On Feb. 27, the Kumu Hula Steering Committee for the Hālau of ʻŌiwi Art (HOA) hosted an ʻaha ʻawa kūkulu kumuhana (an ʻawa ceremony for the setting of intentions) at the future site of HOA. The ceremony was conducted by (l-r) Kumu Hula Cody Pueo Pata, Kahu Kānoa Keoni Kuoha and Kumu Hula Hōkūlani Holt. Guests included Mayor Richard Bissen, Brian Ige, Dale Hahn (representing Sen. Brian Schatz), various kumu hula, county planners, architects from Ferrarro Choi & Associates, and Maui County Council members Tom Cook, Tasha Kama, Yukilei Sugimura and Nohe Uʻu-Hodgins. Mayor Bissen (seated in the center of the first row) voiced his support for the project at the ceremony. - Photo: Karey Kapoi

When Maui County planners reached out to Maui kumu hula in late 2021 and invited them to discuss building a center for hula and Hawaiian culture on county property in the heart of Wailuku, the kumu were surprised…and skeptical.

“It wasn’t a ‘yes, let’s do it!’ It was initially more of a ‘well..how much can we trust the county?’ type of response,” recalled Kumu Hula Cody Pueo Pata.

It turns out the planners had heard that the County Council was considering adopting the recent Huamakahikina Declaration and saw an opportunity.

Ratified by more than 200 kumu hula from across the pae ʻāina in August 2021 – and sent the following month to leadership in all four Hawaiʻi counties – the Huamakahikina Declaration is “a contemporary manifestation of Hula community and advocacy” to ensure the integrity, stewardship and protection of hula, and calls upon those in government and the private sector to “resource Hula to the fullest extent possible.”

Despite their initial skepticism, the Maui kumu hula (about 37 of them) formed a steering committee of 11 to represent the whole in discussions with the county planners and architects.

“We had been rehearsing ways to sell the idea [of a culture center] to them,” shared Pata who is on the steering committee. “We were so ready to sell the idea to them – but they sold it to us! After our first meeting, we were asking each other ʻis this for real?’”

They say timing is everything. Back in 2000, county planners began working on a Wailuku redevelopment plan to address negative urban trends taking hold in the community. It was part of an effort to revitalize the area. A decade ago, planners began exploring ideas for a large county-owned lot on Vineyard Street. Over the years, various ideas were floated – low-income housing, a community hall, a civic complex, a park – but these were all met with a lukewarm community response, so for years the lot remained vacant.

At their 2021 meeting with the kumu hula, county planners suggested that a center for hula would meet all the county’s community requirements. “Because hula is such a community-based endeavor – our students are preschool students to lawmakers to every facet in between – they thought that, perhaps, hula would want to be in the area,” Pata said.

On Nov. 5, 2021, the Maui County Council adopted a resolution supporting the Huamakahina Declaration, and in February 2022, then-Mayor Michael Victorino announced his support for the culture center project and included building funds for it in the county’s FY2022-2023 budget.

The idea to build a Hālau of ʻŌiwi Arts (HOA) on the site was met with tremendous community support and in June 2022 the Maui County Council unanimously approved an allocation of $43 million to build the center – which will enable it to be built all at once instead of in phases. An additional $11 million in federal funding for the project was subsequently secured by Hawaiʻi Sen. Brian Schatz which will allow the county to reinforce the facility for use as an emergency shelter in the event of a natural disaster.

The design, planning and draft environmental assessment for HOA has been completed. The project should go out to bid in July with groundbreaking to begin in 2024 and construction completed by 2026.

From the beginning, the kumu hula wanted to make sure there were no iwi on the site that might be disturbed so as part of their due diligence they researched the history of the land. According to Māhele documents, they learned that this particular parcel was previously part of a loʻi which suggests that the presence of iwi is unlikely.

Nevertheless, the kumu formed a subcommittee to prepare for the possibility that iwi could be encountered during construction – which includes acting in concert with the State Historic Preservation Department, the island Burial Council, the county and cultural descendants. With such concerns paramount, planning for HOA’s construction represents Maui County’s most thorough effort to date to identify the presence of iwi. The county has already performed an analysis of the site with ground-penetrating radar where the foundation will be built and have found nothing to suggest the presence of iwi on the site.

The design of the two-story building reflects the input of the kumu hula and ensures that the entire facility – both its indoor and outdoor spaces – are conducive to hula and ʻōiwi arts. On the top floor are four dance studios – one of which is specifically designed to host hālau that practice kuahu (hula’s religious rituals). That studio will be on the easternmost side of the facility and include an inset facing east where an altar can be erected. A large performance hall, a certified kitchen, and a smaller formal education space for sit-down activities, such as lei-making, will complete the top-floor amenities.

The first floor will include two wet-dry workshop facilities that can accommodate heavy equipment or be hosed down to provide space for practicing other art forms such as kapa-making or wood carving.

Because it will be publically funded, part of the vision is that HOA can also be used by the general public as a space for classes, meetings and other gatherings – although evenings and weekends will likely be set aside to give hālau and ʻŌiwi artisans priority use.

“This Hālau of ʻŌiwi Art is going to be the first of its kind – and its facilities will include state-of-the-art technology,” Pata said. “It will be the grandest here in Maui County, but there will be satellite facilities in places like Hāna, Lānaʻi and Molokaʻi.”

“The Hālau of ʻŌiwi Art is a testament to what happens when people come together for a cause,” Pata reflected. “Maui is special in that all of the kumu hula know each other. We get along. We see each other at Costco, the gas station or at parties. So being able to identify our needs and the needs of ʻŌiwi art practitioners has manifested in what we are doing now.”

Hālau of ʻŌiwi Art Draft Environmental Assessment

The community is invited to share their manaʻo on the Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Hālau of ʻŌiwi Art building project.

To view the EA go to: files.hawaii.gov/dbedt/erp/Doc_Library/2023-04-08-MA-DEA-Halau-of-Oiwi-Art.pdf

Written comments must be received or postmarked by May 8, 2023.

For more information about the Hālau of ʻŌiwi Art go to: www.hoamaui.com or www.wailukulive.com/hoa. For information about the Huamakahikina Declaration go to: www.huamakahikina.org/

On April 6, 2022, Hawaiʻi County passed a similar resolution in support of the Huamakahikina Declaration. Honolulu and Kauaʻi counties have yet to follow suit.