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‘Small Town, Big Stories’ celebrates community figures

Retired aquatic biologist Skippy Hau (from right) shares stories alongside Dean Tokishi and Sissy Lake-Farm during the April 1 premiere of the Small Town, Big Stories project at Wailuku Town’s Iao Theater. CHRIS SUGIDONO photos

The Maui News

More than 100 people gathered at the Historic ‘Iao Theater last week for the premiere of six animated film shorts that highlight the stories of 12 Maui community members.

The films were the latest initiative of Small Town Big Art, which pairs professional artists with community consultants to co-create public art that celebrates Wailuku town’s history, culture and sense of place, according to a news release.

For its first two requests for proposals, Small Town Big Art has sought artists to create new work inspired by Wailuku through excursions, consultations and hands-on workshops that were more difficult to carry out during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2021, Small Town Big Art artist Leilehua Yuen created a virtual storytelling series, a collective of students who recorded audio exchanges with kupuna who were handpicked by Maui Historical Society Executive Director Sissy Lake-Farm and others that agreed to participate.

Kumu Hula Gordean Bailey speaks during the April 1 premiere of the Small Town, Big Stories project at Wailuku Town’s ‘Iao Theater.

Partnering with StoryCorps DIY and Akaku Maui Community Media, Small Town Big Art made six excerpts from the talk story sessions the basis of its latest call to artists, searching for proposals to translate this pilot collection of stories into works of visual, performance or experiential art.

Over the course of four months, Richard O’Connor and his team of artists at Ace & Son Moving Picture Co. put together the six animated shorts that used audio sourced from 12 intergenerational members of the community — Kepa Maly, Lopaka White, Roselle Bailey, Anuhea Yagi, Skippy Hau, Dean Tokishi, Wallette Pellegrino, Kalapana Kollars, Clifford Nae’ole, Hokuao Pellegrino, Gordean Bailey and Lake-Farm.

During the April 1 premiere of the animations at the ‘Iao Theater, graduate students of Ball State University’s Center for Emerging Media Design, which is working with Small Town Big Art, also presented a new free tool to generate, capture and share new stories from the public

Still frames from O’Connor’s animations will be on view at Wailuku Coffee Company at 26 N. Market St. throughout April, with individual QR codes that link to the complete animations, which may also be found at smalltownbig.org/ace.

The Center for Emerging Media Design students remained on Maui through Wednesday and plan to release their final story-generating tool on May. Developing details may be found at smalltownbig.org/smalltownbigstories.

Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission’s Lopaka White speaks during the April 1 event.

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