Sep 24, 2019

Embracing the Aloha Spirit

It is a repeated sentiment but cannot be over-emphasized: No project in the Artspace portfolio has occurred like lightning. No sudden decision made by the CEO or a Vice President planted a development in a community. Instead, our affordable artist housing is a product bred of collaboration; and it is typical Artspace practice to approach community engagement in a style informed by resident experts and local advocates. Learning and utilizing these singular systems of knowledge sharing is a privilege. At Ola Ka ‘Ilima Artspace Lofts in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, community engagement took an almost organic, grassroots form, modeled by those who know the rhythm of Honolulu and its artists and cultural practitioners. Through Hawaiian community partners who were generous with their time and knowledge, the Artspace team learned the real definition of Aloha, which moves beyond a simple greeting into a practice. The Aloha spirit is love, peace, and compassion. It is living in harmony, and a driving force behind the interpersonal connections across Hawai‘i. 

Ola Ka ‘Ilima Artspace Lofts is Artspace’s first project outside of the contiguous United States, and Artspace’s first project in an island community. Sheer distance between the property site in the Kaka‘ako neighborhood of Honolulu and Artspace’s Minneapolis and Seattle offices could have hindered the success of this development. It is only thanks to the profound service of key community advocates that the Lofts took root. The existence of the Ola Ka ‘Ilima Artspace Lofts can, in fact, be traced to one such advocate. Kumu Hula (master teacher in the art of Hula) Vicky Holt Takamine is the Executive Director of the PA‘I Foundation, a nonprofit whose work is focused on educating and preserving Native Hawaiian arts and cultural traditions. Vicky approached Artspace in 2009, and thus began a decade-long relationship between the two organizations. 

Ola Ka 'Ilima 1

Vicky’s intimate knowledge of the arts, cultural practices, and heritage of Hawai‘i, as well as the prestige and connections of the PA‘I Foundation, created the base upon which Artspace could begin to understand the space needs of the local creative community on O‘ahu. With EAH Housing, our local development partner, Artspace and the PA‘I Foundation created a shared vision of Ola Ka ‘Ilima Artspace Lofts as a mixed-use arts development. 84 live/work units of affordable housing are paired with 4,600 square feet reserved for the upcoming PA‘I Arts & Culture Center; while 2,000 square feet are dedicated for arts-oriented businesses to ensure an ecosystem of artistic, cultural, and traditional expression that will cultivate creative ingenuity and stability. With the vision of the Ola Ka ‘Ilima Artspace Lofts having evolved into a kind of three-pronged artistic space, Artspace identified many paths for connecting to virtually every maker on the island. The early and mid-2010s saw the deliberate development of relationships between Artspace and various artists and cultural groups, including and outside of the PA‘I Foundation. Each new personal connection turned into a web of multiple connections, bred from mutual respect and honest listening. “Trusting the path” became a method which continued into 2018, when construction neared its close and lease-up began.

Between September and December 2018, Artspace, the PA‘I Foundation, and EAH Housing hosted 10 Ola Ka ‘Ilima Artspace Lofts information sessions across O‘ahu. These sessions are crucial for sharing both the philosophy of Artspace’s developments, and to provide understanding of the intricate application process. With the aid of community advocates, these events strategically took place at several established arts organizations whose reputations served as nonverbal affirmation: Lana Lane Studios, Waiwai Collective, the ARTS at Mark’s Garage, and Aupuni Space. Strong attendance at each meant the potential for important dissemination—but nothing compared to the flexibility and resourcefulness of Kumu Hula Vicky Holt Takamine, who generously opened partnerships on the islands over the years– including with hālau hula (hula school) member Ka‘iu Takamori. Knowing that many Native Hawaiian artists would not be able to attend an information session (especially those living on another island), they took the opportunity at an early event to post a livestream via the PA‘I Foundation Facebook page. This Aloha allowed over 300 artists and cultural practitioners to view (and review) the material prior to the application deadline. 

By trusting the path, and with a keen ear to talking story, each new stop and connection again multiplied.

On Hawai‘i, there is a practice of “talking story”: A system of conversation where sharing stories builds upon the Aloha spirit. Teaching the Artspace team this culturally specific shape of communication was another form of service from key stakeholders. Like Aloha, it is a practice – which was, indeed, practiced. Between information sessions, Artspace staff visited some 100 cafés, art markets, craft stores, and creative commercial spaces across the island, talking story with makers of all types and sharing the news of Ola Ka ‘Ilima Artspace Lofts. Following Vicky’s lead, flexibility and broad messaging took precedence. By trusting the path, and with a keen ear to talking story, each new stop and connection again multiplied. Stopping to admire and converse with street performer led to happenstance connections with other cultural workers, and stapling informational one-pagers to University of Hawai‘i bulletin boards leaned into finding another deli, boutique, or entertainment space. Talking story also went on air several times when Kumu Hula Takamine spoke to Hawaii Public Radio (among other media outlets) about the upcoming housing and creative opportunity. 

Ola Ka 'Ilima 2

Trusting the path was rewarded with over 400 applications submitted by January 22, 2019 – the due date for the first state-mandated housing lottery drawing. Artspace was honored to have a significant Artist Selection Committee, made up of community members, artists, educators, and culture bearers, interview artist applicants. These feats were possible through great service from many community advocates who invited Artspace into their community with Aloha spirit. It is incredible how the generosity of shared knowledge from community partners led to the success of Ola Ka ‘Ilima Artspace Lofts’ lease-up—and as Artspace Vice President of Asset Management, Naomi Chu, put it: “[These] are all people serving their community, and this is just one tiny little example of the work they do.” As of August 27th, Ola Ka ‘Ilima Artspace Lofts received its Certificate of Occupancy, and began to welcome its first artists and their families.

A special thank you to Kumu Hula Vicky Holt Takamine, Kaʻiu Takamori, the PA‘I Foundation, EAH Housing, Honolulu Museum of Art School, Aupuni Space, the ARTS at Mark’s Garage, Waiwai Collective, Lana Lane Studios, Nankula in Waianae, and Hale Kealoha in Kailua. All photos by Andrew Hara.