Local artist spreads joy via free public murals in Lahaina
January 23, 2022, 6:32 AM HST
* Updated January 23, 9:40 AM
During difficult times, one Lahaina street is starting to light up with life.
Experienced artists Cynthia Monteleone of Lahaina and Zoe Leroy of Kahana are donating time and material to create public murals on walls outside homes off Lahainaluna Road.
It started with an octopus in October — then soon flourished into a garden of local flora and fauna, a spear fisherman and an ulua, a Hawaiian cultural display and now a koi pond. Already there are requests for five more murals.
“The joy is spreading contagiously to others,” Monteleone said. “That’s why I’m doing this. It’s not for me and it’s definitely not for the money — it’s for the community.”
Residents brighten when they see the colorful work. Passersby last week honked horns and yelled, “Thank you, Cynthia!” and “Keep up the good work!”
Leroy said the painters get reactions from the public every time they’re working on a mural. The artist, who went to University of California, Los Angeles and worked at SPARC mural lab there, said the positive feedback is very rewarding.
“They literally will stop and park the car and thank us and say how grateful they are this is happening in the community,” Leroy said.
“They also stop and say, can you do my wall next? So that’s pretty cool,” she added, laughing.
Maui County Council Member Tamara Paltin, who holds the West Maui residency seat, was driving her kids to school when she noticed different paintings popping up. Now, she looks for them with anticipation, curious to see what will be created next.
“It makes me happy to see the art when I drive by and during these difficult times, we need all the happiness we can find,” Paltin said. “So of course I’m very grateful to the artist and the homeowners.”
Called Lahaina Mural Arts project, the work is not funded by federal, state or county dollars. It’s a grassroots effort started by Monteleone, who has a background in mural painting.
The artist chose Lahainaluna Road because it’s a residential area that has high traffic. She said she’s knocked on doors asking for permission to paint or people will approach her and request murals.
Volunteers comprise everyone from Monteleone’s kids to professional artists such as Leroy. Some people approach the muralist from the street and ask to join. A class of 13 came down from Lahainaluna High School to help. One volunteer, an autistic student, has been with Monteleone from the start. She’s mentoring her to become a mural artist.
“She’s super talented,” Monteleone said. “My heart is full being able to share what I know with young people, especially ones who want to do this for their career.”
The owner of business Metabolic Analytics Maui, Monteleone, who is known for achievements in running and in coaching, only recently got back into mural work.
She moved to Maui about 10 years ago from Wilmington, N.C., where she had more than 35 public murals, including one in the airport and three at the university. The artist owned a gallery there and was commissioned to do work along the East Coast.
Monteleone studied art and art history in college, then she became assistant director of the Los Angeles Art Association in West Hollywood. She moved back to North Carolina in 2001 and began painting murals in 2003.
Now, her public murals total around 50 and counting.