Museum Admission: “Vitality & Verve” and Pow! Wow! Long Beach

Pow! Wow! Long Beach, a contemporary art festival, recently took over Long Beach, California — both in and off the streets. Pow! Wow!’s distinct gatherings take place internationally throughout the year with events expanding to Taiwan, Israel, Jamaica, Washington D.C., Singapore, Germany, and Guam — to name a few.

Founded by Jasper Wong, the festival’s inception and inaugural Pow! Wow! gathering began as a week long festival in Hawai’i. During these events, muralists take over the city, where they can be seen working on the murals from start to finish throughout the week. Additionally in July, the Long Beach Museum of Art (LBMA) featured an accompanying exhibit Vitality & Verve in the Third Dimension. - Ellen C. Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor

Andrew Hem, Edwin Ushiro, and Yoskay Yamamoto Mural for Pow! Wow! Long Beach, Steelhead Coffee, Photographed by Brandon Shigeta, 2016.

Kashink Mural for Pow! Wow! Long Beach, The Center, Photographed by Brandon Shigeta, 2016.

Curated by Andrew Hosner of Thinkspace Gallery in Culver City, CA, Vitality & Verve builds on last year’s 2015 exhibition titled Vitality & Verve: Transforming the Urban Landscape. This year’s exhibit shifts from “ephemeral murals” and focuses on site-specific, three-dimensional installations at the LBMA. The museum’s executive director, Ronald C. Nelson, expands on this saying, “the artists have created installations in a variety of media that includes cardboard, reclaimed wood, ceramics, acrylic resins and industrial materials.”

Kiel Johnson, installation in “Vitality and Verve” at Long Beach Museum of Art, Photograph by Selina Miles, 2016.

Mark Dean Veca, working on installation for “Vitality and Verve” at Long Beach Museum of Art, Photograph by Selina Miles, 2016.

Artists like Kiel Johnson built and installed a huge, intricate cardboard cityscape, reminiscent of a mix between architectural models and the most intricate diorama of childhood dreams. Mark Dean Veca created a glow-in-the-dark room that envelops viewers in a black-light enhanced paintings and a fantastical wonderland. Museum visitors experiencing both Johnson and Veca’s art, documented them popularly on Instagram and social media.

Video about Andrew’ Hem’s Mural For "Vitality & Verve: In The Third Dimension" at Long Beach Museum of Art, 2016.

Andrew Hem invites viewers into a room filled with monumental paintings and works, installed as if in his studio — with scraps of paper, inspirations, and paint samples taped to the wall, offering insight into his process and creation.

Collaborating together, artists Ernest Zacharevic and Martha Cooper, combine their two works for the ultimate street art collaboration. Cooper, who is known for her documentary photographs of graffitists at work, takes photos of children playing outdoors and Zacharevic translates those photos into large scale murals and “street art interventions,” often painted in places resembling the original locales in which they were taken, creating a playful trompe l'oeil effect.

MR44 Mural for Pow! Wow! Long Beach, Expo Arts Center, Photographed by John Pangilinan, 2016.

Detail of MR44 Mural for Pow! Wow! Long Beach, Expo Arts Center, Photographed by John Pangilinan, 2016.

On the streets, there is much to see as well. Highlights include works by MR44, Pantonio, Kashink, and Defer. John Hall, the regional lead director for Pow! Wow! Long Beach, discussed his role in this gathering, including scouting wall space, sponsors, and overall planning. Hall said, “my role as the regional lead director involves a lot of planning for the mural festival, from connecting with property owners who give us great walls to paint on, to lining up the great sponsors who cover our costs, and last but not least, working with dozens of amazing volunteers during the event, to help get the job done.”

Defer Mural for Pow! Wow! Long Beach, Aquarium of the Pacific, Photographed by Brandon Shigeta, 2016.

Kashink working on her mural while Martha Cooper documents, Pow! Wow! Long Beach, at The Center, Photographed by Brandon Shigeta, 2016.

When asked about how he sees Long Beach as adding its own unique flare to the Pow! Wow! family, Hall answered, “I've been to POW! WOW! events around the world and I think the Long Beach one is currently the biggest one outside of the main annual POW! WOW! Hawaii event. One way Long Beach adds its own vibe to the festival is by bringing tons of aspects of the city's diverse community together to achieve some awesome large scale public art — from city government to big businesses to the residents who support our artists.”

One of Pow! Wow!’s many strengths is its use of social media. Their many Instagram accounts are perfect for exploring murals throughout both Long Beach and the world, while the #vitalityandverve hashtag is great for seeing how museum visitors are experiencing and reacting to the art in Vitality & Verve at LBMA.

Pow! Wow! Long Beach, 2016 Video


Vitality & Verve in the Third Dimension shows at the Long Beach Museum of Art through October 16, 2016. Murals throughout Long Beach can be easily found and viewed using this Pow! Wow! Long Beach map. Visit Pow! Wow!’s site to get an overview of the gatherings and learn more about festivals coming to your neighborhood.

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based writer, editor, and art historian.