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The former industrial district was once plagued by the indecipherable scribblings of graffiti taggers common in cities everywhere. But as more and more businesses, restaurants, breweries and galleries open, efforts continue to be made to make Kakaako art a destination for young entrepreneurs and the people that support them.
Those efforts include the murals now visible on dozens of storefronts. Many are multiple stories high, others the size of a doorway. All are vibrant and can be considered true works of art. Many are clearly inspired by the graffiti culture but possess an artistic sensibility that goes far beyond the haphazard and territorial spray paint tagging they’ve replaced.
Spearheading the movement is POW!WOW! Hawaii. It is a sort of collective of international artists, musicians, and educators. Each February, POW!WOW! Hawaii holds a week-long festival of gallery exhibitions, lectures, and entertainment.
The event brings in over 100 local, national and international artists each year. Live art installations involve collaboration between artists. The impact of the festival can be seen all over Kakaako. Small businesses like auto body shops and other industrial operations have opened their walls to artists, making almost every street in the area home to noteworthy installations.
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These are business not necessarily part of POW!WOW! However, many seem to understand that legitimately artistic murals on their property are far better than the visual nuisance of territorial “tagging” of street gangs and graffiti crews that blight neighborhoods the world over.
The success of POW!WOW! Hawaii has seen it grow exponentially in cities across the U.S. and become an international phenomenon with successful events in Taiwan, Japan, and Hong Kong. Artists from six continents have participated in the festival. Considering its remarkable success, it seems likely that the festival will continue to grow and attract the most respected “graffiti” artists.
Awareness of this change for the better in Kakaako now sees, on any given day or evening, clusters of sightseers meandering the streets with selfie sticks. And while these installations impart a sense of stability and permanence, many will be painted over when POW!WOW! rolls around again in 2019. The only real permanence for the installations will be in the countless photographs of them taken by art lovers.
Certainly, one reason for the success of the festival is the number of other things to experience in Kakaako. The sheer number of breweries, restaurants, coffee shops and galleries offer a variety of other things to do during a stroll through the neighborhood.
So if you’re planning to take in the dozens of large murals around Kakaako, remember to bring your camera and an appetite. Kakaako, between historic Downtown Honolulu and Waikiki, is easily reachable by car, bus, and Biki. For those inclined, it’s about a two-mile walk from Waikiki Beach and its hotels.