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Pow Wow Hawaii 2012: Back with a vengeance
BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / firstname.lastname@example.org
POW WOW HAWAII 2012
What: A festival of urban art with live painting of wall-sized murals in Kakaako. More than 40 artists will participate.
Where: Kakaako. Pick up maps to the murals at Loft in Space, 831 Queen St. Locations include Auahi Business Center, 661-669 Auahi St., Voyager Charter School, 547 Halekauwila St., and Fisherman’s Wharf, 1009 Ala Moana Blvd.
When: Through Saturday
Note: A public reception for Pow Wow Hawaii is 6-10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18 at Loft in Space, with DJ music by Jules Gayton. It’s open to all ages. An after-party for Pow Wow begins at 10 p.m. Saturday at Nextdoor, 43 N. Hotel St., with live music by ALT/AIR and DJs Anton Glamb, Kowai Kowai, DJ Anit and B Maj; $10, 21 and older.
Most people who experience Pow Wow Hawaii this year will drop in during the big finale, an art party on Saturday, Feb. 18, that comes at the end of a week of marathon painting by artists from around the world. But in truth, Pow Wow is in progress all year round.
It’s officially underway now, and it started on Monday, Feb. 13, when artists began fanning out across Kakaako to paint walls with spraycan art in grand designs.
Pow Wow invites you to get down with its 40-plus artists as they create on sites that are mostly outdoors.
POW WOW organizers describe the process as breaking down of the “closed doors” between artists and viewers, making art accessible, and — bonus! — “transforming a whole neighborhood with art within a week.”
Now that the event has gotten started — with a vengeance — a drive or walk through Kakaako will bring you up close with the artists at work and their boldly colorful, in-your-face creations.
The celebratory party at the Pow Wow headquarters on Queen Street is another opportunity to share information and learn more from the artists. In case the connections weren’t explicit, on Feb. 16, visiting designer/director/artist Suitman, Jeff Hamada, founder of the influentual art and design blog Booooooom, Eugene Kan, managing director of Hong Kong-based online fashion/culture magazine Hypebeast, Ken Harman, a writer for arts magazine Hi Fructose and owner of the San Francisco gallery Spoke Art, and Frank Liew, a journalist and founder of the design-friendly Qubic shops in New Zealand, gave a talk about the Pow Wow experience and the way art and design, media and community intersect in the event at the Art Auditorium, University of Hawaii-Manoa.
EARLY SATURDAY morning, when three Australian artists right off the plane, a Los Angeles photographer who is trailing Pow Wow for the duration and local artist/chief organizer Jasper Wong met us at the shuttered, sun-bleached Fisherman’s Wharf building, I got a flash of that action.
Artists Rone and Meggs of Melbourne and Phibs of Sidney (they all go by single-word tagger/graffiti-artist names) got out of the car looking half-awake and slightly disoriented, blinking under the bright sun. Then Wong gestured toward the building, explaining that it was one of the “canvases” for painting during Pow Wow, and their eyes narrowed as they started sizing it up.
Rone loped to the back, long hair bouncing under his pork-pie hat, to take a photo of the wall for planning purposes.
Meggs, a wiry, friendly guy with close-cropped red hair who kept his sunglasses screwed down tight, asked, “Can we paint the windows?”
Phibs, wearing black, silently scanned the building, front, back and side. The real excitement has begun now, with painting underway.
Later, at Fresh Cafe and the warehouse Loft in Space, while the guys got caffeinated, we talked a bit.
Back in Melbourne, Phibs said, he painted “anything and everything” in the city that became available to him, but certain neighborhoods had become very street-art friendly.
The fellow Australians nodded when Rone said that lately, he was painting far more often on request — “one or two a week.”
The artists’ vibrant works, inspired by cartoons, video games, hip-hop graffiti and all manner of contemporary art, had become widely known, and they were getting commissions, considering gallery shows and other opportunities.
“I like the painting, but it’s nice to know I’m doing something I can make a living at,” Rone, again to a round of jet-lagged nods.
POW WOW organizers would like to build that level of recognition for artists here, so that art can be a sustainable part of life in Honolulu.
After putting on an inaugural event in Hawaii last year, largely by means of the efforts (and credit card debt) of originator Wong, there was so much enthusiasm that organizers decided to get more ambitious. They sought out community partners, ran a Kickstarter online fundraiser last summer and a more formal event at the Pacific Club in November, and planned a bigger, more far-reaching event this year, in multiple locations and including an educational component. This is actually the third Pow Wow — a first event was held in Hong Kong, where Wong ran a gallery.
The base remains Loft in Space, the bi-level warehouse behind Fresh Cafe on Queen Street in Kakaako, where massive amounts of spray paint — more than 1,000 cans — lay in wait for the artists.
“It’s a great space,” says Wong, as we surveyed changes that have been made in the past year, including several layers of paint, a new air conditioning system, sound-proofing and an improved upstairs loft area.
The upstairs loft will serve as a second art gallery during Pow Wow, with a photography show that includes well-known artists along with others who haven’t shown in a gallery setting before.
Pow Wow is all about making opportunities, and for the past year, organizers have been reaching out to high-school-aged students with an interest in art to spread the news.
A key connection has been Prime, who for years has run art projects involving teens in Honolulu via his nonprofit 808 Urban. “Last year (at Pow Wow), I got to meet so many artists from around the world who share a passion,” Prime said. “I gained a lot.”
Prime created an installation at Loft in Space last year, as part of a series of visiting artists with an ethic that meshes with Pow Wow.
“I’m very cautious about who I work with,” Prime said, as he was prepping his show last August. “After meeting Jasper, and knowing his heart, I said, ‘I’ll do it.’”
This year, 40 students from Roosevelt and McKinley high schools, Voyager Charter School, Kamehameha Schools, YMCA and 808 Urban will participate in Pow Wow, with participation from the established artists. Their work will be mounted at Voyager Charter School Friday, Feb. 17.
Wong, who grew up in Hawaii and attended public school here, says Hawaii schools do not give art its due, and he wants to remedy that as much as he can.
Back in August, when we talked during the setup for Prime’s show at Loft in Space, Wong talked excitedly about setting up “an art gallery outside” and planting the seeds for an arts district.
This year, Wong says, “It’s a totally new game. We’re painting the whole neighborhood … and I don’t think that’s every happened before.”
THE FOCUS on Kakaako comes at a time when the district is in flux.
Kamehameha School, which owns several parcels of property in Kakaako, is a partner with Pow Wow in putting on its event this year, providing access to walls on two buildings under its control.
The trust, which manages wide swaths of Hawaii property for the benefit of its educational programs, has announced plans to develop a specialty retail center on Auahi Street in Kakaako that would include space for artisans and “creative types like graphic designers, architects and technology innovators,” along with restaurants and retail.
Its master plan for the 29 acres of Kakaako property envisions mixed commercial, residential and creative uses. “Public contemporary art and culture” is one of them.
O’Connor said current Kakaako residents — the arts hui R&D, co-working site The Greenhouse and design retailer/import store Chai, all tenants on Kamehameha property — are examples of this kind of presence.
As for Pow Wow, O’Connor said, like other Kakaako projects Kamehameha has supported in recent years, it’s part of a “larger strategy” for Kakaako that includes nurturing a strong creative streak.
“There’s a huge demand for this type of activity,” O’Connor says.
MAILE MEYER, owner of Native Books/Na Mea Hawaii, and part of the core group involved in planning and facilitating Pow Wow this year, calls Wong a “creative catalyst” for new life in Kakaako.
Meyer said she got involved with Pow Wow to help connect organizers with Native Hawaiian art and artists, and to support an event powered by “creative and resourceful” people.
“I’m interested in Pow Wow because it wants to incubate art,” she said.
In 2010, Meyer helped support MaMo Gallery, a temporary site for Native Hawaiian art on Bethel Street for a time. In her view, the prospect for Chinatown as a site for a gallery cluster has dimmed, and she now talks of the possibility of Kakaako as a place where artists’ galleries and studios form a “corridor” with the Honolulu Academy of Arts (soon to be known as the Honolulu Museum of Art) at one end.
“We feel like we’re at the cusp of something,” Wong said, back in August.
“This is something that is taking off around the world,” Meyer said, of the blending of creative and commercial possibilities, with creative endeavors providing an attraction for those who want to live and work in a vibrant neighborhood.
Kamehameha Schools supports that kind of growth. “This creative class is blossoming in Hawaii,” O’Connor said. “We’re just capitalizing on that.”
The Hawaii Community Development Authority also has big plans for Kakaako. Late last year, it issued a request for proposals to develop Hawaii’s tallest high-rise at 690 Pohukaina St. One of the buildings Pow Wow will be painting sits on this lot.
For now, though, Kakaako remains ragged, somewhat barren. Fisherman’s Wharf has been closed down for months, its boat-like edifice at the corner of Ala Moana and Ward Avenue looking more and more like an abandoned ship.
Pow Wow’s artists, with their aggressive styles, bold colors and assertive, layered meanings, will bring new life to these locations.
Pow Wow? “I really think this is going to put us on the map,” O’Connor said.
Link to a Tumblr blog of photos of Pow Wow from the beginning here.