10 WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE
Kim Coffee-Isaak was instrumental in helping the Hawaii Alliance for Arts Education win a $400,000 grant.
Organizer brought art walk to life
Kim Coffee-Isaak helped develop First Friday, which is revitalizing Chinatown
For 25 years, artists and entrepreneurs have envisioned downtown Honolulu as a Mecca for arts and culture. For just as long, others seeing only the grime wondered about the artists' poor eyesight.
That a transformation has taken place within the last two years is a testament to Kim Coffee-Isaak's organizational skills and artist-wrangling abilities.
Through the end of the year, the Star-Bulletin will recognize 10 who changed Hawaii this year. Some were controversial, others shunned the spotlight. But all made a difference.
Pegge Hopper, who's seen many artists come and go while waiting for the scene to arrive, is one of the few remaining originals, having operated her gallery for 25 years. She knows how hard it's been to get artists to work together.
"It's like herding cats," she said. "Artists are not joiners. We're individuals. We don't like being told what to do, but Kim keeps e-mailing and e-mailing and calling."
Hank Taufaasau, owner of Hank's Cafe, recalls getting together for beer and lunch with Isaak and Rich Richardson a few years ago, when Richardson, associate director of The ARTS at Marks Garage, brought up the First Friday idea.
"Of course, we all thought it was a great idea, ha ha ha, and without Kim it would have stayed a great idea," Taufaasau said. "Kim put all the dots together. She's a very organized person and just has a way of lining things up and doing tasks. Her commitment to Chinatown is amazing."
The First Friday Downtown Honolulu walking tour draws 2,000 people to the area monthly to dine, shop, party and be entertained. The business generated is turning the dream into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Where there's the lure of money, there's a snowball effect in rehabilitation and investment that is transforming the area into a nightlife destination.
Isaak served as Hawaii Craftsmen's executive director for 10 years, before her tireless promotion of artists and the arts won her the position of managing director at The ARTS at Marks Garage early last year.
The ARTS at Marks Garage is a project of the Hawaii Alliance for Arts Education, a laboratory for community-building and life-transformation through the arts. Key to the endeavor is Isaak's ability to win the confidence of businesses that could finance map-printing and advertising to help the typically cash-strapped artists.
According to Hopper, Isaak was instrumental in helping the alliance win a Ford Foundation grant this spring of up to $400,000 to be used toward expanding the Honolulu Culture & Arts District around Marks Garage and Hawaii Theatre.
"She's like the headmistress," Hopper said. "She holds meetings every month. She puts out the P.R. for everyone's gallery. She does all the legwork to help us make money.
"I think she's great. She's my heroine."