural events in Portland, OR. Mango Madness in PDX.
2012- Ko-Falen workshops in Mali: textile dying, mudcloth making, drumming and dancing. Mango Madness in PDX.
2013- A FO! Say It! Poetry exchange program between Malian English and Portland French classes under Joyce Lozito, Alassane Diarra, Stephen Lambert and Baba WaguÉ DiakitÉ. Mudcloth workshops with International Refugee Council’s Africa House in Portland, OR. Art in the Pearl in PDX: KFCC offered free hands-on art experience.
2014- Mudcloth workshops with Buckman Elementary and DaVinci Middle Schools in Portland, OR. Instituted 15 Families Food Program for emergency food help in Mali. Art in the Pearl in PDX: KFCC offered free hands-on art experience in recycled tin sculpture making, painting.
2015- Building campaign to build a formal tutoring center in Bamako. Mango Madness African Dance Party in PDX.
Art in the Pearl in PDX: KFCC offered free hands-on art experience.
2016- GoFundMe online Building Campaign for tutoring center in Bamako. Our first KFCC high school graduate!
Art in the Pearl in PDX: KFCC offered free hands-on art experience.
2017- 10 years of Ko-Falen Cultural Center programs and tutoring! Our Ko-Falen Tutoring Center is built! Art in the Pearl in PDX: KFCC offered free hands-on art experience.
2018- MunBinNiKan? What is standing on your soul? storytelling programs in Mali and in Oregon. Film Night Fundraiser with KBOO Radio: A retelling of the epic Sundiata Keita by Diakite/and viewing film Keita: Heritage of the Griot at Clinton St. Theater. Film by Penda Diakite and Ko-Falen, Spinning Stories: Women Storytellers of Baroueli, was premiered. Art in the Pearl in PDX: KFCC offered free hands-on art experience.
2019- Begin Entrepreneurial Project mudcloth classes at Ko-Falen Tutoring Center. Film Night Fundraiser with KBOO Radio, viewed Mali documentary, They Will Have to Kill Us First at Clinton St Theater. Art in the Pearl in PDX: KFCC offered free hands-on art experience.
2020- Begin Master Class in Mudcloth Making for older students, graduates of Ko-Falen Tutoring Center. Held Ko-Falen African Art Sale in Portland.
2021- Yaoussa Traore, master mudcloth painter, joins Ko-Falen. We have first online sale of Mudcloth from our Entrepreneurial Art and Master Classes