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Students, community to paint mural on Kahilu Theatre wall through Mele Murals project

Makana Mahuna puts the finishing touches on her portion of a Mele Mural on Oahu in November. (COURTESY PHOTO BY DARRYL OUMI)
Makana Mahuna puts the finishing touches on her portion of a Mele Mural on Oahu in November. (COURTESY PHOTO BY DARRYL OUMI)
Makali’i Bertelmann shares his sketch in a Mele Murals oli workshop on Oahu in November.  (COURTESY PHOTO BY DARRYL OUMI)
Makali’i Bertelmann shares his sketch in a Mele Murals oli workshop on Oahu in November. (COURTESY PHOTO BY DARRYL OUMI)

By next Thursday, a new community mural will cover an outside wall of Kahilu Theatre thanks to Kanu o Ka Aina teacher Kanoa Castro and his students.

The painting project, which is part of the Estria Foundation’s Mele Murals, with bring together more than 200 students from Waimea schools, as well as kupuna, other community leaders and residents for a special paint party day on March 3, with a final unveiling on March 6, from 4 to 6 p.m.

The artwork will be the first neighbor island mural for the group. Through Mele Murals, the Estria Foundation plans to paint a total of 20 murals across the state – all with the theme of mele and mo’olelo – Hawaiian lyrics and stories of culture and heritage.

The mural idea began when Castro, who teaches Language Arts and a place-based class at Kanu o ka Aina, had his students working on class projects for a lesson on art and music as a revolution. One of his students asked to do a project on graffiti, and Castro contacted the Estria Foundation for information.

“That was about the time they were conceptualizing other murals and figuring out other sites,” he said.

According to the Estria Foundation website, Mele Murals is a “youth development, arts education, cultural preservation, and community-building project.” Castro said that when they create a mural, the group is dedicated to preserving Hawaiian cultural heritage through art using mele and mo’olelo.

“They are awesome with not only paying attention to the essence of the story correctly, but to following the protocols to make sure everything is pono with the mural,” Castro said.

The Estria team includes Estria Miyashiro, co-founder and creative director for the Estria Foundation and the lead artist for Mele Murals, John Prime Hina, founder of 808 Urban and lead artist for Mele Murals, and Mahea Akau, project coordinator for Mele Murals. The group arrived in Waimea to work on the project on Feb. 24 and began designing the mural with students, teachers and cultural advisers.

“They are not dictating what they want, they are listening and working hand-in-hand with the students and the community,” Castro said. “The kids paint along side until the very end. The purpose is to be community – to have ownership over the piece.”

Before the Monday paint party, they will transfer the creation onto the Kahilu Theatre wall facing Waimea Elementary and Middle School, and will then welcome the community to paint it.

To prepare for the Waimea wall, Castro took a group of students from Kanu o ka Aina, Waimea Middle School and Hawaii Preparatory Academy to Oahu for a two-day Mele Murals orientation in November.

Makana Mahuna, a senior at Kanu o ka Aina who is doing her senior project on the mural, went with the group to Honolulu. According to Castro, Mahuna has been an important organizer, and she helped work with the Estria Foundation to plan the project.

“It was really good, especially working with Estria. He is super-talented,” Mahuna said of her Oahu painting experience.

She said not only did she learn about painting techniques, but also about teamwork and the Hawaiian history depicted.

“They didn’t just make us paint they made sure we know what we were painting about,” she said.

Mahuna said she has been involved with the project since her sophomore year, so she is grateful to have the opportunity to see its completion before she graduates.

“I really want the community to get involved in it – the kupuna to get involved,” she said. “Ten years from now, I want the younger kids in the school to be supported and to keep getting involved.”

Scheduled to work on the wall with Kanu o ka Aina students are students from a variety of local schools, including Waimea Middle School, Punana Leo o Waimea, ‘Alo Kehau o ka ‘Aina Mauna, Hawaii Preparatory Academy and Parker School. According to Castro, the 200 students will be working on the mural throughout the day, with about 25 students working on it at a time.

“This is a good opportunity not only for my students, it is also a teaching piece for the community and all the other teachers in Waimea,” Castro said. “I hope they will be able to go up to the wall and be able to tell the story of Waimea based on what is there. Potentially, it can be there for along time.”

“I hope it will bring the community together, listening to the kupuna and coloring with the various schools from Waimea,” Castro added. “It is a way to be part of something bigger, because it is one of 20 murals going up across the state.”

He said that he wants his students to know they are not alone – they are part of a bigger movement across Hawaii to preserve and to learn about their culture.

On Monday, March 3, all are invited from the community to bring a paintbrush and to help paint the wall, starting at 9 a.m. throughout the day.

The community unveiling celebration is from 4 to 6 p.m., Thursday, March 6, at the Kahilu Theatre. The event will include food booths and music – all are invited. For more information on the Estria Foundation and Mele Murals, visit For more information on the Waimea mural, contact Castro at Kanu o ka Aina at 890-8144.