The NEA’s signature creative placemaking grant program, Our Town grants support partnerships of artists, arts organizations, and municipal government that work to revitalize neighborhoods. This practice places arts at the table with land-use, transportation, economic development, education, housing, infrastructure, and public safety strategies to address a community’s challenges. Creative placemaking highlights the distinctiveness of a place, encouraging residents to identify and build upon their local creative assets.
In its first year, a call-for-entries was crafted in pursuit of performing and visual public art proposals that promote the unique history, culture and community of Wailuku Town by highlighting the contemporary art community with a unique and diverse platform for artists to execute and display original artwork. Proposal evaluation and selection criteria aimed for quality, style, experience in creating communal or public art, significance to Wailuku and alignment with a pre-selected ʻōlelo noʻeau.
During this time, SMALL TOWN * BIG ART was approached by PangeaSeed Foundation to collaborate on SeaWalls: Artists for Oceans, their principal mural program made up of an international consortium of 250 professional artists. This union offered SMALL TOWN * BIG ART the opportunity to design a proof of concept, funding the SeaWalls project and offering thematic development while learning from their very seasoned team of artists and collaborators. This partnership resulted in 10 new “Mauka to Makai” murals throughout Wailuku Town, and an additional 6 on the campus of Baldwin High School.
51 SMALL TOWN * BIG ART proposals were submitted through CaFÉ, a public, online call-for-artists management system run by WESTAF (Western States Arts Federation) and a review panel was created with a careful balance of community, historical, art and grant making expertise. 13 projects were selected to move into project development (phase 2) in order to sharpen timelines, budgets, opportunities for community engagement, project renderings and any additional resource management.
Now undergoing full implementation, SMALL TOWN * BIG ART has executed public art collaborations with lightwork artist Andy Behrle of Kīhei, Canadian-born muralist Emmanuel Jarus, and Wailuku-based E.H.A (Endemic Hawaii Artists), comprised of Kirk Kurokawa, Elmer Bio, Amanda Bowers and Noble Richardson, with an additional Día de los Muertos event in which the public made offerings – photos, food, flowers, etc. – for a communal shrine created at Kīpuka Square with Jackie Goring and Tamara Li. Countless community members have supported these projects with their manaʻo and hands-on participation, consistently remarking on the sense of community, inspiration and education that each experience has offered.
Andy Behrle’s September 2019 work entitled “lost & found” was a digitally created reimagination of the stained glass windows that once adorned Saint Anthony’s Church in Wailuku, before the structure was lost to arson in 1977. Projected onto the side of Historic Iao Theater, Kīpuka Square (the area between the police substation and the theater) was transformed “into a sort of open cathedral and contemplative space,” according to a Maui Time cover story, “like moments of contemplation and like water, the projection ebbs and flows – literally – as steady examination reveals the panels of the resurrected stained glass to be moving, living, close-up images of water. Starting in black and white, the Gothic skeleton of the lost window fills with color before returning to the shades of grey and swelling with color once again. There are four different compositions, each with six videos of water “painting” the recreated stained glass.” Andy and the SMALL TOWN * BIG ART team worked closely for 3 months to research, collect and share stories of the church and Wailuku River that would ultimately be unveiled for just 1 night.
Later in September, Emmanuel Jarus joined the team with a full day offering of free portraiture classes at Wailuku’s classic Sabado Studios, where he was able to spend time cultivating his mural concept: ʻIke aku, ʻike mai. Kōkua aku, kōkua mai. Pēlā ka nohona ʻohana. (“Watch, observe. Help others and accept help. That is the family way.”) During his 3-week residency, a Wailuku family invited Jarus on a fishing trip where he observed and learned first hand the experience of spear fishing. “In freshwater and salt, water as the heartbeat of life’s existence resonated,” shares the artist, “having had the opportunity to be immersed within the river and ocean waters guided by Wailuku residents, and, taking in where the stream meets the sea at the Waiheʻe Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge, these experiences observing life became the inspiration for the mural.”
“I like the approach he took in relation to the back of the subject,” shared Sissy, “kua being the back and how important the kua is to us as people. How we relate the kua to things as a fundamental part of our body’s structure, and how we relate the kua or back to us as a people in relation to genealogy, and the parts of how the generations are formulated.” Sissy led a public blessing of the artwork, completed in October, as friends and neighbors got to know the artist and learn more about SMALL TOWN * BIG ART.
In November, E.H.A engaged Wailuku Elementary School, Iao School and Pūnana Leo o Maui to help paint their piece Pō Mekeʻau (nightfall) alongside Wells Park. Exhibiting “a reflection of perspectives,” according to the artists statement, the piece depicts Wailuku’s four rivers, kukui and pohaku as a cohesive representation that “no task is too big when protecting our great kupuna that sustains our levity and cultural significance that live through the hands of our mentors and hearts of our keiki.” Community member Shahlia Wainui-Tucker shared that SMALL TOWN * BIG ART offers a chance for community artists to depict values of the area that they are working in and that this art “has the power to connect people across all platforms, cultures and religions.”
Monthly SMALL TOWN * BIG ART opportunities throughout Wailuku Town to talk story with artists and collaborators, attend free rehearsals and performances, experience mural and installation exhibits and become a integral part of the story of Wailuku Town will continue until June 2020, with upcoming artists and groups including the Maui Academy of Performing Arts, installation artist Michael Takemoto, performance artist Leilehua Yuen and - next up - award-winning sculptor Jessica Bodner, who is currently creating a six-foot reclaimed steel basket sculpture inspired by the hīnaʻi (basket fish trap) used by the Iawaiʻa (fisherman). “Creative placemaking creates a dialogue and allows the community to be involved,” shares Bodner, “What is this place? What is this thing? Why is it here? Art in public places gives that sense of place, which is extremely important in sensitive places like Wailuku where war and turmoil once existed. It’s important for people to know the history before they can determine what they want from their community in the future.”