Hawai'i: A New Wave of Art
Hawai'i has cast a spell on the hearts and minds of travelers the world over, and it’s not just because of the natural beauty.
Part of what makes Hawai’i a magical destination is the confluence of cultures contained on this little archipelago. From the indigenous Polynesian culture, to the influence of various immigrant groups over the past two centuries, to the more-modern advantages of being at the crossroads of the United States and Asia: Hawai’i is brimming full of art, music, and dance from all over the Pacific.
O’ahu is unquestionably the arts capital of the 50th state. With nearly a million residents, it’s a destination for artists looking to emerge, and the blend of traditional styles with the vitality of urban street art is uniquely exciting.
The Hipsters of Honolulu
Kaka’ako used to be an overlooked section of town filled with warehouses and auto-repair shops. In recent years it has popped to life with trendy eateries and drinking spots, street festivals, and “Pow! Wow! Hawaii,” an annual gathering of the best street artists from Hawai’i, Japan, and beyond, who convene here to create amazing murals on those formerly drab industrial walls. You can see the murals year-round, but if you happen to be here in January, come down in the evening to soak in the intensively creative community vibe.
The Dark Arts
It’s not lost on arts organizers that people need something to do when it’s too dark to surf. Hence ARTafterDARK, a rollicking introduction to Hawai’i’s most important art museum, the Honolulu Museum of Art. The last Friday of every month, get your art served with a side of party: The museum stays open late, bands perform, food is served, and the gallery is open for viewing.
Maui is home to a lot of artists, as the galleries lining Lahaina’s Front Street make amply clear. An evening stroll may tempt you to take home a vision of Hawai’i to hang over your mantel at home. But the story of Maui arts goes much deeper.
When you hear folks on Maui refer to “the MACC,” they don’t mean a burger or a laptop. They’re talking about the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, a world-class multidisciplinary arts center that recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Located in Kahului, the MACC is the place to see everything from musical theater to stand-up comedy to traditional hula. Coming up in October is the 10th annual Maui ’Ukulele Festival.
Up with Art
Artists of all stripes have been drawn upcountry, to the cooler temperatures, slower pace, and decidedly rural vibe to be found on the flanks of Haleakalä. A drive upcountry—in addition to the pastoral views, a lavender farm, a winery, and the occasional rodeo—rewards you with a range of appealing art galleries and boutiques. Don’t miss the little town of Makawao, once primarily a cattle town, more recently named one of the top 25 arts destinations in the United States.
On the Hawai’i Island, you are closer to the geological origins of the Hawaiian Islands than anywhere else—at the Kīlauea volcano, new land is literally being formed beneath your feet. This island also brings you closer to the Hawaiian culture, with many practitioners, artists, and cultural experts calling the island home. Just look, and you’ll discover the entire history of a culture here.
Ipu & Pū'ili
Hula kahiko, the more traditional form of hula that stays true to the dance’s origins prior to contact with Western culture, is practiced all over the Hawai’i Island. The annual Merrie Monarch Festival, in April, takes over the town of Hilo and then some. It is the star on the hula calendar. But you can see hula kahiko year-round at smaller festivals, luaus, and impromptu performances.
As immigrants from Portugal streamed into Hawai’i to work the fields, they brought with them guitars and the instruments that evolved into the ’ukulele. A unique style of finger picking called “slack key” emerged, which, in combination with steel guitar, gives us the lovely, lilting sound we associate with Hawaiian music today. In September, you’ll have a great opportunity to listen to some of the best practitioners of the form at the Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar festival in Kona.
Kaua‘i is the oldest of the major islands, and its history runs deep. From an unexpected Russian fort on the west side to Hanalei’s Waioli Mission House, there’s a lot to explore once your eyes adjust to the natural splendor.
Hawaiian storytelling on Monday mornings. Hula classes on Wednesdays. An intro to traditional coconut-frond weaving on Saturday. And every day of the week but Sunday you’ll find a lovely collection of historical artifacts and exhibits that tells the story of the Garden Isle. Centrally located in Līhu‘e, the Kaua’i Museum provides context for your visit—and a pleasant break from the sun.
On the lightly traveled west side, don’t miss the easy-to-miss town of Hanapepe. An art walk every Friday evening presents a lovely opportunity to grab a snack, hear some music, and view the creations of resident artisans. While you’re in the area, pay a visit to the salt ponds, where sea salt is harvested by a select group of Hawaiian families using a traditional method found nowhere else.
Photography by: Hawaii Tourism Authority(HTA) / Daeja FAris / Dana Edmunds / Max Wanger / Big island visitors Bureau (BIVB) / Lehua Waipa AhNee