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Jan 29, 2018

In the Paint with Pow! Wow!'s Jasper Wong

Impact (Pow!). Reaction (Wow!). These two underlying themes define Honolulu's world-famous week-long art event in February, which brings together international artists to create larger-than-life murals on buildings throughout Honolulu.

Pow! Wow! Founder and Lead Director Jasper Wong launched the public, graffiti-art showcase in 2011. Since then, it's spread through progressive communities around the world, with Pow! Wow! festivals in Taiwan, Long Beach, Israel, Singapore, Jamaica, New Zealand, and Germany. This year, the eighth-annual Pow! Wow! Hawai'i festival returns to Honolulu. New, awe-inspiring installations on Ward Village buildings will feature local artist Kris Goto, and several other internationally renowned muralists. Recently, we caught up with Jasper to discuss the upcoming exhibit and get his thoughts on this milestone year.

POW! WOW! Hawaii is coming up on eight years. What's new this year? How do you keep reinventing the annual festival with such success?

Everything is new, but everything is also very much the same. The structure of the festival will basically be akin to past years with exhibitions, block parties, and talks. But, there will be all new artists painting murals across the landscape of Kaka'ako and Honolulu. We have secured new walls for 2018, so you'll see a bit more color when you travel around the neighborhood. We did 10 festivals in 2017, and those experiences inform each new year as we continue to expand globally.

Have you seen a change in public perception toward street art over the last eight years? Does the local community see Pow! Wow! Hawaii as a champion of art, or as a nuisance and an eyesore?

It's always been a struggle and it still is today. There are a lot of misconceptions about public art and street art. A lot of property owners still see it as a force that negatively impacts them. They fully believe that it will bring crime and drugs to their front door. It is completely unfounded and the opposite is true. You see the positive effects first hand when you enter Kaka'ako. Every block is filled with people searching for murals and taking photos. That didn't exist before we came along. The foot traffic makes it safer and improves business for shops and restaurants in the area.

Even with the current popularity of Pow! Wow! Hawaii, do you still encounter negative stigmas and stereotypes based on the style of the art and its public nature?

Yes. Absolutely. It takes time to change people's hearts and minds. It slowly gets better with each year. We also have a lot of practice now, because we do so many festivals around the globe and have learned to work with so many different cultures.

Are there any artists that you're really looking forward to working with during POW! WOW! Hawaii 2018?

It's so hard to say because I love all of them. I can say that Tokidoki is doing her first mural ever during Pow! Wow! Hawaii. Also, artists like Daniel Arsham, Faile, and Sandra Chevrier are creative forces that we've been trying to involve in Pow! Wow! for years. They are finally coming on board for 2018. I can't wait to see what sculptors like Laurence Vallieres, Icy and Sot, and Sean Chao pull from their sleeves. It goes on and on.

This year will feature installations in Ward Village. Can you discuss the artists that will be featured?

The artists that will be featured at Ward Village include rising local star Kris Goto—she will be doing a new mural at South Shore Market—and internationally renowned Spanish artist Dulk. He is incredibly talented and a wonderful human being—one of the best in the industry now. We also have SixCoin from South Korea, who is one of the best-known artists in that region. We're hoping Kevin Lyons can join in as well. He is a living legend.

Any plans or predictions for Pow! Wow! Hawaii looking ahead to the ninth and tenth anniversaries?

Right now, I'm still focused on the eighth one and all of our projects in 2018. We're expanding to Manila, San Francisco, Rotterdam, Cleveland, and other cities. It's going to be a busy year.

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