ARTafterDARK events bring an eclectic crowd to the Honolulu Academy of Arts

There is a buzz of excitement as smiling patrons ascend the flat steps leading into the Honolulu Academy of Arts. A woman’s song drifts along the cooling evening breeze, and the sunset lends an almost iridescent quality to the flag-stones and stucco walls of one of Honolulu’s most intriguing buildings. A trip to the Academy for its ARTafterDARK party is a chance to see the museum in a new light, a chance to explore the courtyards, galleries and corridors in an atmosphere that is anything but sleepy.

“My girlfriends would love this,” says a chatty, 30-year-old first timer who declined to give her name but was generous with her opinions. “I’m not into the club scene anymore, but this is a perfect evolution of what I want to do on a Friday night. It’s upscale but still super fun, they have a DJ, and this music is great,” she says gesturing with her generously filled glass of wine to the stage where Hoku Award-winning siren Paula Fuga and her accompanist Mike Love are casting spells on the audience.

Often at ARTafterDARK, a parquet dance floor is rolled out over the grass of the central courtyard, but this month it has been left open. Young families encamp on beach mats to take in the show while a stylish doyenne strolls the periphery greeting old friends and collecting compliments from attendees inspired by her bold style. The dress is eclectic, fashionable, yet unpretentious. A dad in slippers corrals a tow-headed toddler while a gaggle of young girls in designer dresses navigates through the crowd. Each lovely nook of the Academy is waiting to be explored, if only to see what the sponsors and vendors have in store, from massages to meals to drink specials on the night we went, plus three areas of music.

ARTafterDARK was conceived more than three years ago as a way to entice a younger crowd to engage with art in a social setting. The event regularly draws upward of 1,200 people – of whom about half are Academy members, half non-members – plus there are around 45 new sign-ups each month. Ostensibly aimed at 20-, 30- and 40-somethings, the family-friendly night is one of few in Honolulu with guests at both ends of the age spectrum.

To make the most of the museum’s cultural wealth, “zip tours” of special exhibitions are offered at ARTafterDARK. In June we are guided through the Artists of Hawai`i 2007 exhibition by curator of European and American art Michael Rooks, along with Allison Roscoe, a very well-informed docent. Even over the jovial hubbub that forces them to strain to be heard, the pair help bridge the Academy and the street with insights that speak to both audiences. “If we’re able to introduce new ideas or art-forms to visitors,” explains Rooks, “then we’ve succeeded in encouraging our guests to think about art as something that is alive and relevant to their daily lives rather than entombed and a thing of the past.”

Each ARTafterDARK promotion has a theme, so entertainment varies greatly. But music, tasty food options and drink specials are a constant. ARTafterDARK takes place the last Friday of every month (except in December and January) and is free to Academy members, $7 for non-members. Upcoming themes for July to November 2007 are Kabuki, Endless Summer, Borderline, Voodoo and Habitat. See www.artafterdark.org for more information.