New app connects visitors, locals with Hawaiian artists

Art World Escape a new app for Apple and Android devices connects Hawaii artists offering unique tours and experiences to visitors.
Art World Escape a new app for Apple and Android devices connects Hawaii artists offering unique tours and experiences to visitors.
Tovin Lapan
Tovin Lapan

Visitors to Hawaii now have a new tool for discovering art-focused experiences and connecting with the Aloha State's community of creatives.

Art World Escape is a new app available on Android and Apple devices that launched earlier in 2018. The founding team of artists and developers were searching for a better way to connect the art community with residents and tourists.

Paige Donnelly, co-founder and CEO of Art World Escape, previously worked as the curator at the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design in Honolulu.

"We started thinking about ways to help the local art community here, which in some ways struggles compared to other places around the world," Donnelly said. "There isn't so much of a natural market or collectors for artists, especially visual artists, here."

Art World Escape partners with a wide range of artists, musicians and other creative people on a series of tours and experiences. Jasper Wong, founder of the growing international public art festival, Pow! Wow!, offers walking tours of the Honolulu neighborhood of Kakaako, which is dotted with colorful murals and is where the festival is based.

Donnelly said she has always been more interested in the artistic process than the final product and wanted to channel that into the new venture.

"We had the idea that if we could plug the tourism economy into the art economy in a way that worked with the artists' creative process it would enhance the experience for everyone," Donnelly said. "It's a way to show the work as an experience rather than just the final product."

Artist Jan Dickey, who uses all natural paints after suffering a bout of formaldehyde poisoning earlier in his career, takes visitors on a hike in the Manoa Valley, where he collects flowers and plants that he boils down to extract their pigments and mixes with milk-based paint. Tour participants then get to add a brush stroke to a large collaborative painting that will eventually be put on exhibit. On Hawaii Island, sculptor and designer Daniel Rodriguez invites participants into his studio to serve as volunteers for the day to help work on his large sculptures and other creations.

"With something like Daniel's experience, it takes the burden off the artist of finding assistants and paying them, while people who are excited about art help for the day, and they get to learn from the artists, see their secrets and get to know the island in a new way from a local," Donnelly said.

Not all of the offerings are based on the traditional visual arts. There is a session on the Hawaii hip-hop scene, including a visit to a recording studio and a city tour by Hawaiian rap collective the Super Groupers. Jocelyn Kapumealani Ng offers a class on special-effects makeup and body paint. Art World Escape is also working on a kids series based on hip-hop, including dance and music classes.

"It offers visitors a way to be immersed in the city in a special way," Donnelly said, "Artists tend to be so sensitive when it comes to understanding of place and understanding of local social movements.  I do think some artists don't realize what they have to offer and how their perspective is unique, but the art communities can be hard to access sometimes."

Another goal of the group is to shake up the financial model for the area's artists. Galleries will take anywhere from 40% to 70% of an art sale, according to Donnelly, and many artists find it hard to make ends meets and earn enough to focus on their art full time. Art World Escape takes a 10% cut of booking for the tours.

Art World Escape is currently available on Oahu and the Island of Hawaii. In any given month there are roughly 20 to 40 different experiences, Donnelly said, and they are working with more than 20 artists.

"That number could quadruple if not more by the end of the year," she said.

Tours range from $17 to $170. The Manoa Valley tour with Jan Dickey is priced at $57 per person, and the hip-hop tour with Super Groupers costs $68 per person. 

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