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In less than a week, 100 artists will congregate in Honolulu to spend seven days painting murals, holding lectures, playing shows, screening films, and breathing creative life into the streets of the Hawaiian capital. StreetArtNews talks POW! WOW! 2014 with Jasper Wong as he drives around the city on a last minute effort to secure more walls for the artists to paint. And while hanging out with international street art rockstars gets everyone excited, Jasper is quick to remind us that POW! WOW! remains committed to its goal of educating, beautifying and connecting communities through art and music.

Alexandra Henry: What you do think some of the highlights of POW! WOW! 2014 will be?

Jasper Wong: Oh man, there are a bunch of things. There are some artists coming who don’t normally paint murals, guys like Wayne White. And just having people like Ron English come because it will be the first time he’s ever done a mural in Hawaii. Recently actually this is new news that no one really knows about, but we’re psyched to confirm that a good chunk of this other crew is coming in to do an exhibition and some walls, including guys like Eclipse in collaboration with RVCA, who is one of our title sponsors.
There are just a ton of people flying in. So from Russia, Casper is screening his film for the first time during POW! WOW! To lectures, Martha Cooper coming to photograph. Just all these people, probably 100 something or more than that involved. All under the same umbrella. You know other events like Basel there are many different things going on run by different people and sponsors but here it’s just us and logistically it becomes difficult to take care of everyone but we always have fun!

Alexandra Henry: How do you decide who will collaborate with who?

Jasper Wong: I try not to creatively dictate or art direct anyone. Normally what we’ve done in the past is get everyone together and I wound’t even assign walls until the artists got here and then we’d have this huge wall tour, where we’d have a 100 + artists walking around the neighborhood looking at different walls. Then after that they all come me and I work out the walls from there. But it tends to be pretty annoying doing it that way because we cause a lot of traffic and we end up being this crazy parade of people, you know? It’s insane.
So this year I’ve been trying to sort it out before they even come. And what happens is that people will choose similar walls and I will get them to work together. So far it’s worked out pretty well. So people like Roid and Insa are collaborating on a mural and Brendon Monroe and Glenn Bar are collaborating on a mural, so it’s like people who have never collaborated before are doing stuff together for the first time in Hawaii. Basque and Meggs are doing something together also. It takes along a time to get everything sorted.

Alexandra Henry: I am actually working on a documentary series about women street artists creating in North & South America, so I am curious to know what you feel women contribute to the community.

Jasper Wong: There was one point during a past POW! WOW! where we didn’t have enough women and so I now make it a point to keep it as balanced as possible. That’s not too difficult because there are a lot of amazing female artists. Like this year we have Tatiana Suarez, Lady Aiko, locals like Roxanne Ortiz. There are bunch of women, the list is way too long to memorize actually. And we have a lecture series and it’s almost all female with the exception of Wayne White and Jeff Hamada. And then for next year, I’ve talked to Miss Van and Fafi and Sheriko about coming over.
These are some of my favorites artists that I’ve been inspired by even before POW! WOW!. Women artists just bring some much needed balance because sometimes if you have a house full of guys it’s not the most easiest thing. In terms of media, there are a lot of females who fly in to participate from Complex, HypeBeast, Juxtapoz to cover the festival. Oh and Olek is coming here next year as well.

Alexandra Henry: Can you talk about POW! WOW!’s impact on the community?

Jasper Wong: We definitely see more positive then negative. One thing that it’s done is activate this neighborhood. We came to this area in Honolulu called Kaka’ako, a small area in between two districts that tends to be a forgotten area because people don’t spend so much time here unless they have to go to a particular shop. And so now it’s become a district where people walk around to see the murals and the new businesses popping up.
The festival has made the area more lively and in a way it’s made it safer too because of the people traffic. Hawaii is a very pedestrian unfriendly city, everyone drives everywhere, so now people are walking around discovering all the little streets and murals. It triggers the public to find things and explore and see beyond what they would just by driving past the buildings.

Alexandra Henry: As for your local music and art outreach programs, can you tell us more?

Jasper Wong: Well we also have our music school and art school that are free for high school students. And other programs that we are setting up as we’re trying to be a creative center for young artists. We want to offer shared facilities and affordable rent for studio spaces so they can continue to create and collaborate with other artists. We do a lot of community work.
We just recently launched a skate park which will open in March. Trying to better the neighborhood through art basically. The thing about Hawaii is that the government keeps cutting the budgets for art and music programs in public schools. So we try to fill that gap by providing free art and music school. The art school is year-round and how it operates is by getting students interested through street art and through graffiti because that’s more of what they’re in tune with.
Based on the clothes they wear and the music they listen to they are more connected to street art then they would be to say renaissance or still life. So once we get them interested in the program we can segue into more traditional art like color theory, composition and typography. They have to learn all these skills in order to paint their own murals and paint their own stories. As of now the kids have now created murals all over Hawaii, about 30 of them in total. The music school operates similarly where we get them interest and then they are split up into two bands and have to write and compose their own songs. During that process we introduce them to djs, producers, singers , guitarists, etc. And then they tell their story and try to inspire the students to pursue music as a career. Then they have to play live at our finale party in front of roughly 8,000 people.
We just kind of throw them into the water and hopefully they swim. But they are amazingly talented! We also do portfolio reviews for art students, and provide these resources to the community in hopes of helping the future. Educating, beautifying and connecting people are the three things we try to do.

Alexandra Henry: What does the future hold for POW! WOW!?

JW: We want to focus more on incorporating music into the festival, as we teach kids music but we also want to keep the art side strong. Additionally we are doing festivals in a lot of different places across the world. This year for example, we are doing one in Taiwan, one in Israel and one in Portland. And we are working on ones in Alaska, Detroit, DC, Jamaica.

Heads up, POW! WOW! may be coming to a city near you!

Rom Levy

About Rom Levy

Rom is the founder & editor in chief of StreetArtNews. In 2009, he launched the ‘StreetArtNews’ website to promote underground art, which widened his scope to work with a larger roster of street artists on events and exhibitions. He is noted as one of the latest figures to help popularize street art and as an authority on the latest trends in urban contemporary art.