High-point of culture
|||Ki ho'alu legends to talk story, jam|
By Marie Carvalho
Special to The Advertiser
By Marie Carvalho
Rubies are the traditional 40th-anniversary gift, but for its 40th, the Hawai'i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts is giving the Islands a "virtual" mosaic: a three-day cultural summit, which is a regional first.
The celebratory conference will bring together diverse groups — teachers, politicos, human-services leaders, artists — to talk culture and community. It's a fitting gathering for a place "that's already a mosaic," says foundation chairwoman Mona Abadir.
The summit's seeds were planted years back, in a series of think-tank discussions between the foundation and community leaders. One such "mini brain-trust," says Abadir, involved participants as disparate as a University of Hawai'i chancellor and a Zen Buddhist master. What they unearthed was a cultural community ripe for leadership, funding and collaborative programs.
From those seeds sprouted the International Cultural Summit — a name that announces itself as no garden-variety conference. A summit usually attracts political leaders; this one boasts many, from Japan Consul General Shigeo Iwatani to Gov. Linda Lingle to Elaine Valdov, director of the United Nations Task Force on Women and Gender Equality.
And a summit's goals are often lofty; this one's no exception, exploring the very "foundation of cultures," says Abadir, also chief operating officer of the real-estate development company Honu Group. With 28 partners, ranging from the state Department of Human Services to the East-West Center and the state Tourism Authority, summit organizers also hope that it will bond diverse groups.
So many hands tilling the soil make for an eclectic menu, including sessions on World Heritage sites (the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are under consideration for that designation); "Hip Hop N Wutchugot," preventative strategies to reach families and at-risk youth; creativity and the economy; and slack-key guitar (see sidebar).
One panel pits tourism-industry promotion against host-culture preservation — a hot-button topic in Hawai'i, since "cultural tourism," once a niche market, has become the global travel industry's new sustainability catch phrase.
Quality-of-life issues, Abadir explains, connect us all — and it's just this kind of conversation that she believes promotes mutual understanding: "The answers may be expressed differently, but the dialogue builds tolerance."
Keynote speaker Claudine Kinard Brown adds that a community's challenge is to maintain and value its cultural identity. Its twin responsibilities, she says, are "to preserve things that are historically unique" and "to create a place and space for innovation."
"If you want to honor that place you are coming from, you also have to accept and acknowledge how you are changing," says Brown.
Brown would know, having been intimately involved with the creation of the Smithsonian Institution's National African American Museum. She now assesses grant proposals as director of the Arts and Culture Program at the New York-based Nathan Cummings Foundation; locally, their money helped The ARTS at Marks Garage get off the ground.
Brown finds Hawai'i's cultural climate "very reminiscent of New Orleans pre-Katrina," with most indigenous art "unincorporated," meaning that many people practice rich cultural traditions without the financial help that established organizations receive.
She sees a shift in post-Katrina New Orleans, which may signal change: Funding entities are still endowing nonprofits, but are also looking to support projects by unincorporated groups and even private for-profits, such as art galleries. "They're all a part of a larger infrastructure that supports cultural traditions," Brown says.
Keynote speaker, writer, anthropologist and National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence Wade Davis is similarly concerned by the accelerated, "stunning" loss of unique cultures worldwide. He remarks, "It's not a trivial thing, culture."
Davis recently wrapped up production of a television series that includes a segment on Polynesian navigation. While Europeans once considered the widespread nature of Polynesian civilization accidental, he says, "These journeys were deliberate, repetitive, incredibly complex" — akin, he says, to putting a man on the moon.
To Davis, this story is important "not simply because of the magnitude of Polynesian achievement, but because of what it tells us about a different way of knowing."
Abadir echoes this sentiment, suggesting that summit attendees "spice it up" by visiting a session that they don't think is relevant to what they do. They'll find, she suspects, that it is.
"Do the mosaic thing — that's what this is all about," says Abadir.