Arts Education Opens Doors on Molokai

By Taylour Chang, Director of Doris Duke Theater

Since 2013, the Honolulu Museum of Arts’ Soundshop, a hip-hop education program designed to help high school students develop independent thinking and self-confidence, has been working with classes from Farrington, Wai`anae, `Aiea and Pearl City high schools.

In March, the museum took the Soundshop program off island for the first time—to Molokai, where Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte’s nonprofit Hui o Kuapa and the Hawaiian Learning Center at Keawanui Fishpond served as Soundshop’s living classroom for a weekend.

I, along with Soundshop partners and educators the Super Groupers — Navid Najafi, Scott Ohtoro, and Illis It — and respected emcees from Makaha Punahele and Rukka, flew into Kaunakakai for three days. Our hosts, Keawanui Fishpond caretaker Guy HanoHano Naehu and community educator Tanya Maile Naehu, expressed how special the place is.

“Bringing artists to Molokai, especially in contemporary art forms, is so important,” says Maile Naehu. “It exposes keiki to different ways of expressing themselves. Our small rural community has so much talent. All it takes to bring it out is to have a taste of something like Soundshop and they are changed forever.”

“We were prepped that students in Molokai are shy and reserved,” says Ohtoro, “but after our first writing exercise the students came alive, and we didn’t see any indication of shyness. Rather the exact opposite! I’ve seen some of the best performances from the Molokai students, and they truly have a unique collective voice.”

Najafi, who leads Soundshop’s lyric-writing sessions, was moved by the students’ work, “Groups incorporated `Olelo Hawaii into their song along with spoken word poetry in English, and it was a powerful testament to the Molokai community and their commitment to preserving Hawaiian language and culture.”

The Soundshop instructors worked with more than 50 students at Keawanui Fishpond and at Molokai High School. “The work from this Soundshop was very eye-opening. The amount of talent that I observed among my peers and the professionals was very inspirational,” said ninth grader Cobra Curtis.

The transformative experience helped prepare a select group of Molokai students to compete in the Pacific Tongues Interscholastic Poetry Slam competition at the Doris Duke Theatre two weeks later. On March 24, a group of Molokai students flew to Honolulu to enter their competition debut—and reunited with the Soundshop crew at the museum.

On March 26, Molokai students Kapili`ula Naehu-Ramos, Cobra Curtis and Trishalynn Keanini competed in the individual slam competition. They won the team “Identity” award for their unique voice, making the Soundshop instructors proud.

The Molokai trip helped Soundshop find its voice as well. From contemplating arts and culture in the galleries to discovering arts and culture at Keawanui Fishpond, Soundshop had an “aha” moment as the program helped unearth distinct community voices.

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