Until a few weeks ago, the Keahua Bridge, better known as the Wailua Loop Road Bridge, had its concrete dividers and walkway covered in graffiti. The bridge is a popular stop for sightseers, hikers, swimmers and stream-waders, according a news release from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife staff on Kaua‘i contacted the art program at Kapa‘a High School to propose a way to combat the vandalism and beautify the bridge structures, which are only a few years old.
“We are always happy when we can work with students who want to contribute to protecting and beautifying the public lands around them,” said Sheri S. Mann, DOFAW Kaua‘i Branch Manager. “This bridge is basically a doorway to the Wailua forest lands and having student art represent that is very special. We hope it will lead to less graffiti and more community involvement.”
For four days, as many as 20 students at a time opened more than 30 cans of paint, mixed it, and began creating large murals on the newly washed concrete bridge structures.
“We started planning and creating sketches in class, last fall,” said Vanessa Owens, their teacher. “We consulted with Hawaiian cultural practitioners to ensure that our murals were respectful and accurate portrayals of both our host culture and of the natural world around this area.”
The final design features a pair of hula dancers who tell, through the art, the story of the importance of water and of the ahupua‘a (land division) of this area.
“We wanted to be culturally pono,” Owens said.
Owens said the bridge murals have been very well received by the community and by people visiting the area. She says based on her experience, murals tend to dissuade continued tagging by graffiti artists as they typically won’t cover up someone else’s artwork. Once the murals are complete it will be sealed with a coating, which should make it easy to wash off any graffiti in the future. Art students, in the future, expect to help maintain and touch-up the murals as needed.
In addition to the obvious overall benefit of beautifying the bridge, Owens believes the students involved in the project won’t be inclined to tag public places themselves and may help discourage other teens from doing so.
Freshman art student Natalia Orne touched up ocean waves stretching the entire length of one concrete wall.
“I’m really excited about these murals because it gave me an opportunity to paint, which I love, and to give back to the community,” Orne said.