On a concrete pillar supporting the Honolulu rail guideway, an engraving suggests the eyes of Lono, a Hawaiian god associated with agriculture, surveying the rich soil of Aloun Farms.

In a few years, the site will be developed into the 11,750-home Hoopili development. The history of the land, however, will remain in the images engraved into rail columns that will support a rail station.

Plans call for all 21 rail stations to incorporate artwork both inside the stations and on some of the columns beneath them, depicting the history of that particular area. The interior station art is part of the federal Art-in-Transit program.

Engraved columns stand in Aloun Farms where the future Hoopili housing development will be. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

“We wanted to tell a story that goes a little bit deeper,” said local architect Daniel Kanekuni, the artist who drew the designs for all the columns. “Gone are the days where you just stamp a hibiscus on something and call it a day.”

Kanekuni is senior vice president at WCIT Architecture, and he drew all the images that will appear on embossed columns under all of the stations. He said he was helped by colleagues at the firm who researched the history of each location.

So far, 452 columns have been erected stretching from the future East Kapolei station to just past the planned Aloha Stadium station, said Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation spokesman Bill Brennan. Out of those, 58 columns are embossed. No station is complete, but nine are under construction, he said.

Each station will have four to 12 embossed columns to integrate Hawaiian culture into the rail project, Brennan said. Kanekuni’s firm was hired through Kiewit, the contracting company HART hired to complete a portion of the railway.

The total cost of the art within the actual stations is expected to be $5 million. But Brennan said the cost of the aesthetic column program was negotiated between two private companies and he did not provide a cost estimate for it, except to say the embossed columns generally cost 10 percent more to produce than the rest of the columns.

Daniel Kanekuni, senior vice president of WCIT Architecture, explains the process of creating column art for the Honolulu rail. Kanekuni drew designs for embossed columns that will be under all 21 rail stations. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Each column will have a 12-panel embossing, and each panel has an image that depicts a unique story from the ahupuaa where the station stands.

Engravings on all of the embossed columns will appear in three rows: the top row reflects elements of the sky and heavens, the middle row elements born into the world, and the bottom row elements of the Earth and sea.

Most of the images stem from Hawaiian history prior to Western contact, Kanekuni said.

On the columns at Hoopili, one panel depicts the sun, wind and rain showers in arching and swirling lines that illustrate how nature creates plants on the fertile land. Another shows the muscled arm of Kahai, a sea-rover in Hawaiian legend, planting the first ulu, or breadfruit, trees. A bottom panel depicts a fern sprouting out of the soil to represent new growth, like the Hoopili development itself.

“I’m glad we are able to do something that is distinctly Hawaiian,” Kanekuni said. “It’s authentic. It’s who we are.”

Renderings of embossed rail columns are on display at WCIT Architecture. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

In addition to the embossed columns, all 21 stations will have public art installations inside required by the Art-in-Transit program as a stipulation to receiving money from the Federal Transit Administration. The amount set aside for the Art-in-Transit program for in-station public art pieces is $5 million, calculated in 2009 from 1 percent of the estimated station construction costs and 1 percent of the estimated rail operations center cost, Brennan said. The program is funded by the Federal Transit Administration and the county surcharge on the general excise tax.

A call for artists to do the rail station installations went out in May 2013 and HART received more than 400 applications. Because it was a federally funded program, the call was open to any artist in the United States. Those selected had to demonstrate an understanding and appreciation of Hawaiian culture.

So far, 11 contracts for the Art-in-Transit program have been granted for amounts ranging from $109,000 to $256,000.

DeMont Conner, co-manager of Hoomana Pono, an organization focused on rights of Native Hawaiians, said he wishes they were being given more of a shot at the station contracts. He said if people are doing “artwork of a Hawaiian flavor,” those people should have a Native Hawaiian lineage.

“The kids at the Hawaiian schools, whether they are in grade school or college, (HART) couldn’t find not one Hawaiian qualified to do it?” Conner asked.

He  said he understands that HART could not limit the call to one ethnic group while using federal funds. However, he said, as an advocate for Native Hawaiians he hopes there will be a forensic audit to scrutinize how money is being used in the art programs.

“Part of our beef is because of that right there,” he said. “Hawaiians have no part in the rail.”

Station Artists

Brennan said HART collected extensive cultural research on the areas around the rail to ensure Hawaiian histories were represented in the station art. The authority’s Transit Art Committee evaluated and selected artists. As the artists design their pieces for inside each station, the committee collaborates with them on what kind of piece will be created, the size and the content.

When Maui artist Bob Flint started designing his piece, he received a thick binder detailing the area’s cultural history. He won a $121,000 contract for art in a 13-by-15 feet space inside the East Kapolei station, and was told to depict the endangered red Hawaiian ilima, a small flower that resembles a hibiscus, and the hala, or pandans tree.

For about six months, he designed a low-relief sculpted mural with a hint of pronounced texture. In his career as an artist, he has worked almost exclusively with clay murals, often creating tiles bearing his interpretation of Hawaiian petroglyphs. He received his ceramics degree from the University of Hawaii Manoa after coming to the islands in the 1960s.

As the artists finish each stage of creation, HART gives feedback. The artists receive a percentage of the payment after each stage is completed.

Bob Flint is creating a low-relief sculpted mural for the East Kapolei station. Courtesy of Bob Flint

Carol Bennett won the $230,000 contract to create art for inside the Pearl Harbor station. She has fulfilled more than 200 commissions for large art, including an installation in the Honolulu Convention Center as part of the “Up, Down And Drink” paintings over the center’s water fountains.

She has a studio on Kauai and has lived in Hawaii for 30 years. Currently, she is waiting for the go-ahead from HART to start designing the Pearl Harbor station art.

Bennett said she enjoys rail art because it is “a surprise to people looking to get where they are going. It suspends you in a moment of contemplation.”

The controversy surrounding the finances for the over-budget rail project has not impacted her excitement to create art for the Pearl Harbor station.

“The last time I was in New York, I got in the metro rail and went to every single station. I didn’t get off and go to the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art) or Coney Island or the Statue of Liberty,” she said. “It was like a feast because I could just ride that rail and see the incredible public art that was responding to the situation and location.”

This is her first foray into urban rail art.

“When I install public pieces of art, my job is done and then it’s your job. The work is half-finished. The work is completed when you look at it and think about it.”

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