One night only
New media work kicks off full year of public art installations in Wailuku
Exciting discoveries have popped up in Wailuku in recent months and have created an arts-in-public-places scavenger hunt for art lovers or anyone who enjoys seeing something new in unexpected sites. Anticipation mounts as you drive through town and — there in front of you or off to your left or right — large colorful murals peek out from around corners or boldly stare at passersby.
People who live, work or drive through the town may remember paint cans and scaffolds strategically dotting the sidewalks and parking lots of businesses this past winter as rain-soaked artists worked away creating masterful murals on otherwise plain building sides or back walls. In what was a collaboration with PangeaSeed Foundation, “Artists for Oceans: Mauka to Makai” delivered bright, beautiful murals that now adorn underutilized building exteriors.
There was more method to the seemingly mad mural expressions than initially obvious — they were the beginning of a pilot project called “SMALL TOWN * BIG ART,” which plans to incorporate original art in unique public locales that will rejuvenate Wailuku Town and position it as “a public arts district that is focused on its distinctive sense of place, history and culture,” according to ST*BA website.
The influx of art into Wailuku stems from the revitalization project that began back in 2012 as a rebranding process for the town. People might remember when County of Maui’s Redevelopment Program Planner Erin Wade and Community Arts Specialist Kelly McHugh selected Eric Okdeh of the City of Philadephia Mural Arts Program to create the moving “Na Wai ‘Eha” mural at the corner of Main and Market Streets.
Fast-forward a few years and in August 2018, ST*BA project became one of 60 grant awardees (and the only one in the state of Hawaii) selected throughout the United States by the National Endowment for the Arts’ Our Town program. This program is the NEA’s “creative placemaking program” that supports a partnership of artists, arts organizations and local governments to work to revitalize neighborhoods. Wade and McHugh partnered with Sissy Lake-Farm of the Maui Historical Society to implement this arts program, which allows them until June 30, 2020 to fully administer.
“The arts is already one of Wailuku’s strongest industries, with many arts organizations, performance venues and working studios in the neighborhood,” asserted Wade. “With a little collaborative planning and strategic investment, we are simply enabling Wailuku’s creativity to spill out of the buildings and into the streets where the talents and opportunities of the community can be more visible.”
As McHugh attests, this project is not just art for art’s sake, but art meant to revjuvenate Wailuku Town.
“Public art is just one of many ways to help revitalize Wailuku,” explained McHugh. “By creating consistent, creative opportunity to come together to exchange stories of Wailuku with professional artists that are experienced in visual interpretation/translation, we bring life to these exchanges. That’s empowering for participants and inspiring to onlookers.
“Public art can lead to increased levels of community engagement and social cohesion, economic growth and opportunity, and — in Wailuku’s case — preservation and celebration of its multi-cultural history,” added McHugh.
To kick off the next phase of panel-selected public artwork installations, ST*BA will unveil Maui artist Andy Behrle’s (rhymes with curley) inspired new media work, “Lost and Found,” during the First Friday Town Party on Aug. 2. Thanks to Maui OnStage Executive Director N. Andrew Tony’s gracious offer, Behrle’s “recreated” stained glass window from Wailuku’s old St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church, which burned down in 1977, will be projected onto the Historic Iao Theater’s side wall facing Kipuka Square for one night only.
Behrle had just moved to Maui in December with his wife, Dr. Victoria Fox-Behrle (an internal medicine and pediatrics physician with Kaiser Permanente Maui Lani Medical Office), and their 5-year-old son after a brief stay on Hawaii Island. While there, he saw the call for artists notice from ST*BA. A professional artist who earned a Master’s Degree of Fine Arts in sculpture from Arizona State University, Behrle’s work has evolved from bronze casting to visual art installations.
Behrle had visited Maui in the past and was drawn to the historic churches in Wailuku. When responding to this open call for artists, he knew he wanted to create an artwork inspired by these places of worship. He also recognized the importance of water to the island community.
“I am interested in connecting nature and architecture to imagine how natural resources are tied to human use and what the ramifications of that interaction are,” noted Behrle. “Throughout the world, fresh water is diverted, captured and used for all sorts of purposes by humans. Control of the river has been a huge issue throughout Maui’s history, and to make an artwork for Wailuku and about Wailuku, [it] needs to be rooted in the water.
“The river is the greatest connection to Wailuku’s past, and I believe will prove to be the key to Wailuku’s future.”
Behrle’s plan was to reimagine a stained-glass window from the church with photo images he took of the Wailuku River incorporated as the individual colored panes.
With a plan firmly in mind, the execution proved a bit more challenging. Locating good images of the old church that showed the windows was nigh to impossible and becoming a hunt as elusive as finding an actual menehune. Many photos just haven’t held up through time.
So Behrle reached out to the community, and individuals came forward upon hearing about the project with anything they could find — even Mayor Michael Victorino and wife Jocelyn got involved in the search by sharing their wedding album, which contained photos of the church interior. Hale Ho’ike’ike at the Bailey House and Maui Historical Society volunteers combed their vast archives as well.
“The harder it proved to be to find images, the more and more interested I became,” admitted Behrle. “Through the search, I learned a great deal about the history of the parish and the circumstances surrounding the fire that consumed the building early in the morning of Nov. 1. Then I learned that St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost items, and it seemed predetermined.”
Six months of tenacious perseverance has produced a remarkable reimagining of a part of Maui’s history lost to the ravages of fire. Friday’s showing will not only provide a fitting testament to Behrle’s talents, but will kick off a new era in the revitalization efforts for Wailuku Town.
“Growing Wailuku’s art scene into an economic engine through SMALL TOWN * BIG ART invites authentic creative and cultural expression to power the revitalization process,” added Wade.
During the one-night-only projection, visitors can meet the artist and ask questions about his process thanks to Wailuku First Friday’s Lesley Cummings and Alan Takitani who have offered space for ST*BA to share information about its plans for upcoming public art installations.
McHugh excitedly announced the next visiting artist will be Canadian-born muralist Emmanuel Jarus who will be conducting a full-day photography and art workshop on Monday, Sept 30. Then, Jarus plans to paint with students and volunteers over the course of two weeks. More information about this appearance to come closer to the date.
“It is a great honor to have had my project chosen by SMALL TOWN * BIG ART,” concluded Behrle. “To be the first project … is the greatest ‘E komo mai’ [welcome] I could have imagined as a new resident and locally unknown artist.
“I hope [with this project] to reconnect the community to its past. When the church of St. Anthony was dedicated 100 years ago, it would have been unfathomable to imagine a Wailuku without it standing tall in the center of the community.
“But time passes, the forces of man and nature tumble buildings and social structures — and nature remains. Perhaps not unchanged, but water will continue to flow from the mountains toward the ocean. I hope we might see our presence to be fleeting, but our memories may continue on long after we are gone.”
For more information about SMALL TOWN * BIG ART, visit www.smalltownbig.org. To see more examples of Andy Behrle’s work, visit www.andybehrle.com.
* Catherine Kenar can be reached at email@example.com.