John “Prime” Hina is a legend in the local graffiti scene and has used art to get himself through a risky life. A man of few words, Prime used to run with the intimidating sort of crew that squares like myself would cross the street to avoid. For nearly two decades he blasted walls, earning respect in an era before the internet made graffiti an immediately sharable phenomenon.
Now a father and grandfather, Hina has spent the last six years running 808 Urban, an organization that mentors at-risk youth with old-fashioned, get-straight talking and graffiti’s nascent politically-correct term “urban art.” The youth that Prime mentors are “at risk” of falling victim to the sort of life Hina escaped through art; a life without a valid creative outlet, the ills of poverty in paradise, in an era in which arts has been red-lined out of education except for those lucky few in remaining public school programs or private schools.
For the last three years, with the help of Sierra Dew, Prime has brought 808 Urban to several local high schools, has created over 50 murals, is doing urban art workshops, and has a space in the Honolulu warehouse district of Kaka‘ako that serves as a hub and storefront for the organization.
Kaka‘ako has seen an influx of arts in recent years. When art spaces are divvied up in the community, Prime doesn’t get the best spots because he’s the most intimidating but because he’s the most deserved. As an artist, he impresses his proud Hawaiian political identity in places one wouldn’t necessarily expect it. His art takes political risks that would have been unheard of even a decade ago, when the only murals going up in Hawai’i had either a whale, a store name, a rainbow, or all of the above in one image. In 2010, he painted a kaleidoscopic peacock off of Queen Street as an homage to Princess Ka‘iulani’s birds that once roamed the neighborhood. Last year, he had numerous large-scale pieces that depicted Polynesian themes, and his own artistic development, at Fresh Cafe in a show titled Not For Sale. For the 2011 Pow Wow gathering of artists, he collaborated on a large mural with fellow youth arts advocates Estria Miyashiro and Trek 6 of Miami, who used his Puerto Rican heritage to globalize the messages of youth, liberation and identity.
For Prime, making art for strict profit would be straight up selling out, and would be a violation of coda. But the mission of helping kids find their voice through art is a noble one, outside of sellout economics or ego. That’s where tonight night comes in. A community of artists is rallying to support (and roast) Prime for a fundraiser, with donations and auction items from Na Mea Books, in4mation, Human Imagination, Lost Kingdom, VERS, and others. With the proceeds, 808 Urban will continue its efforts to bring art to the kids that need it the most. No risk in that.