The Varden Hotel - Long Beach, California, 90802, United States

POW! WOW! Lands in Long Beach

By: Asia Morris

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“To me, this event is very quintessential of what our city is about,” said Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia at a press conference today outside the Varden Hotel in downtown Long Beach.

“This event is about art, it's about community, it's about taking public and private space and making it accessible to everyone," Garcia said. "It really is about bringing the community together to appreciate, to support art, culture, new ideas and hopefully really great conversation over the course of this week and beyond.”

The event is POW! WOW!, a world-renowned outdoor art festival founded originally by Jasper Wong and first launched in Oahu, Hawaii five years ago.

The event had arrived in Long Beach, thanks to Wong and a groundswell of support from local volunteers, organizations and companies such as Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau, Downtown Long Beach Associates (DLBA), interTrend Communications and its sister company, Imprint Culture Lab, the Long Beach Museum of Art and the City of Long Beach.

The event relies on the participation of world-acclaimed artists like James Jean, Low Bros, Nychos, Fafi, Cryptik, Hueman, Benjie Escobar, Madsteez, Tristan Eaton, Aaron DeLa Cruz, Push, Jeff Soto, and Long Beach locals Jeff McMillan and Bumblebee. All involved will transform 10 outdoor walls into works of art.

“POW! WOW! represents the growing respect street art has garnered as a legitimate art form,” said Kraig Kojian, DLBA President and CEO, in an earlier press statement. “In conjunction with our own efforts to increase accessibility to free art - particularly through live music events or the artistic activation of spaces - this event creates what we believe is a perfect partnership with our Downtown community."

Larry Black, co-owner of the historic Dolly Varden hotel in downtown Long Beach—fondly known as “The Varden”—was the first private building owner to offer up a wall to be painted.

Black said that after restoring the iconic sign atop the hotel last summer, he “had this massive brick wall, this massive ugly brick wall” that he imagined a mural could work wonders upon. He put the project on the backburner, yet soon received a phone call from Ron Nelson, director of the Long Beach Museum of Art, asking if he wanted to be a part of POW! WOW! Long Beach. Black immediately said yes.

The Varden will be one of several privately and publicly owned locations, including Park [d] Plaza, Lyon Art Supply’s fence, J.W. Goodson’s Salon, Berlin Bistro and City Hall East whose walls will be covered in murals.

According to the mayor, the work will remain permanent for as long as the property owner desires.

“I think what excites me about this project is it also speaks to the idea of urban renewal and it speaks to the idea that art looks very different to a variety of different people,” said Garcia during the press event. “And, for me, I've seen art on the street, and public art and street art is the the type of art that I remember growing up seeing as a kid in my neighborhood.”

He said he thinks "it's important for us as a city to celebrate not just the great works of art that we have at the Long Beach Museum [of Art], at MOLAA, at all of our cultural institutions, but also the great art that we see on the street," in this case, POW! WOW! Long Beach.

Tristan Eaton, who will be painting the “massive ugly brick wall” of The Varden, alongside James Jean, said hopefully POW! WOW! Long Beach will serve as an inspiration for the community, especially for a lot of the younger artists.

“Everyone has been working really hard in the sun and we all do this for the love of it,” he said. “For us to be able to paint our work large and in a public setting is a great dream for a lot of us. There's no admission charge, it's free for everyone, for the public, and hopefully it'll inspire a lot of the younger artists and the people in the community."

James Jean noted that it will certainly be interesting to see how his “tiny sliver of wall” will develop compared to Eaton’s monstrous masterpiece. Jean will be using a brush while Eaton will free-hand spray paint, two very different processes that when placed side by side, will certainly be one of the more intriguing artistic operations to watch this week.

As far as putting Long Beach on the map as a thriving art epicenter, Julia Huang, CEO of Downtown Long Beach-based interTrend Communications worked with sister company Imprint Culture Lab in playing a huge role in bringing the artists to Long Beach as well as making the event actually happen.

Huang spoke at City Council earlier this month and noted that the total online and social media reach of the event will stretch past 600 million people due to several of the artists’ “Kim Kardashian-sized” followings, when grouped together.

Huang, who has visited both POW! WOW! Hawaii and POW! WOW! Taiwan, said during the press event on Tuesday that Long Beach has it all: great weather, the support of cultural institutions such as the Long Beach Museum of Art, the Arts Council for Long Beach, and many others, and “the best mayor in the whole United States.”

Wong, founder and director of POW! WOW! as a whole, also commended the city for its unwavering support from the get-go.

“I've been telling everyone here that we actually get more support here than in the last cities that we've worked on in the past, even more than in our hometown in Hawaii and it's been mind-blowing," he said.

"We kind of just hope to light the spark, the first match, and from there it just blows up on its own," added Kamea Hadar, one of the lead directors for POW! WOW!.

Nelson, who spearheaded Vitality and Verve: Transforming the Urban Landscape, bringing world-renowned artists to paint temporary murals inside the LBMA, called watching artists conducting their work "magical."

"It's a pretty solitary existence and you're not performing for anyone and I just think it takes an amazing amount of guts to get out and to do that in public and really produce the quality of work that's being done here," he said.

“We're just pleased that we are bringing the world to Long Beach and eventually we would like Long Beach to go to the world, as well,” Huang said to the crowd. “And that was really just the small spirit of why we wanted to bring POW! WOW! to Long Beach.”

Don’t forget to visit the Pow! Wow! Pop-Up Shop, to take place at interTrend Communications, located at 228 East Broadway, Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00AM to 5:00PM. Pick up some POW! WOW! swag before it's all gone, including your free POW! WOW! Long Beach Passport. You can also grab City Fabrick's Walking Loop Cards at the pop-up shop or at City Fabrick's office, located at 425 East 4th Street Unit E.

For more general information about POW! WOW! Long Beach, click here.

Visitors can check out the artists at work throughout the week, ending on Sunday, June 28. For a list of the artists and their mural locations, click here.

For a list of the surrounding events, including POW! WOW! School of Music and the LBMA’s exhibition Vitality and Verve, click here.

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