Story by Kelli Gratz
Photo by Tommy Shih
The deejay pumps bhangra beats out in the courtyard while Honolulu’s arty 20-something set wanders among Aztec sculptures and shouts over their mojitos about how de Chirico’s The Great Machine is disturbing and cool. This isn’t just another Friday night at a museum; it’s ARTafterDARK, a monthly party where the Honolulu Museum of Art mixes drinks, dancing and art and opens its doors for the funkiest pau hana party in town.
Ten years ago this October the Honolulu Museum of Art (which used to be the Honolulu Academy of Arts) held its first ARTafterDARK event, “Kung Fu Friday.” Chinese lion dancers snaked through the crowd, crashing cymbals as guests sipped champagne and wandered into galleries filled with a new exhibit of Asian art. “What we were looking to create was a place where people in their 20s and 30s could go to meet that wasn’t a bar,” says the museum’s director of development and ARTafterDARK cofounder Jessica Welch. “We wanted to get people who might not normally come to the museum.”
The event turned out to be great publicity for the museum’s small but world-class collection, which includes objects spanning five thousand years of human history, everything from Neolithic Europe to the Volcano School to High Modernism. Every month has a signature theme. For 2011’s “Marrakech Express,” for example, the museum was decked out like a Moroccan seraglio. For the “Heroes & Villains” party, which anticipated the 2012 release of The Avengers, everyone dressed as a favorite superhero. The parties are usually packed, but never more so than when internationally renowned deejays throw down. “It’s always a hit when New York’s bhangra queen, DJ Rekha, is in town,” Welch says. “In a period of three hours, we have close to three thousand attendees — and the live dhol drumming has everyone dancing.”
What’s planned for the next ten years? Welch says the aim is to keep the event focused on the arts. “We’d like to align the event more with the mission of the museum,” she says. “The museum is a national and state treasure, and we want to take full advantage of that.”