High-Resolution Evolution: From Pow! Wow! to Worldwide Walls
Big moves coming this year for Hawai’i’s beloved and larger-than-life mural and street art festival founded by Jasper Wong.
You know Pow! Wow! It’s impossible not to: The festival’s larger-than-life street art is a beloved feature of urban Honolulu, infusing sections of the city with vibrancy and color.
When Pow! Wow! first entered the scene in Kaka‘ako, there really wasn’t much of a scene to speak of. The area consisted primarily of industrial buildings and warehouses—a far cry from the art destination and ultra-desirable residential neighborhood it is today.
Ten years and a pandemic later, and Honolulu is, in many ways, a different city. Pow! Wow! itself hasn’t stayed stagnant either, adopting a new name—Worldwide Walls—and expanding to more than 20 cities around the world, from New York and Tokyo to Helsingborg, Sweden, and Taipei, Taiwan.
And while the murals are the most obvious, lasting impressions of each of those regional art festivals, Pow! Wow! has always been (and will continue to be, as Worldwide Walls), so much more. It’s about a global network of artists, art exhibitions, lecture series, schools for art and music, creative community spaces, concerts, live installations, and—perhaps most significantly—an opportunity to give back to the community, particularly in areas most in need of beautification, invigoration and community love.
In the past, that has meant beautification projects at public housing sites in Massachusetts, libraries in Long Beach, and schools for homeless children in Nepal. With art, after all, comes the potential for change. “After doing it for so long, I’ve seen the impact the art has on neighborhoods—on people—especially in public housing and places that are underserved,” says Pow! Wow! founder Jasper Wong. “These are the communities that need it the most.”
2023 marks a huge expansion for the program in a direction perfectly aligned with its core values. Look for signs of that in late May when Wong will change venues for the first time since Pow! Wow! Hawai‘i’s inception a decade ago, this time taking artists to Kalihi, where they’ll paint murals at the Pālama Settlement community center.
Wong says he’s taught art classes at the center and has seen firsthand the challenges some of the students face with accessibility and resources. A lot of the kids didn’t have internet service at home, and the vast majority didn’t have iPads on which to do the digital artwork he was teaching. Wong responded by working with local political figures to raise money to buy the students iPads. The experience highlighted for him just how deserving this slice of Honolulu is for some love, attention and art.
He hopes to expand to more venues in Kalihi by the time the festival rolls around, but is still working out the details. In the meantime, stay tuned for updates on this spring’s Worldwide Walls dates, locations and artists.
Says Wong: “We’ve seen firsthand the positive impact art can have on a community, on a neighborhood, how it pretty much changes the fabric of the community. It also feels safer, it gets foot traffic, it benefits the businesses. So we thought we should give back to communities that really need it.”