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 to work with Malian artists. 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, English, Algebra, and Physics.
In addition to free tutoring, we sponsor 32 students in the 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 Entrepreneur 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.