Pow! Wow! Hawaii

The “scene” in downtown Honolulu was just starting to show artistic promise a decade ago. In a parking lot one day in this budding scene, the Cobra Snake and Steve Aoki were setting up a pop-up shop to sell T’s. Christa Wittmier, in between shooting pics on her bedazzled SLR and unofficially hosting the young crew in attendance, met (mt)’s Jason McVearry who was working from Honolulu. She didn’t really put a finger on what she did, but when we found she ran a wildly popular site called Super CW, (Honolulu Nightlife Diaries) a new partnership was born. Now she’s a lead producer for one the country’s most ambitious urban art and educational programs, Pow! Wow! Hawaii.

What were you doing before you started working on the Pow Wow?
I was going into year three in my current day job as the Marketing Director for Young’s Market Company of Hawaii, wrote a nightlife column in the Honolulu Weekly called “Social Lite” and produced a nightlife website called “Honolulu’s Nightlife Diaries”. It was pretty labor intensive, lol. I was taking about 100-200 photos and writing posts each week, every month for 8 years.

Tell us about the evolving art and design culture in Hawaii? How is it unique?
The design culture in Hawaii is very small – most designers move to the mainland where they are paid with they are worth (unfortunately). The projects are few and far between. That creates a very dedicated and tight knit culture here, a few good firms and maybe 5-8 key individuals. You see their work often and know who it is. I’m just glad they are here.

What were some of the unexpected challenges you faced as you realized the Pow Wow was going to become a reality?
Once I realized that the pdf I was shopping around the city was actually coming to life in 2011 I had a huge lump in my chest. It’s that kind of stress you get when you’re about to take on a huge project and you’re so scared/excited that you’re almost dreading it. There was so much to make happen and so many moving parts, and so much was riding on me. I had made a commitment to Jasper (Jasper Wong the creator of Pow Wow) to make this happen for him in Hawaii and I didn’t want to let him down.
Once everything got underway I would say the biggest challenge was dealing with getting blamed for other vandalism across the city. It would have nothing to do with our event but if someone tagged anything people would automatically look in our direction.

Can you take us through a typical day for you, from waking up until going to sleep?
Wake up at 6, shower at 7, get to my office at 8. Chip away at all the projects I have on my desk (anywhere from 8-12 big events in various stages each week have pending  (anywhere from 8-12 large projects and about another dozen or so promotions), go back to town to meet with accounts through the evenings, then execute events if I have them at night or if it’s Monday I DJ at Rumfire. If it’s the weekend I’ll be playing music somewhere. If it’s not the weekend and I don’t have an event I’m in bed by 9pm!

What has been the highlight of running the Pow Wow?
There has been so many!! There are moments when I’m sitting at the house during the event with everyone and they are all just talking story – everyone has such different backgrounds but they share a common ground as artists. A lot of these artists grew up running the streets; you can bet there are some incredible stories to hear! They are truly sharing their culture and they take inspiration from each other and from Hawaii and you really can see that in the artwork.

There’s so many other highlights though! The community’s support, the opportunity to have our music artists mentor the students in the school, seeing visitors walking around the artwork with their cameras, I wouldn’t be able to really pick one highlight because it’s all so amazing!

THE (MT) Q & A

What is the biggest obstacle you face to doing what you want to do?
My own self.

What would be the worst possible job for you?
Anything involving numbers. I am terrible at math.

If you could collaborate with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be and what would you want to create?
I would love to build a multi-function space similar to Lana Lane Studios in Hawaii, but for music and performance. We would have a recording studio, classrooms for lectures, a storefront, definitely coffee or a bar, then a huge performance hall. The first person that popped in to my head to make this happen with was Pharell but it would probably be more fun to do that with Frank Ghery too.

What are five websites you make sure to visit each week?
fffound, reddit, earmilk, soundcloud, booooooom

What trend are you sick of?
Anthemy hip hop lyrics that demean women

What project are you most proud of?
The LOST series wrap party in Kualoa valley
(and every single event on this channel: https://vimeo.com/channels/376380 )

What is your death row meal?
Pork laulau, rice, poi, mac salad, poke, butter mochi, espresso w/condensed milk.

What would people be surprised to find out you’re obsessed with?
Classical Music

What is one song you always have to turn up? What’s one you always turn off?
Turn up: Pompeii – Bastille
Turn off: Roar – Katy Perry

Space travel or underwater exploration? And why?
Space travel for sure, but there’s so much we don’t know under the water too! Space just appears to be a lot larger but who knows really.

What has been your most enjoyable project to work on?
The Bacardi Pool Party. It’s a party I developed for my supplier when she said I could “build something I would want to do” for her 4th of July party. So I pulled in a bunch of people I wanted to work with – Contrast Magazine, the Nocturnal Sound Krew, and made a party. The first one was the most fun with a quality crowd but after we posted the video of all the gorgeous local girls getting down we grew exponentially we eventually grew it to a crazy event that people would be waiting  in line around the entire hotel just to get inside. When Switch was still a part of Major Lazer he had told the Black Eyed Peas management it was the best party he ever played, which of course got back to Bacardi then back to my supplier. She was pretty happy about that. You would think in Hawaii we could do these kinds of event on the reg but all of the venues with pools cater to families and freak out at the thought of having hundreds of people all turnt up in their hotel. It’s my favorite project because I’m a bit of a workaholic so it’s fun to be working and seeing how many people are having fun; that makes me have fun.

If you could have any piece of artwork displayed in your home what would it be?
Jeff Koons balloon dog

What do you love most about where you live?
The spirit. There is something greater than all of us here. The people, the food, the imagery, the scenery, the weather… it’s all good but it is more like, there is a feeling. I feel it most when I have to travel. I miss it so much and when I come back it’s like I’m being pulled back.

If we came over to your neighborhood where would you take us for a drink?
First to Downbeat Lounge to drink some moonshine cocktails, then to Mercury Bar to drink some George T Stagg Jr, then to The Study to finish with a nice glass of wine.

How have you Grown the Pow Wow into the major event it is? 
The hyper growth is 100% because of Jasper. The other 6 of us that help him put this on are just here to support it. He will not rest until this event takes over the world.

About the Author Alex Alabbas is a Senior Email and Content Marketing Manager at Media Temple. Alex has a diverse scope of content expertise in industries ranging from media and entertainment, market research and technology. More by this Author