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Island art festival sets sights north

By Kirsten Swann 2:40 PM January 23, 2014

Organizers of an international street art movement hope to bring the larger-than-life project home to the Last Frontier.

ANCHORAGE – A Hawaii-based international art project is on track to breathe new life into the Anchorage cityscape.

Pow! Wow! – the brainchild of artist Jasper Wong – is a global network of artists centered around a week-long street art festival held in Hawaii since 2011.  The festival brings together acclaimed international and local artists to create large-scale murals, and for the past three years, the project has covered Hawaii’s Kaka’ako district with thousands of square feet of original, colorful public works of art.

It’s the same splash of color Alaskan Alexis Vaught is working to bring to the Last Frontier.

“To me, Alaska is one of the most beautiful and culturally rich places on this planet,” Vaught said. “I would not only love to share my home with some of today’s brightest and most prolific street artists, but be able to give the community something to have year round.”

Vaught is working with Wong to coordinate the project. She said if she could secure the wall space, the festival’s founder would bring the artists and supplies. The undertaking would require as much room as possible, Wong said: Participating artists liked creating larger-than-life paintings that would have big impacts on the surrounding areas.

In northeast Anchorage, Mao Tosi said he knows just the spot.

The community advocate and manager of the Northway Mall said he’s offering up the shopping center’s blank walls to the island art project. The mall – which houses several dozen local businesses and sits adjacent to the Glenn Highway – could provide as much as 200,000 square feet of blank canvas for visiting and local artists, Tosi said. Artists could transform the aging building’s interior atriums and the big back walls overlooking the highway.

“It’s something that I would love to see here,” he said. “I just really think Mountain View needs those type of art projects to happen.”

While Tosi said he’s extended the offer, the project remains in the planning stages.

Arielo Taylor, one of the Anchorage artists Vaught contacted about the project, said he believes it could introduce fresh ideas and new colors into the city scenery.

“It would be great to do pieces in schools, community centers, and eventually all neighborhoods, pretty much anywhere people will see it,” Taylor said. “I’d like people to see art and get inspired by it, or at least stop and appreciate it for a minute.”

Taylor’s own work ranges from street art to oil painting. He said he’d like to see the large-scale mural project take place Downtown, where business and foot traffic combined for maximum visibility.

“It’s kind of like the center of our art scene,” he said.

Vaught said she’s working to reach out to the Anchorage Downtown Partnership. While some buildings in the downtown business district already sport full-scale murals — like the whales on the side of 5th Avenue Mall or the scene overlooking the parking lot at City Hall — many others sport sloppy graffiti or peeling paint jobs.

That’s where Pow! Wow! could come in, Vaught said.

“This project would give insight to our community on what’s going on artistically and culturally around the globe, while allowing them to watch masters create and experience the whole creative process,” she said. “It is time to put Alaska on the map in the art world.”

Wong said the festival’s network included artists from Cambodia, Australia, Germany, Austria, London, Japan, China, Portugal, Chile and beyond. With enough space, he said he’d like to bring them all.

Tosi, whose wall space sits at the corner of one of the busiest intersections in the state and across the highway from the most culturally diverse neighborhood in the country, thinks it would be a perfect fit.

“As far as visibility, none are as strong as the Northway Mall,” he said. “I’ve always said this is just a canvas.”

While Vaught works with the project’s founder to finalize the details, she said she’s encouraged by the initial flood of positive responses from Alaskan artists.

“Art is life and I think it’s important to bring another piece of culture and experience home and share it with others,” she said.

Click here to learn more about the project.

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