hawaii festivals

Check out local festivals like SALT at Our Kakaʻako’s Paakai Marketplace, to buy products from local crafters . (Photo: Courtesy of SALT)

Culture + Style

10 Ways to Check Out Honolulu’s Happening Art Scene

Honolulu is not only the state capital of Hawaii, but also a hub for the entire Pacific Rim. Here, the creative forces blow as steadily as the trade winds, with a constant energy and movement that attracts culture seekers.

Travelers will encounter artists both emerging and well-known, as well as top-notch museums to roam and lively cultural events. Want in on this artsy action? Here are the best places to experience Honolulu’s booming art scene.

Pow! Wow! Hawaii

Kakaako is a post-industrial neighborhood, transforming from a mishmash of car dealerships and body shops into a bohemian hotbed of art, shopping and dining. The Pow! Wow! Hawaii festival, which takes place every February, has been a main driver of the change.

honolulu art
Recharge at Honolulu Beerworks. (Photo: Courtesy of Honolulu Beerworks)

Pow! Wow! Hawaii pulls in more than 100 international and local contemporary artists, such as Shepard Fairey, Kamea Hadar and Eminem, for artist talks, pop-up shops, exhibitions, concerts and the crowd-pleasing attraction of watching the muralists paint the town red (and every other color). When you get droopy, stop to recharge at one of Kakaako’s many bars and restaurants, such as Honolulu Beerworks or Moku Kitchen.

Can’t make it to Pow! Wow! Hawaii? You can still explore Kakaako any time of year to see the eye-popping murals. The Honolulu Night Market is a monthly block party in Kakaako, with fashion shows, music, food trucks and art. Another free monthly festival, SALT at Our Kakaʻako’s Paakai Marketplace, has Hawaii artists, products by local crafters and demonstrations by cultural practitioners.


Art is even better after dark. (Photo: Shuzo Uemoto)

The Honolulu Museum of Art is serene by day, but come the last Friday of the month, January through October, ARTafterDARK throws a party that’s loud, flirty and fun. Held on the museum’s grounds, this soiree features a different theme each month, like the Bollywood-inspired “Kiss, Kiss Bang Bhangra.”

You’ll enjoy a smorgasbord of live music, DJs and specialty cocktails while mingling with Honolulu’s young creative set. (Tickets, $30; free for museum members.)

Stroll through the Honolulu Museum of Art. (Photo: Shuzo Uemoto)

Honolulu Biennial

Focusing on contemporary artists and artist groups from the Pacific, Asia and the Americas, the Honolulu Biennial roars back into town every other year from March through early May at a dozen locations scattered throughout Honolulu. The theme of 2019 Biennial is “To Make Wrong / Right / Now,” and the robust lineup of programming includes installation art, workshops, artist talks and digital media presentations.

First Friday

Downtown Honolulu stays up late the First Friday of the month to showcase its galleries, local boutiques and restaurants. The crowd meanders from gallery to gallery enjoying live music and staying afterward to hit the bars.

Esteemed, well-established galleries — such as Louis Pohl, The Arts at Marks Garage and Pegge Hopper — promote Hawaii artists and art, but don’t forget to check out some of the more unusual venues, like Black Cat Tattoo Studio, which celebrates First Friday with live tattooing in addition to art installations.

Over at the Hawaii State Art Museum (HiSAM), the galleries stay open late on First Fridays, with live music and other activities, such as fashion shows. Admission is always free to HiSAM, so swing by during the week if you can’t make a First Friday.

Even More Ideas

Pay a visit to the gardens at Spalding House. (Photo: Shuzo Uemoto)

Spalding House, a second branch of the Honolulu Museum of Art, is worth a visit for its sculpture-filled gardens. Spalding House has work by Deborah Butterfield and David Hockney, among other contemporary artists.

Many people associate the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum with cultural artifacts and biological specimens, and it indeed has a vast treasure of those. But the museum is also attentive to visual art of the present.

Take, for example, rotating exhibits like “Ka Ui: Contemporary Art from Rapa Nui,” which features works by eight Rapa Nui-based artists who explore Rapanui identity, politics and the environment via sculpture, photography and painting.

The new app Art World Escape (AWE) connects visitors with artists in Honolulu for personal, behind-the-scenes experiences. You might find yourself in an artist’s studio or on a walking tour as you learn more about the creative process.