Kahu ‘Aina Art to connect youth to native plants

Several local organizations and businesses are teaming up to creatively connect children to art, culture and nature through this summer’s Kahu ‘Aina Art Competition. The new program is entitled “Caring for the Land, Earth, and all its Beauty” and is focused on Hawai‘i’s native and cultural plants. Sponsored by the Honu Group/Princeville Center, Kahu ‘Aina is for keiki and young people from ages 5-18 years old.

As the past chairperson of the Hawai’i State Foundation for Culture and the Arts, Mona Abadir understands the importance of cultural preservation and arts education. “We are committed to partnerships that bring us together to celebrate our environment, reinforce artistic expression and encourage cultural understanding,” writes Mona Abadir of Honu Group. “The Kahu ‘Aina art program provides Kaua‘i’s collaborative nonprofits, schools and businesses the opportunity to work together for the benefit of our young people’s education in these areas. We hope all interested 5 to 18 year olds will express their creativity and learn more about our beautiful environment.”

Carol Yotsuda of the Garden Island Arts Council said, “GIAC loves bringing arts to the people and people to the arts and Kahu ‘Aina is a great project that we want to support by providing our Van Go! artists to make it happen.”

Adding the environmental component, Kaua‘i Conservation is helping GIAC to coordinate islandwide workshops for interested youth.

The workshops offer an art lesson from one of GIAC’s Van Go!-trained teachers, as well as an opportunity to experience and even care for the plants firsthand, while learning more about the subject from a local naturalist or botanist.

Students are not required to attend a workshop in order to participate in the Kahu ‘Aina Art Competition. Entry forms will be distributed throughout the island, or one may be requested. Artwork must be original and independently created on 12-inch by 16-inch paper, depicting a native or cultural Hawaiian plant. Any kind of medium is acceptable. There is no fee to enter, but only one entry per person can be submitted for the competition. All of the entries are due by Aug. 11. Drop off locations are at KCDM from July 23 to July 27, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and at Princeville Center B207 Aug. 6 to Aug. 11, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m..

Ken Wood, research biologist for NTBG, helped to train the GIAC’s art teachers in order to prepare them for the Kahu ‘Aina program. As part of this creative and educational marriage between the art and conservation community, Wood said he was happy to be involved in the project because “sharing with young students the beauty of the natural world, and offering them the tools and freedom to artistically express their perceptions of the universe can in itself nurture a deeper relationship with Earth and life’s many forms.”

At a recent workshop, the day began with a lesson on native plants. The students were “wowed” to hear that they live on the island with the highest rate of endemic plants (species found nowhere else in the world) on the entire planet.

About 20 plants from the NTBG nursery were carefully chosen with nursery manager, Bob Nishek, who brought them to the school as a demonstration. Not only did the plants provide live specimens for the students to observe for their paintings, they were also gifts presented to the school’s own native plant garden.

“Even though my outreach work focuses on invasive species,” said Kozak, “I think it is especially important to talk about native species. If the children don’t know about, have never seen or experienced our native flora, how can we expect them to be passionate about protecting them? How can I expect them to care about preventing the introduced pests and weeds that are threatening them?”

After a long, fun-filled day of learning about plants and painting them, children could then match their artwork with a plant now found near their playground. Species such as ohai, puakala, awikiwiki, koa, pohinahina, and Panicum niihauensis, an endemic to Ni‘ihau, found a new home at the school.

Students will take part in caring for these special plants by taking turns with watering and weeding kuleana, directed by their teacher Hokulani Cleeland and principal Haunani Seward.

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