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Oahu Art Collective Still Awaiting City Approval To Reopen

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Art on the Zoo Fence / Facebook
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As Oahu businesses continue to reopen, a local art mart is wondering when they will be allowed to return to a stretch of fence at the Honolulu Zoo.

Since 1953, local artists were able to display and sell their works along a stretch of fence on Monsarrat Avenue during the weekends. 

It's known as Art on the Zoo Fence.

Before the pandemic, part- and full-time artists at the art mart welcomed residents and visitors.

But like most businesses, it was forced to shut down in March 2020.

Art on the Zoo Fence president Lynn Forney says they were allowed to reopen last October. But had to close again earlier this year, after experiencing issues renewing their permit with the City.

"I've been communicating with the parks department, [asking] when can we go back, what's going on, what's happening. They said it's strictly coronavirus related," she said. 

But under the city current guidelines, commercial activity in parks can resume under Tier 3, as long as there are 10 people or less. 

For Forney, she doesn't understand why other businesses, such as bars and weddings, can resume. But a small art mart isn't allowed to 

"I've gone to the parks department, and I said we're down to seven artists a day, I've named who they were. And basically, it's a 'no, we're not issuing permits.'"

Forney says she is worried about the future of Art on the Zoo Fence, saying the longer they stay closed -- the more likely artists won't return to the zoo fence. She says while there are some part-time artists that participate every weekend, there are several full-time artists that depend on being able to sell their work at the zoo fence.

"We have to be here every weekend for people to see us, and know we're there," said Forney. "So we're losing that continuity, and people aren't coming there as much anymore. So that's what's causing me to lose artists, because they're coming down there and they feel like they sitting there for nothing."

Forney says some artists have moved on to farmers markets to display and sell their works.

HPR requested a comment from the parks department regarding the Art on the Zoo Fence's premit renewal. Nathan Serota responded with the following written statement.

"The Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation had not been issuing new permits for non-City merchant events such as [Art on the Zoo Fence], so their permit has not ye tbeen renewed. This was the case with the monthly Craft Fair held at Kapiolani Park as well, and highlights how we strive to be as fair as possible with our permitting policies . . . However, because parks are open, public lands with multiple access points, it's very difficult to ensure that group activities like this follow COVID safety guidelines, as opposed to a private event or commercial property."

Forney says she hopes her organization and the City can come to an agreement soon, with the hope of having art back on the zoo fence.

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at charlow@hawaiipublicradio.org or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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