Artspace Hawaii


Funding Received: 2011
Honolulu, HI
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
February 22, 2012

The PA‘I Foundation, whose mission is to preserve and perpetuate Hawaiian cultural tradition for future generations, is partnering with Artspace Projects to create a mixed-use arts facility in Honolulu. The 10,000-square-foot project will provide affordable housing for artists and their families, and serve the broader Hawaiian community by developing a traditional Hawaiian cultural center with classroom space, space for teaching and performing Hula, music and other traditional practices, as well as space for artistic and cultural activities and organizations that reflect other traditions.

Artspace Regional Director Cathryn Vandenbrink answers questions about the challenges and successes of the community-led, arts-driven Honolulu project.

ARTPLACE: As you reflect on your work to date, what unexpected challenges have you encountered? 

CATHRYN: As a state with a huge tourist economy that is spread across many islands, Hawai‘i functions very differently from any other place where we have worked. Artists – especially Native artists – must compete with wealthy tourists for living and working spaces.

Competition for Hawai‘i’s limited housing resources, given the very high need for affordable housing in the state, is a challenge as we work to fund the project. And the cost of working in Hawai‘i in terms of travel time, materials, labor and many other factors, increases overall project costs.

ARTPLACE: Have you had any happy surprises in your work to date?

CATHRYN: Site selection was not as difficult as we had thought it might be. We had several great choices where a project like this would have tremendous community impact. Ultimately, we decided on the Block 40 site in the Kaka’ako neighborhood of Honolulu.

The exclusive agreement – approved by the Hawai‘i Community Development Authority – in which the 30,000-square-foot site will be leased to Artspace for 65 years at $1 per year, sets the foundation for creating enduring, affordable spaces for artists and arts organizations.

ARTPLACE: Are there things you’ve learned in your work that others in the creative placemaking field can learn from?

CATHRYN: Our work in Honolulu – along with other communities where we are working with a high proportion of culturally marginalized residents, including East Harlem, New Orleans, Minot, Pine Ridge and Taos – has underscored the important lesson that we need to let the community lead us into better understanding of what art and culture means to a specific population and place. The decision to include a Native Hawaiian cultural center as part of the project was a direct result of this process.

Photo: PAIBoardMeeting