The charming West Maui town of Wailuku, located west of Kahului, is already frequented by visitors. It is the gateway to the Iao Valley State Monument and is home to the historic Kaahumanu Church and the Bailey House Museum. But the past few years have seen it grow into a thriving arts district as well.
Boutique shops and artist studios by local creators line its streets. Plays, concerts, workshops and stage plays are being produced by various organizations of the Wailuku Performing Arts Association, such as the Maui Chamber Orchestra, Maui OnStage at Iao Theater and ProArts Playhouse. A Hawaiian cultural center, the Halau of Oiwi Art, will also open in the coming years.
One of Maui’s most beloved towns, Wailuku is known for its historic landmarks, shops, and boutiques. Photo Credit: County of Maui
What is most notable, however, is the sheer number of murals that have added color, cultural storytelling and creativity to its streets thanks to the public art program, Small Town Big Art. As of 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 motto of the city of Wailuku, which is ‘Small Town, Big Heart,’ and we pair professional artists with kupuna, community members, to create artwork that tells the story of Wailuku’s history. and culture,” said Kelly McHugh-White, founding director of the Maui Public Art Corps. “The ultimate goal of Small Town Big Art was to establish Wailuku as an arts district.”
The subjects of the murals include Hawaiian mythology, the four rivers of Wailuku, people, birds, fish and whales. Also featured sculptures are a large Chinese takeout box and a 6-meter long fish basket.
The public art can be mapped through 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, a historical walking tour, and a public tour standing with art. Each tour details the points of interest that can be visited.
“People are really passionate about making sure 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 the multicultural history that emerged through the sugar industry.” said McHugh-White. “And I know that people are really proud of Wailuku and they really want people to ask questions and learn more.”