Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

InsightForty different community-based projects, most intended to either perpetuate the Hawaiian Islands’ host culture or preserve the destination’s natural resources, were awarded more than $1.6 million in funding for 2013 by the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) last month.

The range of natural resource-focused community efforts includes programs like safeguarding endangered Hawaiian green sea turtles at Maui’s Hookipa Beach Park and revitalizing threatened native plant ecosystems in the forests of Waimea Valley on Kauai to restoring ancient Hawaiian fishponds on the island of Molokai.

ShaneNelsonAnd cultural projects — including initiatives such as native Hawaiian arts festivals, exhibits and markets along with programs focused on storytelling, hula and music or even a traveling educational exhibition about the difficult history of the Kalaupapa leprosy colony — also received HTA funding through the organization’s Kukula Ola: Living Hawaiian Culture program.

“The money we get from tourism should be put back into Hawaii as a destination,” said Kelii Wilson, the HTA’s director of Hawaiian cultural affairs, adding that the projects were awarded funding through a public application process.

“One of our main goals is to make Hawaii a good place to live for residents,” she continued. “We want to support what the community wants to do, [and] when we do that, it actually creates experiences that visitors want, as well.”

Wilson noted that many of the natural resource community projects are focused in areas frequented by visitors, such as parks, hiking trails and state beaches or marine preserves, while the cultural initiatives often include public events not only popular among Hawaii residents but also a growing number of visitors to the state.

“We have so many repeat visitors, and from our research we’ve seen that they’re very much interested in what makes Hawaii unique: the natural environment, the host culture, our hospitality,” Wilson explained. “And through these programs, we help to cultivate these types of experiences, and it’s also really supporting what the community wants.”

An excellent example is the annual Maoli Arts Month, or MAMo, which includes a variety of gallery events and performances featuring native Hawaiian artists and practitioners on both Oahu and the Big Island of Hawaii. Now in its eighth year, MAMo will hold its annual Wearable Art Show, featuring tattoo artwork and a range of contemporary fashions and clothing inspired by traditional Hawaiian practices, at downtown Honolulu’s Hawaii Theatre May 22.

Last week, MAMo honored long-celebrated native Hawaiian artist Maile Andrade at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, opening a retrospective of the artist’s work covering the past 30 years, which includes weaving; works made in kapa, or traditionally pounded tree bark; and works in aluminum and glass. Titled “Ike Loloa: A Long Insightful Journey,” the show runs through Oct. 7.

Visitors are also welcome May 25 and 26 at the annual Native Hawaiian Arts Market on the grounds at the Bishop Museum.

“Many of the native Hawaiian artists will be there, so you can buy art right from them, or talk with them,” said Vicky Holt Takamine, executive director of the Pai Foundation, which helps organize MAMo each year. “It’s an opportunity to not only purchase art, but some of the artists will be doing demonstrations, as well.”

According to Takamine, the HTA’s funding for MAMo has directly benefited many native Hawaiian artists financially, helping promote and market their work to a far larger audience of both residents and visitors while dispelling common misconceptions.

“A lot of people think of Hawaiian art as just weaving and traditional cultural practices,” she explained. “But it has really grown into a more contemporary art that is inspired by our traditions, [and] there is a root there that comes from the Islands and is inspired by our ancestors and is full of a deep understanding of our land [but] it doesn’t have to stay in the past. This is art that has evolved as we grow into a new society, but we always carry those roots with us.”

For Wilson, MAMo is just one of many events the HTA helps to fund throughout the year that travelers may encounter by accident but often leave long-lasting impressions.

“Some of these smaller community programs are things people don’t necessarily plan their trips around,” she said. “But visitors stumble on these unique little happenings, and they become memories from their visit they get really excited to talk about after they get home.”

Agents looking to help clients stumble across some of these HTA-funded community project events can nudge folks in the right direction with the statewide arts and culture events calendar at the Hawaii Visitors and Conventions Bureau’s site.

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