Mele Murals is a youth development, arts education, cultural preservation, and community-building project. Local artists, youth, and other members of communities spanning the eight major islands of Hawai`i create a series of large-scale outdoor murals focusing on Hawaiian lyrics (mele) that explore mo`olelo `aina (stories of place) and cultural and historical heritage.
Goals of Mele Murals
Our work honors the last commands of our King David Kalakaua, “Look to the keiki, teach them, groom them, show them wonder, and inspire them.” Mele Murals affords a platform to teach young people to become storytellers, painters, and community leaders.
The program’s goals are to:
• Create an all-islands public art project that is artistically excellent, deeply connected to the history of Hawai‘i, and a source of pride.
• Build and sustain an Art in Public movement across the island chain.
• Beautify the islands with professional works of art.
• Develop arts-interested youth into visual storytellers by educating them on local history, showing them how to connect to ancestors, and developing their artistic skills.
• Provide opportunities for youth to explore Hawaiian oral storytelling tradition, to learn how to read kaona, and to preserve Hawaiian values
• Educate about Hawaii’s cultural heritage.
• Teach public art techniques that are not taught in conventional arts classes.
• Increase cross-generation and cross-island engagement by creating new and exciting opportunities for all generations to learn and share mele and stories.
• Develop leadership, organizing, and public speaking skills.
• Enhance student creative and critical thinking skills through the mural arts process and support for arts educators and teaching artists.
• Increase social connection among youth artists by developing and supporting a network of youth mural clubs across the islands and connecting these clubs to area cultural workers.
• Use a broad set of media tools to share the stories of the mele with a broad, global audience, highlighting important artistic, cultural, and historical themes.
Each of the murals will follow a process that includes the following:
• Arts-interested youth, potential advisors, and organizations are identified and encouraged to participate.
• Teams of community leaders, artists, students, and musicians are assembled.
• Youth form a Halau Paheona (mural club) at their school or community center, and begin organizing their mural.
• Haumana (students) participate in online art assignments on edmodo.com.
• Students with support from the Estria Foundation team secure a permissioned wall and gather community support.
• Cultural practitioners ground and ask the land and ancestors what should be painted.
• Instructors from Papaku no Kameha‘ikana teach the youth how to write and say an oli (chant) about the subject matter.
• An advisory group of Hawaiian music experts, and cultural practitioners help to pair lyrics to the subject matter.
• Workshops are held on the song’s history, on how the mele relates to the place, and on the muralism process.
• Haumana ground and receive ideas for the mural.
• A sketch of the mural is developed by team of artists based on the workshop dialogue and incorporating some of the lyrics.
• The team grounds and asks if the sketch is pono (just, proper) before painting.
• The mural location and team are blessed by a kahu.
• The mural is painted by artists together with youth.
• The mural is unveiled at a community celebration.
• Youth muralists who have completed murals become Mele Murals docents and stewards, and mentors to future youth muralists.
• The entire process is documented through photography, film, social media, and published materials.
• Surveys are taken and reviewed to gauge program’s success. Changes are incorporated to improve effectiveness.
• The completed Mele Murals series provides opportunities for ongoing education, cultural tourism, and community development.
In addition, TEF will provide annual Orientations and Conferences. Orientations are 2-day intensive trainings on how to do a mural and is offered to newly formed Halau Paheona. Conferences are 3-days culminating in a day-long youth team battle. Halau Paheona across all the islands will meet and network, and receive advanced training from leaders in the field. At this time convenings, panel discussions, art shows and other events are being considered as well.
Based on a Proven Model
Mele Murals builds upon the tradition of many public art, youth development, art education, and community development programs that have been successful around the U.S. and internationally, including The Estria Foundation’s international Water Writes series focusing on critical water issues in 10 cities around the globe, and the Love Letter series in Philadelphia. However, an Art in Public project of this scope, with these goals and this number of partners, across islands separated by water, and incorporating ancient Hawaiian protocols is unprecedented.
The Mele Murals workshop process builds lasting relationships by bringing together people whose paths might otherwise never have crossed and empowers voices that may not have been heard before. The project joins diverse community members and the finished mural celebrates their collective creative force. Neighborhood murals transform the visual landscape and remain a living part of the community long after the project is completed. The content of Mele Murals is a visual depiction of community input and dialogue from the workshops. Mele Murals participants become stewards of the artwork and what it represents. Youth participants develop skills in the artform through a safe opportunity for creativity and self-expression with an authentic audience, cultivating confidence as another generation of artists emerge across our island communities.
Murals and Hawaiian Music
Murals are transformative, instantly adding color, beauty, and life to public spaces. Muralism changes lives and strengthens the fabric of a community as people are enabled to explore their artistic voice and beautify their own neighborhoods. The muralism process also passes along local culture and tradition, and develops new leaders. When completed with community and historical content, murals become local monuments and a source of community pride.
Hawaiian music is honest. It celebrates connection to the land, chronicles traditions and stories, and binds Hawaii’s people together with the past and the future. During the workshops Mele Murals explores the meaning and kaona (hidden meaning) of songs and chants in the context of past and present community issues. The murals shares these stories and stimulates dialogue among generations of Hawaii residents and visitors.
Local artists will lead and mentor the Halau Paheona. Mele Murals involves youth from local programs and schools, including Hawaiian-focused charter schools. Youth are involved in every step of the mural-making process, from securing a wall to collaborating on a design, to creating the mural and celebrating its completion.
Musicians, community leaders, and cultural practitioners meet with youth and share the importance and meaning of the songs and chants. A team of artists translates concepts generated in the workshop into a mural sketch.
Connection and Sharing
The communities will be connected online to share insight and guide each other through the community-building and creative processes. As youth become more proficient in muralism, they will teach their new recruits. Mele Murals will include events honoring and featuring the work of the Mele Murals communities.
‘Oiwi TV will be filming every mural, and sharing these videos through their cable channel and website.
Acclaimed documenter, Tad Nakamura, will produce a feature length film. We will promote and share the mural-making process and stories in the murals with people around the world through film festivals and special screenings.
We are currently seeking partners to create children’s books and an adult coffee table book.
We are seeking support in every form at this time. We need financial support, as well as introductions to art educators, high schools, youth organizations, cultural practitioners, and corporate sponsors on all the islands.
To see our Mele Murals archive of projects, click on the city below!
– Honolulu, Mele Murals Pilot program
– Waimea, Big Island Hawai‘i
– Kona, Big Island Hawai‘i
– Keauhou, Big Island Hawai‘i
– Hilo, Big Island Hawai‘i
– Honolulu, Nu‘uanu, Oahu