Indelible art from the inside


POSTED: Sunday, March 15, 2009

Kalani and a few of his fellow residents at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility in Kailua look forward to Saturday mornings, when they're allowed to go into the courtyard and paint the once bland walls now teeming with color and cultural symbols depicting the history of hula.




        808 Urban



[FYI] Films by Youth Inside




“;It's something different for us to do, that's why,”; said Kalani, whose last name could not be used because he is a minor. “;It brings out the talent in the guys here that nobody really sees.”;

Only exemplary behavior gets them outside to work with the rattle cans—spray paint favored by taggers, or graffiti artists—that require the finest touch to make the images of King Kalakaua and the Hokule'a look as though they were applied with a brush. An average of 10 teenagers work on scaffolding or on the asphalt along the wall that stretches 25 feet high and 400 feet long.

Mortgage broker and former tagger John Hina brought 808 Urban, a community program that encourages kids to channel aerosol art into a creative and productive endeavor, to HYCF in December. “;It's not just about bright colors,”; Hina said during a break one Saturday morning. “;It's about culture, and a way to express themselves.”;

Because they want the piece to maintain its impact 20 years from now, the participants started by determining what they value most. Respect, culture and music topped the list, so the mural highlights those elements, explained corrections supervisor and mentor Keoni Yadao. Hina then taught them about shading to create three-dimensional images.

“;We encourage them to think freely,”; said Hina. Unlike a lot of things in life, these mistakes can be painted over.

A sense of accomplishment and new proficiencies aren't the only tangible benefits. Because the visual work renders language unnecessary in many instances, the project has allowed young men of different abilities and from a variety of backgrounds to share an activity that will leave a lasting impression.

It's yet another example of the fresh projects spearheaded by Al Carpenter, the new director of HYCF. But he takes nothing for granted. When Los Angeles-based filmmaker Alex Munoz approached Carpenter about teaching residents how to write and direct their own shorts last year, Carpenter remained skeptical. “;I was pretty tough on (Munoz and other volunteers) when they came through the door. But they never did anything but what they said they were going to do. And that's to be respected, and that's what my kids can learn from. We never had a ripple of trouble. It's a really strong program.”; So strong, in fact, the youth filmmakers earned a private screening of their completed movies later this month at the ARTS at Marks Garage.

“;I learned how to take orders in a constructive way, to make something better,”; said Kalani, who also participated in Munoz's FYI (Films by Youth Inside) program.

Successful initiatives such as FYI and 808 Urban have helped the youth—many of whom have been abused—to trust adults and to feel safe again. “;They realize, 'I can be part of something, too,'”; said Carpenter. “;When you stretch kids and your expectations are that they perform, you'd be surprised at what they can do. You change a kid's behavior by changing what he values.”;