In anticipation of our upcoming new location in Hawaii, Jasper Wong takes us on a tour of the coolest neighborhood in Honolulu, where more than 60 murals light up the streets. Get to know the man that is bringing art to the forefront in Oahu and what it means for the growing community.
Jasper is the director and founder of POW!WOW!HAWAII, a global collective of artists and friends doing big things in the arts community of Honolulu, Hawaii. Centered around an annual cultural gathering in the up-an-coming neighborhood of Kaka’ako, POW!WOW!HAWAII seems to be able to put together just about everything, from gallery shows and lecture series to mural projects, education, and shared artist spaces.
What does POW!WOW!HAWAII mean?
The name originally came from comic books — POW! is the impact that art has on a viewer, sort of like a punch in the face, and WOW! is the viewer’s reaction to the work. At the same time, POW!WOW! together is a term that means a gathering to celebrate art, music and culture. It’s the perfect word for exactly what we’re doing.
How did it all begin?
When I was in college—I graduated with an illustration degree in San Francisco—I wanted to learn how to get my ideas into physical form. I went to Hong Kong for a few years to try and learn that, and to actually make things. When I was living there I still wanted to do art exhibitions, not just create products. Galleries wouldn’t give me the time of day, so I ended up starting my own gallery there. The very first POW!WOW! was at that space. We brought in five artists and just painted together. I wanted to open up that process to everyone, so we had an open-door, open-studio policy.
How did you turn a small open studio into a such a respected event?
We wanted to continue with these small artist gatherings, but weren’t sure where. It could be in Berlin, Singapore, Beijing... it could be anywhere. I decided to take it back home to Hawaii. At our first POW!WOW! here with 12 artists, it was really well received, so we just tried it again and again. We went from painting one mural to painting the whole neighborhood, and this year we had 120 artists painting over 60 murals in just a week! Next, we wanted to try to expand it beyond Hawaii. We just did Taiwan, and are now working on Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Washington DC, Long beach, Austin, Israel... all over the place!
Can you tell us about your educational programs?
We started two schools: a music school and art school for kids that are both free. We’re just trying to fill in the gaps of the public system here in Hawaii. The kids are all from different schools, so we try to get them all to work together.
So the kids collaborate on projects together?
Yeah, absolutely. The connections they make are really the most important part. For example, in the music school, we get them to compose and write a song every year during the week of POW!WOW!HAWAII to play live at the finale. They are split up into bands and have to work together to create something to play. We just throw them right in there and they have to get over their fears right away!
What is Lana Lane Studios?
Lana Lane Studios was started a few years ago between Jeffrey Gress and myself. He was really essential in getting everything operating and sustainable—he deserves most of the credit for this coming together! It’s a warehouse that we’ve split into smaller studio spaces. Each resident has the freedom to do whatever they want to do to their space to make it their own. There is a variety of artists here, ranging from textile artists to designers to painters to screenprinters. There’s a music studio, videographers–over 20 residents total. It’s also a place for everyone to come together and collaborate. There’s a lot of shared space and we really encourage working together and creating projects together. It’s the only one of its kind here in Hawaii.
Creative freedom seems to be important to you, both here at Lana Lane and when creating the murals that are all over the neighborhood.
Yeah, we definitely don’t art direct or creatively dictate anything that the artists do. Except that it has to be family friendly, since the murals are in public spaces! We mostly just want to create the space and open the doors for artists to collaborate and work together, in whatever form that might take. We keep it creatively free, but we do give a cultural tour to visiting artists in hopes that the lessons learned from Hawaii will inspire the work in some way.
The people you’re bringing in to create murals for POW!WOW!HAWAII are coming from all over the world.
Yeah, they typically may not have the chance to work together or get to know each other. They come from South Africa, Cambodia, Australia, all over the states, everywhere. It’s a big mix of people!
You’re an artist yourself. Why is it so important to you to support other artists?
In the beginning, POW!WOW! was just an excuse to hang out with all my friends. But it’s really important to connect with everybody. Being an artist myself means I know what it takes and I know what these people need to make things happen. We all learn from each other and it’s growing the community as a whole—not just in Hawaii, but globally. We have a network and community of people that span the globe and that’s a beautiful thing.