Maui Arts & Entertainment

ST*BA presents Oscar-nominated Richard O’Connor and Ball State University at ʻĪao Theater

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The public is invited to experience the premiere of six animated shorts by artist Richard O’Connor and a presentation of Small Town, Big Stories – a yearlong Master’s project by Ball State University’s Center for Emerging Media Design.

This special event takes place from on Friday, April 1, 2022, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at Wailuku Town’s ʻĪao Theater, and is free and open to the public. 

The Small Town, Big Stories project will serve as a tool to continually create and collect stories from the Maui community.

ʻĪao Theater. File photo courtesy via Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez.

“Imagine a room crowded with voices of discovery, contemplation, concern, hope,” according to the Artist Statement from Richard O’Connor’s final project synopsis, “The sounds envelop, invite you to join. Each point, a vibrating locus of community. Each person is a star in the ever-expanding constellation.”

A 2022 Oscar Nominee for Best Animated Short Film, amongst many other accolades, artist Richard O’Connor has become known locally as the animation wizard affiliated with StoryCorps. His work also includes theatrical features (Frank Oz’ “The Stepford Wives”, Merchant/Ivory’s “White Countess”, Rebecca Miller’s “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee”), documentaries (“Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns”,  “Chicago Ten”, “Nursery University”), television (Nickelodeon’s “Kablam!”, Cartoon Network’s “Big Bag”, PBS’ “Between the Lions”) and commercials. He has taught at Parsons School of Design, NYU, University of the Arts, and Rhode Island School Design, and currently serves on the steering committee of Our Next 4 Years, an organization dedicated to producing progressive work for a better future. 

Since December, he has been developing this ST*BA collection from his Brooklyn, NY studio based on audio recordings, study of Mary Kawena Pukui’s ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs and Political Sayings, photographs submitted by Wailuku community members – most notably, Wallette Pellegrino, (whose images you will see within the films), and regular conversations with core ST*BA team members: Public Art Specialist Kelly McHugh-White, County of Maui Planning & Development Chief Erin Wade, and Maui Historical Society Executive Director Sissy Lake-Farm. Sissy worked closely with Richard to identify ʻōlelo that would help root his work in a sense of place, ultimately choosing #327: E lauhoe mai na waʻa; i ke kā, i ka hoe; i ka hoe, i ke kā; pae aku i ka `āina. (Everybody paddle the canoes together; bail and paddle, paddle and bail, and the shore is reached. Pitch in with a will, everybody, and the work is quickly done.) 

When asked how he approached this particular project, O’Connor said, “Sometimes it’s best to let the project approach you. This is a perfect example. Listening to one story, then another, and another they quickly came into communication with another.  Each conversation colored and reflected the others. The goal became allowing them to not only connect with one another but to include another party – the spectator. Each conversation conjured a specific feeling. The visuals stem from mood arising when you close your eyes and tune into sounds and silences of the voices.” 

Still frames from O’Connor’s animations will be on view at Wailuku Coffee Company’s 26 N Market St., Wailuku location for the month of April, launched with the live action premiere at this April 1 ʻĪao Theater event. His films will feature story excerpts from the following intergenerational pairings: 

  1. Kepā Maly, Cultural Historian & Resource Specialist and Lopaka White, Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission (Full Talk Story | Excerpt)
  2. Roselle Bailey, Kumu Hula, Ka’Imi Na’auao O Hawaii Nei Institute and Anuhea Yagi, Student of Hawaiian Life Ways (Full Talk Story | Excerpt)
  3. Skippy Hau, Retired Aquatic Biologist, State of Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources and Dean Tokishi, Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission (Full Talk Story | Excerpt)
  4. Wallette Pellegrino, Host of  Preserving Our Recollections” Oral History TV Program for University of Hawaii Maui College and Kalapana Kollars, Hawaiian Cultural Programs Director, Lahaina Restoration Foundation (Full Talk Story | Excerpt)
  5. Clifford Naeʻole, Cultural Advisor at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua and Hōkūao Pellegrino, Sustainability & ʻĀina-Based Learning Designer & Facilitator, Kamehameha Schools Maui (Full Talk Story | Excerpt)
  6. Gordean Bailey, Kumu Hula, Halau Wehiwehi of Leilehua and Sissy Lake-Farm, Kumu Hula, Hālau Makana Aloha O Ka Lauaʻe ​and Executive Director, Hale Hōʻikeʻike at the Bailey House Museum/ Maui Historical Society (Full Talk Story | Excerpt)

Upon learning about this new story-based direction for the ST*BA initiative, a cohort of eight international graduate students from Indiana’s Ball State University Center for Emerging Media Design and Development joined on to contribute.

Under the direct supervision of Faculty Advisor and Photojournalist/ Documentary Photographer Kevin Moloney, Ph.D., this work became the capstone of their course of study, as they explored the ST*BA “problem-space” of building the Wailuku story, creating a story bank, making that bank publicly accessible, and inspiring/ motivating usage, practice and application. ​

“I knew I had to be on-island to give this project justice, so I moved back home from South Korea where I was living with my husband, our dog, and my in-laws to work on this project,” said EMDD student Penelope Baggs, who was born and raised on Maui, “I have a huge love and reverence for this place that raised me, gave me so much, and shaped me into who I am. I wanted to give back to Maui, and this is my opportunity to do so. My classmates don’t have the same connection and passion for my hometown that I have, so I really commend them for putting up with my high expectations, scrutiny of small details, and for taking this project seriously with an immense amount of respect for the people and culture of Maui.”


Working closely with ST*BA, the cohort selected ʻōlelo noʻeau: #1166: I hoʻokāhi ka umauma, hoʻokāhi ke aloha (All abreast together, one in love. All united in harmony and love) to ground their project in a sense of place. 

Over the course of the last year, this graduate student consortium of transmedia storytellers and experience designers have worked with ST*BA and dozens of Wailuku champions to create a public mechanism for a Maui oral histories collection and catalyst for creating connection through storytelling. They will present their process and findings at the April 1 ʻĪao Theater event in tandem with Richard O’Connor’s films. 

“In presenting these pieces together – both from Richard and from the EMDD cohort – the intention is to motivate and inspire the people in the room to share their own stories, and to encourage others to do the same,” said ST*BA’s Kelly McHugh-White, “By learning about the toolkit that EMDD has created and by experiencing exemplary works of art that these stories can trigger, we hope to see a new collection of Wailuku-based stories to prompt future public art pieces, and, eventually, an oral histories archive by and for the larger community through the Maui Historical Society.”

Baggs continued, “ I hope to see stories being shared between family members and old friends. I hope that the stories of Wailuku and Maui can live in a space where they can be shared and enjoyed. We designed the experience to spark curiosity and inspiration to learn about Wailuku’s treasures. We hope that we’ve designed the experience in such a way that technology can be used as a tool to practice tradition in a modern way.”


O’Connor said, “I would like for at least one person to experience this project, recognize the beauty and the voices of their community and be inspired to create work that amplifies their own voice.”

This is the 20th installment of Wailuku Town’s SMALL TOWN * BIG ART creative placemaking program, which has yielded 51 unique pieces throughout Wailuku Town by 67 professional artists.


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