A Guide to Honolulu's Surprising Art Scene

by  Karen Gardiner | Apr 14, 2014
Honolulu / okimo/iStock

Honolulu isn't all beaches and paper umbrella-adorned cocktails. There's a fresh and youthful creative movement happening in the city, too. Here's where to get a taste of it:

It was formerly known as Honolulu's red-light district, but downtown's Chinatown is now home to many of the city's best bars. In fact, several of them serve dual purposes as art galleries. The Manifest, on Hotel Street, opens at eight in the morning to take care of the morning coffee crowd, then morphs into a bustling bar that keeps going until 2 a.m. On top of drinks (and a Happy Hour that runs from 5 - 7 p.m.) there are regular art shows and live music nights. The ARTS at Marks Garage is one of the leading forces behind the creative revitalization of the Chinatown area. The ARTS is a community arts center that mentors young artists and hosts a full schedule of exhibits, performances, lectures, and film screenings. Many of their events are free. Ong King Arts Center, a small, out-of-the-way venue calls itself a "sustainable art community." Cost of admission to shows (which range from burlesque, to acrobatics, to open mic nights) depends upon what time you arrive and is free before 8 p.m.. Another $5 gets you all-you-can-drink kava.

On the first Friday of every month, galleries stay open late and present rotating art exhibits and performances for the First Friday Art Walk, a free self-guided gallery tour. First Fridays can get very busy and a little rowdy, so an alternative is to join in on Walkabout Wednesdays, which are less art-focused, but offer an affordable taste of the scene.

West of downtown and to the east of Waikiki, the Kaka'ako district has recently undergone a resurgence similar to that of Chinatown's. Creative businesses line Auahi Street, including Interisland Terminal, a contemporary art and design space, and ii gallery. POW! WOW! Hawaii is part of a global network of artists who organize gallery shows, lectures, concerts, and live art installations across the world. The collective hosts a weeklong event over Valentine's Day each year in the Kaka’ako district, bringing more than 100 international and local artists together to create murals and other forms of art. It also organizes other events and educational activities throughout the year.

Also held on the last Friday of every month, January through October, ARTafterDARK, at the Honolulu Museum of Art, is a themed event that includes food, live music, and activities tailored to that month's theme. This month's upcoming Les Nuits du Printemps, for example, includes pétanque lessons, a Champagne bar, and jazz by Pierre Grill.

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