Growing a movement

Daniel Ikaika Ito

Rone returns to Pow Wow Hawaii this year. The stencil artist from Melbourne, Australia, is an original member of Everfresh Studios and is known for his stylized depictions of female faces. This is Rone's mural from Pow Wow Hawaii 2012.

Pow Wow Hawaii is technically a weeklong mural festival, but it's probably more accurately described as an artistic movement. It's moving right now as you read. From Feb. 9-16, more than 70 modern artists are gathering in Honolulu to create, collaborate, educate and improve the community.

It's a hub for locals to showcase their work and an opportunity for visiting creatives to feel "aloha" and leave the islands more beautiful than when they first arrived. Pow Wow Hawaii is also more about the process than the finished piece -- which is drastically different than other art shows, says the event's co-lead director and participating artist, Kamea Hadar.

"Pow Wow is about the process and sharing culture, making friends, building communities. And the finished product, hopefully people love," says Hadar, who was raised in Hawaii. He is a formally trained fine artist who studied at the University of San Diego, University of Tel Aviv, Paris-Sorbonne University and the University of Madrid, but is also a skilled surfer, speardiver and hunter.

"Art is so subjective that you know not everybody is going to love the actual finished piece," he explains, "but the process along the way is also something beautiful in itself."

Look Back: Pow Wow Hawaii 2012

This will be the fourth Pow Wow, but only the third time it's being held in Hawaii. Originally, Jasper Wong -- who, coincidentally, went to high school with Hadar -- created this art festival in 2010. Wong ran an art gallery in Hong Kong, which was the site of the first Pow Wow, a two-day event featuring four artists. He came home the next year and brought the international event with him.

Wong is the founder/co-lead director with Hadar. Under their leadership, Pow Wow Hawaii has grown exponentially, hosting twice as many artists painting twice as many pieces every year. The rate of growth is incredible, says Hadar.

"We did one mural the first year [in Hawaii] in the parking lot of Fresh Café, and we hoped to do two or three more the next year. Then, all of a sudden, Kamehameha Schools was on board with the help of [senior asset manager] Christian O'Connor, [and] then we found ourselves with 20 walls [in the second year]," states Hadar. "This year it's twice as much [walls dedicated to murals], and that's not us, but it's everyone in Hawaii. Everybody is helping and that's what I want to stress: Everybody is doing it and it's not just us."

Organizing this massive event alongside Hadar and Wong is the "Pow Wow Family," which consists of Tiffany Tanaka, Jun Jo, Mikey Inouye, Amy Luu, Shanna Hulme, Jeff Gress and Christa Wittmier. With their powers combined, they managed to double the size of the art festival from a finale at a single venue to a block party this year.

In addition, they're adding music to Pow Wow. They built a studio for the artists with the goal of creating three original tracks for the mini-documentaries that recap Pow Wow Hawaii. They also added an educational aspect to the music, says Wittmier.

Daniel Ikaika Ito

Kaka'ako mural by Aaron Dela Cruz, 2012.

"We invited music artists to join us and we have music school," explains Wittmier. "We have the art-education program year-round, but during the week of Pow Wow we have a school for music. It helps with the enrichment of our youth, and they're amazing and really talented."

The students of the Pow Wow Hawaii Music School are 13 to 18 years old and responded to two open calls. They will have the privilege of learning from a variety of classical musicians and DJs and also have the honor of performing at the block party finale on Saturday night.

While education, creativity, culture and beauty are the cornerstones of Pow Wow Hawaii, there is also the cultivation of industry in the foreground of this event.

"Plain and simple, [Pow Wow] beautifies the Kaka'ako community; when you walk around, it's 10 times more beautiful than before," says Hadar of the mural area. "Obviously it brings attention to the community and brings people, but hopefully it brings industry as well. We're always trying to build a scene for the future generations that want to be creative and be artists that want to be able to live off their art."

Estria Miyashiro, who is a returning Pow Wow artist this year, echoes Hadar's sentiments. Estria is an OG graffiti artist from Hawaii who came up in the '80s, but moved to the continent to pursue art in the '90s. He recently returned home to the islands and believes that an art scene in Hawaii can be economically healthy and thrive.

"There's not much of an industry [in Hawaii] -- the supporting roles that make the art happen," says Estria. "So [Pow Wow] is something for [local artists] to rally around because everybody knows that this is our opportunity to show the world what [we've] got and it also helps build an art industry by bringing in those people from out of town. I think once you bring the artists, then you bring the collectors and the buyers."

As a native Hawaiian, Estria also believes that Pow Wow and Hawaii have an opportunity to touch visitors with aloha. It's a chance to teach the foreign artists and audience the importance of caring for our planet.

"Spiritually, we have a lot to offer them as far as our Hawaiian practices, sacredness of the land, our connection with the aina [land] and how we do things," says Estria. "I think we need to share this small-village mentality with the world because we can all be better stewards of the land."

For the full Pow Wow Hawaii 2013 schedule of events, click here.

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