A visit to the organizational website of Maui Public Art Corps (mauipublicart.org) will tap you into a series of community-based projects connecting people, place and story through the development of exceptional public artworks. Presented as site specific collections, Kaho‘olawe is featured prominently on the home page, which leads to works of original music, contemporary dance, animation and storytelling inspired by the Island Reserve.
Established in 2020, the nonprofit organization was developed from a 2018 County of Maui pilot project initially intended as construction mitigation amidst Wailuku’s recently completed Capital Improvement Projects. The pilot was designed to tell authentic, local stories through murals, pop-up performances, installations and more — each carefully co-developed with community members and rooted in a unique passage from Mary Kawena Pukui’s ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs and Poetical Sayings. Entitled SMALL TOWN * BIG ART (named for the Wailuku Town motto: Small Town, Big Heart), the Wailuku-centered initiative remains a collaborative effort of the County of Maui and Hale Hōʻikeʻike at the Bailey House/ Maui Historical Society, which through the inception of Maui Public Art Corps, is now scaling countywide.
With the organization founded by former KIRC staff member Kelly McHugh-White, a growing collection of Kaho‘olawe-inspired artworks have been developed that celebrate its distinctive history, culture and sense of place.
In 2021, KIRC Ocean Resources Specialist Dean Tokishi participated in Maui Public Art Corps’ 3-part storytelling workshop under artist Leilehua Yuen. Since that time, two animated film shorts have been created by Brooklyn-based artist Richard O’Connor and his team of filmmakers at Ace & Son Moving Picture Co. that feature Dean’s stories; one in which Dean interviews Uncle Skippy Hau (vimeo.com/692057252), a retiree of the State of Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources, and another with Coach John McCandless (vimeo.com/773898280) of Hawaiian Canoe Club. Dean most recently recorded a talk-story with his fourth grade Kahului Elementary School teacher, Joyce Kawahara, which will become part of Maui Public Art Corps’ upcoming request for artist proposals. Artists from all over the world will be invited to submit proposals that bring these “Hui Mo‘olelo” audio recordings to life as a work of public art following a period of community engagement that actively integrates feedback from additional Kaho‘olawe resources into the design.
KIRC Executive Director Mike Nāhoʻopiʻi’s Hui Mo’olelo recording also became an animated film short, which premiered at the ʻĪao Theater film festival in December 2022 and joined a yearlong exhibit at the University of Hawaiʻi Maui College Pā‘ina Market. Entitled “Waves,” (mauipublicart.org/waves) the artwork was rooted in ʻōlelo noʻeau #237: ʻAu i ke kai me he manu ala (Cross the sea as a bird), selected by Russian-Ukranian artist Taisiya Zaretskaya in collaboration with Sissy Lake-Farm of Hale Hōʻikeʻike at the Bailey House/ Maui Historical Society.
KIRC Reserve Operations Manager Lopaka White’s Hui Mo‘olelo sessions have featured Kepā Maly of Kumu Pono Associates, Water-woman Aunty Sally Ann Delos Reyes of Lahaina, Kumu Sissy Lake-Farm, and Hawaiian Canoe Club’s Jeanette Nalani Kaauamo of Wailuanui – all available at mauipublicart.org/hui-moolelo. Most recently, Lopaka’s talk-story with Aunty Sally Ann was presented as a work of contemporary dance and original, looped live music during the Arts & Resilience event on the Great Lawn of University of Hawaiʻi-Maui College. Performed by Maui’s Adaptations Dance Theater and Hāna-grown musician Stephen Henderson, music and choreography were inspired by Aunty Sally’s memories of Kaho‘olawe. Within Stephen’s music, you are able to hear her reference a meeting in the ocean to save Kaho‘olawe, with excerpts including “You can’t just bomb an island”, “You going put us in jail!? You going shoot us!?” and “If I going die today, then it’s a good cause.” (Listen at mauipublicart.org/sallyann). Following the event, many audience members took to the microphone to share stories of Kaho‘olawe and resilience.
To date, 9 Kaho‘olawe stories have been recorded yielding 4 animated films, 3 pop-up performances, and 1 mural by a total of 18 professional artists. Through its current Hawai‘i Tourism Authority Kūkulu Ola grant, Maui Public Art Corps aims to continue to develop professional artwork in collaboration with community members that celebrates Kaho‘olawe history, culture, and sense of place. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved.