The shorts were based on a collection of stories gathered through conversations between community kūpuna (elders) and younger generations. The stories were compiled with the help of the StoryCorps DIY online curriculum and local media partner Akakū Maui Community Media, under the tutelage of Hilo, Hawaii-based artist and Kumu Hula Leilehua Yuen. After capturing authentic moments of meaningful connection during audio recorded meetings, a call-to-artists was released in search of proposals to translate the collection of stories into works of visual, performance or experiential public art.
Richard O’Connor answered the call and created animated shorts that transport viewers into the full, immersive experience of authentic connection – enveloping the senses and creating an unforgettable cultural storytelling experience.
“Imagine a room crowded with voices of discovery, contemplation, concern, hope,” said O’Connor. “The sounds envelop, invite you to join. Each point, a vibrating locus of community. Each person is a star in the ever-expanding constellation.”
SMALL TOWN * BIG ART (ST*BA), based in Wailuku Town on the island of Maui, is a public-private-partnership and creative placemaking collaboration between the local government (County of Maui), the local historical society (Hale Hō‘ike‘ike at the Bailey House/ Maui Historical Society), and Maui Public Art Corps.
The ST*BA collaboration works to develop an arts district that celebrates the distinctive sense of place, history and culture of Wailuku, Hawaii. Professional artists are paired with community consultants to co-create visual, performance and experiential art installations that align with the culturally significant work of Mary Kawena Pukui entitled ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs and Political Sayings. Rooting projects in traditional Hawaiian proverbs and poetical sayings firmly ties the works of art to culture, history, and community.
Identified through close work with ST*BA’s cultural expert, O’Connor’s work was rooted in ʻōlelo #327: E lauhoe mai na waʻa; i ke kā, i ka hoe; i ka hoe, i ke kā; pae aku i ka `āina. (Everybody paddle the canoes together; bail and paddle, paddle and bail, and the shore is reached. Pitch in with a will, everybody, and the work is quickly done.)
When asked how he approached this project, O’Connor responded, “Sometimes it’s best to let the project approach you. This is a perfect example. Listening to one story, then another, and another they quickly came into communication with another. Each conversation colored and reflected the others. The goal became allowing them to not only connect with one another but to include another party – the spectator. Each conversation conjured a specific feeling. The visuals stem from mood arising when you close your eyes and tune into sounds and silences of the voices.”
O’Connor developed this ST*BA collection from his Brooklyn, NY studio based on audio recordings, study of resources, and photographs submitted by Wailuku, Hawaii community members. The artist also had regular conversations with core ST*BA team members: Public Art Specialist Kelly McHugh-White, County of Maui Planning & Development Chief Erin Wade, and Maui Historical Society Executive Director Sissy Lake-Farm.
The project showcases the unique opportunities for connection through public art, with the artist thousands of miles away from the community where the art is based.
"I would like for at least one person to experience this project, recognize the beauty and the voices of their community and be inspired to create work that amplifies their own voice," said O’Connor.
A 2022 Oscar contender for Best Animated Short Film, amongst many other accolades, artist Richard O'Connor has become known as the animation wizard affiliated with StoryCorps. His work also includes theatrical features (Frank Oz' "The Stepford Wives", Merchant/Ivory's "White Countess", Rebecca Miller's "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee"), documentaries ("Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns", "Chicago Ten", "Nursery University"), television (Nickelodeon's "Kablam!", Cartoon Network's "Big Bag", PBS' "Between the Lions") and commercials. He has taught at Parsons School of Design, NYU, University of the Arts, and Rhode Island School Design, and currently serves on the steering committee of Our Next 4 Years, an organization dedicated to producing progressive work for a better future.
The films feature story excerpts from the following intergenerational pairings:
- Kepā Maly, Cultural Historian & Resource Specialist and Lopaka White, Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission (Full Talk Story | Excerpt)
- Roselle Bailey, Kumu Hula, Ka’Imi Na’auao O Hawaii Nei Institute and Anuhea Yagi, Student of Hawaiian Life Ways (Full Talk Story | Excerpt)
- Skippy Hau, Retired Aquatic Biologist, State of Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources and Dean Tokishi, Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission (Full Talk Story | Excerpt)
- Wallette Pellegrino, Host of Preserving Our Recollections” Oral History TV Program for University of Hawaii Maui College and Kalapana Kollars, Hawaiian Cultural Programs Director, Lahaina Restoration Foundation (Full Talk Story | Excerpt)
- Clifford Naeʻole, Cultural Advisor at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua and Hōkūao Pellegrino, Sustainability & ʻĀina-Based Learning Designer & Facilitator, Kamehameha Schools Maui (Full Talk Story | Excerpt)
- Gordean Bailey, Kumu Hula, Halau Wehiwehi of Leilehua and Sissy Lake-Farm, Kumu Hula, Hālau Makana Aloha O Ka Lauaʻe and Executive Director, Hale Hōʻikeʻike at the Bailey House Museum/ Maui Historical Society (Full Talk Story | Excerpt)
Additional information and resources can be found at smalltownbig.org.