Hawaii is a beautiful place, that much goes without saying, but much of Hawaii’s beauty is focused on its natural landscapes, not its thriving art scene. This is a true shame because Hawaii has two important facets that make for an interesting and radical art scene: a native population with its own artistic history and infrastructure put in place to help the art scene thrive.
There are plenty of programs used to promote and advertise Hawaii’s art scene, but one of the biggest and most exciting is the POW! WOW! Art Festival in the Kaka’ako district of Honolulu. This area, traditionally a place of royal significance, is an industrial and cultural hub for Hawaii’s capital and is the perfect launching point for this diverse and amazing festival.
On the surface, POW! WOW! is not dissimilar to many other street art festivals that take place around the world. It has a series of activities in which people can partake, including lectures and concerts, and it attracts some of the world’s most up-and-coming muralists and street artists. But what sets POW! WOW! apart is its diversity.
Being an island state in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is unique to much of the world in that it’s a true mosaic. Cultures and cultural influences are all around you when you walk through Honolulu, especially when it comes to other Pacific islands. POW! WOW! celebrates this diversity with a heavy influence on artists from places like New Zealand, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and more.
POW! WOW! gets its name from the Indigenous American term for a gathering. The word itself is derived from the Narragansett word powwaw, which means “spiritual leader. Appropriately enough, the Narragansett are an Algonquin tribe traditionally from an island themselves: Rhode Island.
In many ways, POW! WOW! is about gathering people together, which is why there is such a heavy focus on events and diversity. At any time during the festival, there are talks happening in galleries and on the streets, and people can interact with artists and some of their art as part of the festival. And, of course, there’s plenty of entertainment as well. It’s also one of the few festivals in the Northern Hemisphere to take place during the winter, in the dead of February to be exact, which makes it an excellent retreat for people who want to see great art and get out of the cold.
What POW! WOW! represents for the street art community is two important things: the necessity of inclusion and the importance of discussion. With a focus on both, POW! WOW! is an important festival for showcasing numerous talents that may otherwise be considered “regional.” By giving a voice, and the chance to create, to a wide variety of artists, POW! WOW! is leading the charge in making great festivals that are by everyone and for everyone.