Believe! In Angel Donors -- and in Arts at Marks Garage

Jan 10, 2020

The Arts at Marks will go on! One person, well, two, have made all the difference. Last September, the Arts at Marks Garage was looking at closing completely.  Since opening in 2001, Honolulu Chinatown’s experimental art space has been a hub for theater, visual arts, fashion, film, spoken word, community meetings, and much more. 

Kim Taylor Reece and Keoni Payton. Untitled Collaboration #3 (Prison). Only Kim Taylor Reece could do this to his own iconic photographs--but would he even think of it? Yeah! thanks to this collab with aerosol artist Keoni Payton. This image might not be appreciated everywhere else you see more mainstream works by Reece. This is what experimental venues are for.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

Dancer Peiling Kao continues her ElectroViolet series of improvisational movement and audio on Friday and Saturday nights, January 10 and 11, 7:30 at the Arts at Marks, and director Jason Kanda stages a Pacific premiere later in January. A range of Chinatown artists is showing now in the future Susan Rogers Aregger Gallery. 

Four months ago, the Arts at Marks board figured, barring a miracle, the place would be closing by the end of 2019. As Matthew Kelty describes it, Donna Blanchard was leaving as Board Advisor.

“Donna had come on your show and said we really need to raise about fifty thousand dollars in order to keep the doors open and heck, if someone gives us fifty thousand dollars, we’ll name the theater after them," recounts Kelty. "Dan Fox heard that and said, I think I can do that.”

“He basically showed up at the tea party,” says arts impresario and heavy lifter Maile Meyer. The Arts board had a visioning session, Mad Hatter style.  “People were hanging out having a good time, thinking, What we’re going to do? And this very kind and generous man with a clear sense of what his wife loved (came in), and boom, there you go!”

The renamed Susan Rogers Aregger Gallery opens at The Arts in February 2020. Kelty figures the cash infusion will supplement partner fees and other income to buy another year in the space.  In that time, the idea is to institute best business practices for a non-profit, book an exciting season of programming, and secure some meaningful grants. Community giving will continue to be a big part of the business model.

Under its new name, the inaugural visual art show will feature Aregger’s artwork, primarily raku ceramic pieces.  Aregger was a long-time member of the Hawai‘i Potters’ Guild, where her memory will live on now, through an incredible gift. Aregger’s husband Dan Fox, is funding a new community kiln at the Guild in her name. More on that soon.

Meyer, owner of Na Mea Hawai‘i and Native Books, is one of the new faces on The Arts’ board of directors. Urban planner Melissa May is president of the board, which also includes photographer Kim Taylor Reece, and media executive Jason Cutinella of NMG.

Meyer cautions never to underestimate unconventional approaches. It was a Mad Hatter Tea Party that led to  Matthew Kelty, recent UH Mānoa Asian Theatre PhD, becoming interim Executive Director of the Arts at Marks.

“We’re an incubator for young and emerging artists,” says Kelty, “We give folks a chance where they may not have a chance anywhere else.”

Kelty emphasizes that The Arts is the most affordable venue for theatre and visual art in the area, by far. Affordability allows experimental things to happen.

‘You can’t experiment, you’re boring, I’m sorry,’ says Meyer, “That’s what we’re looking for, people who understand the value of places that are accessible to lots of different forms of expression.”

Why? Because allowing experimentation and difference is the way to encourage new solutions. 

Kelty aims for The Arts to be a hive of creative activity, known around the Pacific as a hub for high quality, adventurous work. People do seek this sort of thing out.

The model is to support artists making work and engaging with audiences through grants, partner fees, ticket sales and donations. Partners at The Arts could work out arrangements to use the space for yoga, dance, meetings, zumba, or parties. The Arts is espcecially looking for ways to activate the space during the day.

1001 Friends of the Arts has been started so people can sustainably support this venue, whose monthly rent and upkeep run $16-17 thousand dollars a month.

“If a thousand people each just gave $20 a month,” says Kelty, “We could cover our costs, produce great work, and really plan the future.”

How much does Honolulu value a place to try out new ideas?

By the way, if you’ve got an idea, think about it. Pitch it. The Arts at Marks is interested. They always have been.