Maui Town Becomes Arts Destination: Travel Weekly

The charming West Maui town of Wailuku, located just west of Kahului, is already busy with visitors. It is the gateway to the Iao Valley State Monument, and is where the historic Kaahumanu Church and Bailey House museum is found. But the last few years have also seen it become a booming arts district.

Boutiques and artist studios created by local creatives line its streets. Plays, concerts, workshops and stage performances are produced by the various organizations of the Wailuku Performing Arts Association, such as Maui Chamber Orchestra, Maui on stage at the Iao Theater and ProArts Performance Hall. Hawaiian Cultural Center, the Halau of Oiwi Artshould also open in the next few years.

One of Maui’s most beloved towns, Wailuku is well known for its historic landmarks, shops, and boutiques. Photo credit: Maui County

What is most evident, however, is the large number of murals that have added splashes of color, cultural storytelling and creativity to its streets through the public art program, Small town big art. Since 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 Wailuku’s town motto, which is ‘Small Town, Big Heart’, and we pair professional artists with kupuna, community members, to create works of art that tell the story of Wailuku’s history and culture,” said Kelly McHugh-White, founding director of Maui Public Art Corps. “The ultimate goal of Small Town Big Art was to make of Wailuku an artistic district.”

The subjects of the murals include Hawaiian mythology, the four rivers of Wailuku, people, birds, fish and whales. Sculptures also featured are an oversized Chinese take-out box and a 6-foot-tall steel fish trap basket.

Public art can be mapped through the Halau of Oiwi Art website, WailukuLive.com, or on the free app, Hookamaaina, which offers three self-guided walking tours: a cultural walking tour, a historical walking tour, and a public art walking tour. 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 city of sweet water. It’s this cultural epicenter of multicultural history that was created by the sugar industry,” McHugh-White said. “And I know people are really proud of Wailuku and they really want people to ask questions and learn more.”

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