West Maui’s charming town of Wailuku, located just west of Kahului, is already frequented by visitors. It’s the gateway to Iao Valley State Monument, and it’s where the historic Kaahumanu Church and Bailey House museum is found. But the past years have seen it grow into a burgeoning arts district, as well.
Boutique shops and artist studios by local creatives line its streets. Plays, concerts, workshops and stage performances are being produced by the varied organizations of the Wailuku Performing Arts Association, such as Maui Chamber Orchestra, Maui OnStage at Iao Theater and ProArts Playhouse. A Hawaiian cultural center, the Halau of Oiwi Art, is also set to open in the next few years.
What’s most evident, however, are the large number of murals that have added pops of color, cultural storytelling and creativity to its streets due to the public art program, Small Town Big Art. Since 2019, 47 pieces of public art, including 18 murals, have been erected in Wailuku.
“Small Town Big Art is a public art program named after the Wailuku Town motto, which is ‘Small town, big heart,’ and we pair professional artists with kupuna, members of the community, to create artwork that tells the story of Wailuku’s history and culture,” said Kelly McHugh-White, the founding director of Maui Public Art Corps. “The ultimate goal of Small Town Big Art was to establish Wailuku as an arts district.”
Subjects of the murals include Hawaiian mythology, the four rivers of Wailuku, people, birds, fish and whales. Sculptures also featured are a supersize Chinese takeout box and a 6-foot-tall, steel fish trap basket.
The public art can be mapped via the Halau of Oiwi Art website, WailukuLive.com, or on the free app, Hookamaaina, which has three self-guided walking tours: a cultural walking tour, historic walking tour and a public art walking tour. Each tour details the points of interest that can be visited.
“People are really passionate about ensuring people know that Wailuku is not an ocean town, it’s a mountain town. It’s not a saltwater town, it’s a freshwater town. It’s this really cultural epicenter of multicultural history that was brought forth through the sugar industry,” said McHugh-White. “And I know people are really proud of Wailuku and they really want people to be asking questions and learning more.”
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