With POW! WOW! Hawaii 2018 about to get underway we take a look back at our interview with POW! WOW! Founder & Co-Lead Director Jasper Wong, Co-Lead Director Kamea Hadar and Operations Manager Jeff Gress done right before the 2016 festival kicked off. Read on below as the trio discuss what makes the world’s premiere mural festival tick. Since beginning in 2011 POW! WOW! has cemented itself as one of the most inspiring events in the contemporary art movement. Simply put, the energy that is created at POW! WOW! has spawned a tight knit worldwide family of artists, gallerists, photographers, writers and global friendships. Though the family grows each year, the ties continue to strengthen with every event, something that all of us here at 1xRUN can surely attest to. We have been honored to be a part of the last 6 years with POW! WOW! and with this year shaping up to be a busy one for the crew from Honolulu we couldn’t be more excited. Read on as we talk all things POW! WOW! with Jasper Wong, Kamea Hadar and Jeff Gress in this revisited interview . . .
1xRUN: As year seven for POW! WOW! is about to kick off, what are some aspects of this year you are most excited for and why?
Jasper Wong: One major aspect being added to POW! WOW! Hawaii is the finale concert happening on Saturday, February 13th. We’re ecstatic to see how it’ll grow over the years, but it also comes with a whole new set of anxieties and worries since it’s a new element that we’re unfamiliar with. That’s the beauty of it though. Taking risks and trying new things.
Kamea Hadar: Yea, definitely the concert I think. It’s a big one. It’s a completely new thing that we’re doing that we’ve never done before. We’re really excited to bring another genre or medium, another form of art really. We’ve had music before, but never quite on this scale. That’s something I’m really excited about.
Jeff Gress: This year we are also opening up our creative space, Lana Lane Studios, to the public for some exciting events like the 1xRUN print show, and featuring some of the local creatives also involved with open studios and other programming like local art portfolio reviews by industry professionals.
1x: This year includes a lot of new faces coming to Honolulu for their first POW! WOW!, was that a conscious effort to expand the POW! WOW! family?
Wong: We try to do that every year when it comes to curating the festival. It’s always a conscious effort to expand the POW! WOW! family.
Hadar: We definitely have tried more and more to mix up the roster. It’s a good thing and a bad thing that we’re such a family. You want to invite certain members, but it’s definitely a conscious effort while trying to keep a family vibe.
Gress: I think Jasper has always been really great with curation of the visiting artists, whether bringing “A-listers” or lessor known, up and coming artists. It gives more people a chance to join the POW! WOW! fam and keeps the event fresh. It also makes a bigger pool of artists to bring to the growing number of worldwide POW! WOW! festivals.
1x: Looking back on these first six years, what have been some of your favorite moments or events from POW! WOW! around the world?
Wong: This is hard to list, because there have been so many great moments. Surviving a typhoon to make the inaugural POW! WOW! Taiwan happen was quite an experience. The very first festival in Hawaii will always hold a special place in my heart. I’ll never forget about rizzling in the middle of the night. There has been a lot of shared laughter and stories over the years.
Hadar: Definitely one of them is painting the mural that I did with Rone here. That is one that I am releasing with you guys. That was the end of a long week. I didn’t feel like painting, and I pushed myself to do it, and I was so happy to do it. Rone gave me a lot of good pointers on how to go big. I just really felt so good at the end of a long week. Not to mention it was a portrait of my wife. Then it was drizzling and then there was a rainbow above us, it was one of those magical moments.
Gress: My best memory is the first POW! WOW! Hawaii, I was a graduating Graphic Design student and was lucky enough to receive critiques of work we brought by some of the visiting media/artists like Jeff Hamada of Boooooooom. The feedback from outsiders working in the industry was incredibly inspiring. The rest of the moments were all good times with the POW! WOW! friends and fam…Kamea’s bachelor party in Taiwan is a standout moment, I don’t think we need too many details about that one.
1x: POW! WOW! has called Honolulu’s Kaa’kako district home since 2011, tell us a bit about how you have seen the area change since POW! WOW! began?
Wong: In the beginning, the goal was to create a community of small businesses and creative. However, as the neighborhood evolved and property changed hands, it eventually became more desirable. It’s now turning into a forest of glass condos. We knew it’d happen eventually, but we’ll continue finding ways to fill the world with art.
Hadar: I think Kaka’ako really used to be a forgotten part of the city. It’s kind of industrial, lots auto body shops, things like that, places that have been here for 30 years. There is also a pretty big homeless population as well, and now it’s all being developed, so they are moving out a lot of the tenants. They’re building high rises and big condos. It’s really really obvious how much its changed in the last six years. The way that POW! WOW! has grown is that now we’re POW! WOW! Worldwide, we’re not just Hawaii, so our reach gets larger and larger every year. We’re moving into other cities and other countries and we’re doing our thing all over the world.
Gress: Well we were able to paint more and more walls in the first few years, now we are seeing the area as it goes through changes in development and figuring out how to adapt.
1x: 2015 was a massive year for POW! WOW! with festivals in Hawaii, Long Beach, Japan, Taiwan and Austin, how do you manage it all ? How did each of these festivals differ?
Wong: No idea how we managed to put so many together. I always tell myself to just it take one step at a time. They differed greatly by the sheer fact that they were in varying locations with vastly different cultures. It always takes a while to acclimate and learn to work with the local communities. We’re still learning.
Hadar: All of the cities that we do, we never do anything without people on the ground. We need local people. We can’t travel back and forth to scout walls, so we need somebody on the ground to manage everything. Sometimes we have people that reach out and want to do a POW! WOW! in their city, other times we have our eye on other places that we’ve been wanting to go to, so we reach out to people. In Taiwan we’ve got Larry Chen, one of our friends who has been at every POW! WOW! since the beginning. In Taiwan he’s the man, and he runs the festival from start to finish. We’re obviously very involved as far as online presence and curation, but as far as day to day operations, Larry knows exactly how to run everything. That’s another thing, as we’re going into other countries, we don’t necessarily speak the language and manage the cultural differences.
Gress: Managing the other events couldn’t be possible without local involvement and organization. There’s always one or two people who see the value of POW! WOW! and want to bring it to their city. I’m always impressed when they reach out and form a partnership with us. Each city is unique and embodies its own culture, traditions and view on art/street art. Sometimes navigating those different opinions is a challenge, making a mess with paint is a big deal in Tokyo where everything is immaculate, blocking traffic with a boom lift in the middle of Taipei is surprisingly easy given the chaotic traffic vs. other cities where you’d get busted within minutes.
1x: For those who don’t know, what are your schedules like before during and after POW! WOW!?
Wong: During POW! WOW! time, it’s just 100% planning the best way we can and putting out fires when they occur.
Hadar: Basically POW! WOW! has become a year round affair now that we’ve started going worldwide. The month before there is a huge amount of planning with flights, hotels, lifts and planning out the week. The actual execution of it can be chaos, we all know that will be a week. Everything leading up to it we have to deal with managing all different sides, the sponsors, the talent, the landowners and you have to find a common ground for all of them. Deal with all of the egos. You have to deal with a lot of requests.
Gress: These days it feels like we barely unwind from one event before starting to prepare for the next. There’s always an excitement leading up to the next event, but there’s never enough time to get it all done. During the events I never stop, it’s pretty much 24/7 availability the event week. At the end the schedule pretty much grinds to a half because we are so spent, then a slight melancholy brews after the last artists fly out and it’s over.
1x: The POW! WOW! family has continued to expand around the world, how are you working to keep the communal vibe that has helped make POW! WOW! a one of a kind experience for participating artists?
Wong: Just with the simple act of bringing people together with a unified goal and vision.
Hadar: I think the main thing that we try we always strive to do, and that we’ve succeeded is being a good host. Living in Hawaii you grow up being in a place that’s a destination, so you have a lot of guests coming in and out to visit. I grew up with my parents constantly having friends coming and staying with us, then I had friends come and stay with me, and I have learned how to be a good host. Trying to take the best care of everybody and treat them the way that you would want to be treated. We’re not a huge corporation, so we can’t have a limo pick you up at the airport, it’s going to be in a shitty rental car, but we’re not going to leave you out to dry. For the artists POW! WOW! begins when their get on their flight. When we book the flights we try to make it so as an artist once you get on the flight you’re already sitting next to another artist that is coming out and then you’ve got 5 – 8 hours to chat. We want everybody to chat and connect and bond, and that’s happened, we’ve seen all the collaborations that blossom out of it later on.
Gress: The event has always been evolving, but it’s because we are all artists first, that it has a vibe that we are part of a global family. Our success has never been measured with monetary value and I think that’s what keeps us all grounded and attracts likeminded participants.
1x: What are some aspects that you strive to improve each year or event?
Wong: There’s always something to improve. I’d say everything.
Hadar: Just trying to cut down on stuff that is avoidable. Making sure there are enough lifts. Making sure the walls are ready to go. Making sure that everybody is comfortable. All the nitpicky details. Obviously you can never fully prepare for certain things, there will be lifts that breakdown, and things that are out of our control, but we can minimize it and be as efficient as we can as a festival. When we first started it was a week, everybody would come in and be so jet lagged that they couldn’t start the next day. So then we did two weeks, then they have a few days before and after to experience everything, so this year we’re doing 10 days, that way you have a few days to go to the beach and get over the jet lag and then start painting. Really just streamlining everything. We have better equipment, more generators, all the tools of the trade. Then we’re just centralizing everything, and have everybody closer together, make it easier. Also through curation, we’ve learned more and more about our artists. Finding people who are not only talented, but are also personable. People who are not going to be the bad apple in the group that is going to ruin everything. Smart curation really streamlines everything,
Gress: Each year we improve our programming for schools and workshops for kids. Leading up to the event, I try to improve our headquarters at Lana Lane, and every year I have a long list of tasks that will create a better atmosphere that will also benefit us locally after the event is over.
1x: Moving forward what is in store for POW! WOW! in 2016?
Wong: Beautification. Education. Collaboration. Sustainability, and Expansion.
Hadar: We have POW! WOW! SXSW in March. We’re going to do Long Beach in June, then Japan and Taiwan in the summer. We also have some projects that we’re working on throughout the US. POW! WOW! Israel is still on the horizon. It was cancelled previously because of some fighting in the country, but that is still on our radar. POW WOW! Jamaica we would still love to do as well. Aside from that all of our own careers are constantly moving and I’m having a baby in June!
Gress: New cities are in the works!
Be sure to follow @powwowworldwide @mrjasperwong , @kameahadar @pro_gress on Instagram for up to the minute POW! WOW! news and see all of our past, present and future coverage of POW! WOW! here.
Photos by POW! WOW!, 1xRUN, Pietro Truba, Dan Armand, Mike Popso, Brandon Shigeta, Vincent Ricafort and Daniel Weintraub.