Arts at Marks Garage: It’s Now or Never

Sep 6, 2019

The Arts at Marks Garage became an immediate fixture in Chinatown after it opened in 2001, mostly because there is nothing else like it.  The Arts shows everything from edgy performance pieces to youth poetry and watercolors.  It is also a shared office, and a satellite for the Friends of the Library. Now, the Arts at Marks is taking a hard look at its prospects in Chinatown.

Art openings, workshops, lectures, performances, parties, etc., are approachable at The Arts at Marks. There's easy parking at the nearby Beretania Street public lot.
Credit Arts at Marks

The Arts at Marks’ Arts Aid concert series begins Sunday, September 15th 2019, with Barry Flanagan of Hapa and Eric Gilliam. Find tickets at the Arts at Marks website.

About 45 thousand people swing through The Arts and Marks Garage every year, what with all the art exhibits, performances, screenings, workshops, meetings, but art photographer Kim Taylor Reece says we can’t take all that for granted.

“We’re kind of in an emergency. We don’t know if we’ll last six or nine months down the road if we don’t get the support.”

Fine art photographer Kim Taylor Reece is best known for his sepia toned photographs of hula kahiko, but the range of his work has been broad over forty years in Hawai'i. He has just joined the new board of The Arts at Marks and is offering a personal portrait to new Arts at Marks members who join at $10 a month or more.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

Reece has joined a completely new Board of Directors at the Arts at Marks, led by urban planner Melissa White. We sat down with Board Advisor Donna Blanchard to look seriously at this unique community asset, and contemplate what could happen.

“It would just have to shut down, be an empty building,” says Reece.

Blanchard, who stepped in to advise The Arts board two years ago, says, “We’re looking at it realistically to say, we can’t continue this hand to mouth thing.”

Blanchard is executive director for Kumu Kahua Theatre, another Chinatown non-profit. She says Kumu makes its rent through sponsors, grants, and ticket sales. The Arts is currently paying a debt, and ironing out past funding relationships, and therefore relies solely on partner rents and proceeds from art or ticket sales.

Credit Arts at Marks

According to Blanchard, "It’s a constant cycle for The Arts that it’s never had these donations and sponsorships to really make a difference.  When they kicked off the 1001 Friends program, the idea was to get 1001 people to donate $10 a month.  Now, it’s about thirty people.

The Arts has had no executive director since its founding director, Rich Richardson, left two years ago. The space is run by an internal hui of contract employees who, in fact, have been with The Arts for many years. You’ll probably see the smiling face of Carlyn Wolfe as you enter. 

The Arts at Marks houses a satellite bookstore run by Friends of the Hawai'i State Library. It's open for business and browsing Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5pm. Find books, vinyl, and other media for bargain prices.
Credit Arts at Marks

Sarah Bauer and gallery director  Ryan Sueoka help manage the performance space, the arts tenants, special events, and more.  The Arts has just begun producing its own material, which should help with theatrical production costs. The first production is titled, “Between My Legs.” It will present non-binary storytelling along the lines of the Vagina Monologues.

Kim Taylor Reece, whose sepia kahiko hula dancers define a genre, is offering a portrait sitting for anyone who becomes a sustaining Arts member at $10 a month. Barry Flanagan of Hapa will kick off an Arts Aid concert series September 20th with Eric Gilliam from Maui. The Sunday evening concerts are designed to draw neighbors out of the many Chinatown condos. John Cruz and Taimane are also getting on board.

Donna Blanchard, Managing Director of Kumu Kahua Theatre, has been advising the Arts at Marks board since 2017.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

The Arts is open noon to 5pm Tuesdays through Saturdays, with art in the galleries and seating areas for lunchtime visitors. The public restroom at The Arts may be the only one in Chinatown. 

“What I like is the idea of a business using a creative space when they need to be creative," says Blanchard, who welcomes sponsors to use a meeting room, offer event tickets to clients, hold gatherings, or book their own presenters.  They are looking for a $50 thousand dollar super sponsor to name the theater after.

“It makes you feel more creative when you’re knocked off your axis for a while,” says Blanchard. “That’s what people can use the arts for more, that I wish they would.” The Arts has a track record for tailoring a wide range of events and activities to the space. 

Reece is selling his North Shore gallery and has already moved back to Chinatown.  He joined The Arts board because he says, having a place to physically show work is crucial for artists. Reece and his wife, Kanoe, lived downtown and had a gallery on Bethel Street in the recent heyday of the Arts District, the mid to late 2000’s.

“Yeah and it was fun, it was great. We’d bring in all  these other artists, we’d bring in musicians and they would play. The streets were packed, from seventy year-olds to families and babies in strollers. Everybody would go to all the galleries and they’d head out to the bars and clubs afterwards.”

The Arts at Marks is the home of Hawai'i's annual Shakespeare Festival which has staged every play the Bard has written. The Festival continues to explore Shakespeare's works and make them available to new actors and audiences.
Credit Arts at Marks

Blanchard, joined the Chinatown party 7 years ago, and says she’s seen big changes.

“The way that we can keep Chinatown healthy is to make sure that we continue having places like Marks Garage bringing people into the neighborhood. I feel like I want to shout from the mountaintops, Come to Chinatown! Do not be afraid. Even though I just told you there are a lot of houseless people there, they’re your neighbors, they’re residents of Hawai‘i just like you. Come into downtown!”

The ARTS at Marks Garage is located at 1159 Nu'uanu Avenue, on the corner of Nu'uanu and Pauahi Street. It is open daily Tuesday through Saturday, 12 to 5pm. Stop by with a friend, bring lunch, enjoy the A/C and open seating. Buy a book or cruise the vinyl at the Friends of the Library satellite.

If you wish to call for information: 808-521-2903.

Actor, arts organizer Misa Tupou has been staging Honolulu's Fringe Festival in Chinatown since its inception. A personal portrait by Kim Taylor Reece is a member benefit for anyone joining the 1001 Friends of Marks Garage at $10 or more per month. Find out more at artsatmarks.com.
Credit Kim Taylor Reece