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Jasper Wong: Art in the Streets

A Hawaii-based muralist launched a creative festival that takes place in eight cities worldwide.

a mural by Risk and Sonny Boy, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Brandon Shigeta
Photo caption
Jasper Wong supports works that brighten buildings, like this mural by Risk and Sonny Boy.

Honolulu's industrial district, Kaka'ako, turns into a living art gallery for the week of Feb. 11 through 18, when 80 artists from around the globe paint bright works on building walls as bystanders watch. The action is the centerpiece of Pow! Wow!, a celebration founded by local artist Jasper Wong.

What happens at a Pow! Wow! festival?

Besides the creation of about 50 to 60 incredible murals, there are free talks, block parties, and a music and art school for kids. The kids write and compose their own songs, then play them live at an open house. In the art program, we teach kids about form, design, and typography.

Why the focus on kids?

It’s a way to broaden their horizons. Hawaii schools lack funding, so many have cut music and art programs. We try to fill the gap.

Where did the name Pow! Wow! come from?

It was inspired by comic books—like the onomatopoeia of being hit in the face. It’s impact and reaction.

But it also refers to American Indian powwows?

Yes, it’s their term to gather to celebrate culture. We want to bring people together to build connections.

How do murals do that?

We want to help beautify cities. You take an industrial neighborhood with buildings nobody notices. Put paint on them, and it gives them life. People start trying to find them, so it helps create more foot traffic for shops and restaurants. Pow! Wow! has now spread to Long Beach, Calif., Washington, D.C., and five other cities.

Why go see a mural being painted?

The process of creating art is often more interesting than the final art itself. There’s a beauty in the craftsmanship. It’s inspiring.

This article was first published in Winter 2017. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.