New First Friday Brings Major Arts and Music Mojo Back to Chinatown

Come celebrate 15 years of First Friday in Honolulu’s only historical cultural arts district (aka the oldest Chinatown in the U.S.). Headliners include fashion designers, local and Maoli artists, live music, burlesque, art installations, a movie premiere and a Dia de los Muertos sugar mask pop-up.
First Friday


First there was First Friday. Then it got old, mostly because big drinkers gradually began to outnumber the less inebriated. Then there was a second First Friday. It had its day. Now, for its 15th anniversary, the always-good idea has received an infusion of new energy, relaunching Nov. 2 with a 40-plus lineup of “local place-makers, entrepreneurs and artists,” says Lala Nuss of AXIS, a local arts and culture collective recently formed to put Chinatown back on the map in a good way.


One thing First Friday always seemed to need was events inside to provide a respite from the outdoor stimulation (and weather). This year’s iteration has several of note, in addition to the traditional block party.


First, life returns to the old Indigo restaurant, now a Hawai‘i Theatre Center culture hub known as Pantheon Contemporary, which will host THE ENTERPRISE, an experiential pop-up featuring Chinatown creatives. Look for visuals by Alec Singer, sounds by Gnaraly, DJ Bradley, DJ Delve, The Common Dandies, Frntbznzz, Central Pacific Time, Nick Kurosawa and Ara Laylo. You can expect good vibrations and libations there from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m.


First Friday


Then there’s the 7 p.m. premiere of Last Taxi Dance at the Hawaii Theatre Center, which includes the must-buzzed-about short about WWII Chinatown’s taxi dancers, an onstage discussion and an afterparty at Bethel Union.


SEE ALSO: Film Review: Last Taxi Dance Swings, Connects and Frightens at the Same Time


AXIS itself will partner with a national artist advocacy group, For Freedoms, that revives vacant spaces in historic places. Maoli artists Cory Taum and Imaikalani Kalahele will launch a visual installation at the old Nikki’s Arcade at 31 N. Hotel St.


Neighborhood mainstay The ARTS at Marks Garage will pop the top on For the Sake of Art, a group exhibition featuring Albert “Hardkoa” Weight, Brook Parker, Barry Napolean, Sonya Hoffermeister and Nadia Fairlamb.


Meanwhile, on the outskirts of the action, there’s an evening of art and music at HiSAM (the Hawai‘i State Art Museum), whose Mori by Art + Flea gallery will showcase a fashion show by local designers Matt Bruening and Rumi Murakami, while sonic adventurers Aly Ishikuni-Sasaki and Brandon Udani of Alt/Air are returning from a hiatus to collaborate with SPELLS, the underground music and visual art collective fronted by Ken Selders, Kevin Senada and Joe Pa‘ahana.


And then there’s the block party.


You can enjoy live music by Mike Izon, live mural painting by Marina Staubus Art, live performances including Rikita Turner and “The World’s Smallest Burlesque Show,” and, not least, El Dia de los Muertos Sugar Mask Street Pop-Up with giant traditional sugar masks handcrafted by Chinatown Artist Sergio Garzon.


First Friday


Maps and wayfinding stations will be available throughout the neighborhood. Times may vary at locations, but the plan, anyway, looks like this:


  • 5 to 10 p.m. Boutique and restaurant specials, art shows and performances

  • 7 p.m. Last Taxi Dance premiere at the Hawai‘i Theatre Center

  • 8 p.m. to midnight. Hotel Street block party (live music, street art, beer/wine bar)

  • 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Clubs, bars, late-night dance venues (DJs, live music, performances)


Check the official First Friday Hawai‘i website for specific event details and consult this handy map:

First Friday Map

First Friday Map