The streets of Wailuku will encounter Maui artist Michael Takemoto’s “ʻAlalā Renaissance" during next weekend’s Small Business Saturday - November 28, 2020 - in the latest installment of SMALL TOWN * BIG ART; the town’s creative placemaking pilot project funded through an “Our Town” grant by the National Endowment for the Arts with the County of Maui.
Initially planned for March 2020, Takemoto’s pre-COVID-19 “A Murder of ʻAlalā" installation was to be an open invitation to the community to create black charcoal silhouettes throughout the town from a collection of ʻalalā stencils created by the artist. The event was to be complemented by a pop-up spoken word performance at Kīpuka Square featuring voices by Maui Live Poets Society, Maui Academy of Performing Arts, Maui OnStage, University of Hawaiʻi Maui College and others. Together, these activities were meant to bring awareness to the plight of the ʻalalā, or endangered Hawaiian crow, as their numbers have been decimated through the loss of their natural habitation and the incursion of non-native species.
Canceled at the last minute due to the onset of the pandemic, the team recently reconvened to reimagine Takemoto’s ST*BA project. Taking into account all that has been lost over the past 8 months, a conversation emerged on the subject of survival and a newfound understanding of the things that must be cherished and celebrated.
“I want people to realize what a powerful tool the arts are. Not only the visual arts, but spoken art; it’s all about the human experience,” shares Takemoto, “looking to the ʻalalā and their plight kind of reflects on our own experience now. We’ve been locked up for - I don't know how many months - and we see that not only are the ʻalalā fragile but so are human beings, so it’s a bigger idea not only of them but of us as well. Relating one person to another, relating our history, our mana'o, from one generation to another and how we hope to perpetuate this and continue this art for our community.”
Selected in collaboration with Sissy Lake-Farm, Director of Hale Hōʻikeʻike at The Bailey House Museum/ Maui Historical Society and core SMALL TOWN * BIG ART partner, the ‘ōlelo no‘eau (Hawaiian proverb) that inspired Takemoto’s piece is Hoʻolaukanaka i ka leo o nā manu, (the voices of birds give the place a feeling of being inhabited).
Takemoto, a visual artist, Associate Professor, Humanities Department Chair and Visual Arts Program Coordinator at University of Hawaiʻi Maui College, continues, “It’s a healing process, too, not only for the individual but also for the community. Art works as a communications tool; being able to communicate one’s ideas and one’s thoughts in this bigger sense is important. And the fact that this work is temporary - like everything else in life - it’s a passing, fleeting moment that’s meant to be enjoyed and remembered and experienced.”
The artist’s reimagined “ʻAlalā Renaissance" will replace black charcoal with brightly colored chalk that will be handed out to a small, pre-registered group of his UH Maui art students and fellow artists, (ensuring no more than 10 individuals are convening, per social distance requirements), who will install hundreds of stenciled ʻalalā silhouettes along the sidewalks of Market Street, at Kīpuka Square, at the MAPA buildings at the Promenade and Black Box Theater and at fellow SMALL TOWN * BIG ART artist Sean Baba's gallery Fresh Island Art.
“I think adding color and bringing more color into Wailuku Town will reflect hopefully the rebirth for Wailuku as well; it will help spur the idea that we’re coming back and there is hope coming out of this COVID pandemic. This idea of the rebirth - or the renaissance - of starting to maybe get a little more normalcy in life,” shares Takemoto, who was inspired fellow SMALL TOWN * BIG ART artist Kirk Kurokawa’s work (LINK) on the collaborative Resemble The 'Alalā mural he created in Wailuku with Elmer Bio, Noble Richardson, Amanda Joy Bowers and the Pangeaseed Foundation.
“I am really honored that Michael looked at my work and drew some inspiration from it,” shares Kurokawa, “his concept of a renaissance is exactly what my intent was with my ʻalalā; focusing on what we want to keep and cultivate and not so much on what we’ve lost or don’t have. The ʻalalā is a symbol of perseverance and of showing strength that we’re still here, adapting to our situation that we all are in, and we can still strive. This is an important message not just for us Native Hawaiians but for everybody.”
He continues, “Mike’s work is thoughtful and it makes you think: Where is he going with this? What is he trying to say? That’s what makes his work so capturing - it captures your mind and you want to know more.”
Kirk’s solo SMALL TOWN * BIG ART piece will be unveiled in late December 2020, following work by Maui artist Avi Molinas and Hawaii Island artist Leilehua Yuen to close out the pilot phase of the public art program. Artists interested in applying for 2021 public art projects should join the mailing list at www.smalltownbig.org as a call-to-artists will be distributed by this year’s end.
A collaboration of the National Endowment for the Arts, County of Maui and Hale Hōʻikeʻike at the Bailey House/ Maui Historical Society, SMALL TOWN * BIG ART is a creative placemaking program with a mission to develop Wailuku, Hawaiʻi as a public arts district that is focused on its distinctive sense of place, history and culture.
Engaging the public in both the process and the product, monthly art experiences are paired with activities such as talk story sessions, artist workshops, public rehearsals and more. Each art installation is led by professional artists that have submitted project applications exhibiting exceptional quality, style, experience in creating communal or public art, significance to Wailuku and alignment with a selected ʻōlelo noʻeau. Through many hands and many voices, these creative interpretations represent a revitalized identity for this small town with the BIGGEST heart.
More from Takemoto HERE.
Elements of Art HERE.