Pacific Island Ethnic Art Celebration This Weekend

This Saturday and Sunday, May 5th and 6th, the Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum (PieAM) presents the 2nd annual Pasifika Living Arts Showcase. This free event, which runs from 12 – 5 PM on both days, and takes place both at PieAM and the Museum of Latin American Art across the street, features a wide range of hands-on workshops, performances, demonstrations, free tours of both museums, and food booths.

In 2010 I interviewed Brenna Barrett, Executive Director of PieAm, about the origins of PieAM. Since then, her tireless efforts to preserve and share the diverse traditions of Pacific Island ethnic art led to the creation of the 2 day showcase. I asked her about it.

“May is Asian American and Pacific Island Heritage Month, and this is the signature event of PieAM. All of our activities culminate into this celebration. It will represent many different island groups: Samoa, Hawaii, Tonga, Guam, Marshall Island, Papua New Guinea, the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, etc. This will be a once in a life-time opportunity to be able to talk with artists from these islands, and learn from them.

“The showcase,” said Brenna, “is a celebration, an educational event, and a free hands-on opportunity to learn about Pacific Island traditional arts. We will have many demonstrations, film screenings, cooking demonstrations, fire- knife demonstrations, carving, weaving, fish net-throwing, ukulele workshops, drumming circles, traditional drum making, etc. There will also be food booths, and vendors will all have traditional free activities at their tables, too. Additional free parking is availble at Franklin Middle School off of Cerritos and 6th Street.”

I asked Brenna to explain the fire-knife, and its role in traditional culture.

“Fire-knife,” she explained, “is a traditional celebration of the warriors’ dance from Samoa. It is a colorful display of the powers of the warrior. iSiva Afi, as it is called in Samoa, was performed with machettes and then towels wrapped around to light on fire. We will have the High Chief’s family, Tui Letuli, here representing and teaching the workshop.

“All of our workshops are done from the master artists themselves so all particpants have a chance to learn directly from these artists as the knowledge was passed down to them from family members. It is really quite and honor, as this information is rarely shared.

“In addition, we will also have a contemporary youth art display to show how they interpret the traditional arts, and show how the traditional arts are alive in today’s cultures.”

Around the world, traditional practices are suffering because the adults who preserve them are finding it difficult to find youth who are interested in learning. I asked if these traditional Pacific Island practices at risk as well.

“Of course they are,” Brenna agreed. “This event is really part of a revival, and also to make it ‘cool’ again for the youth. The event has 3 purposes. First, to showcase the artists and give all participants hands on opportunities to learn and try and, hopefully, become inspired. We do exit polls on this and hopefully through the contemporary youth art display others can see how this can be incorporated into ‘cool’ things for the youth.

“The second purpose is to document the demonstrations and workshops so the knowledge is never lost. We use the documentation in school tours, for outreach, and as part of our resource library for these amazing arts.

“The third purpose,” Brenna continued, “is to create a live webstream of the event. last year we had over 30 U.S. states and 20 countries that tuned into our live stream. We obviously are expecting more this year. It is really to showcase the physical space of the museums, and this event. They are here in Long Beach, but they have a world wide reach and interest. That is why we had people from Africa watching last year.

“We will also have social media reporters so that people, internationally, are able to interact with the artists and ask questions. This will be on a first come first serve basis. We will have mobile stations set up, and participants can use their smart phones as well to interact with our facebook and Twitter accounts to ask questions to the artists and then the reporters will pose them to the artists. If the artist is available and comfortable (some of these artists are the High Chiefs) they will then address the questions and the person through the live webstream, or online.

“A big part of this year’s event,” said Brenna, “is working with the elders and artists to see if we are able to use this medium for them to interact with a world wide audience, and to share their knowledge. Last year we saw this really reaching out to younger and international audiences with our live webstream.”

I asked her what the event means for the local community of Pacific Islanders.

“This is an honor for the Pacific Island community to be able to showcase these artists and share this information. This is a really coming together of all the different islands. We also have behind the scenes activities for the artists to socialize, share their art forms, and really connect personally with each other before and after the Showcase.

“This knowledge being shared is usually kept well guarded, and this event brings it out into the open for all to learn and respect the amazing wealth of knowledge. Participants will not only learn about the art forms, but about the language, the history, the family structure, and the materials. There are so many different levels of knowledge being shared.”

PieAM is located at 695 Alamitos Ave, just South of 7th Street. For more information about PieAM, please visit

View a complete schedule of events, and the live webstreams.

MOLAA is located on the East side of Alamitos, at 628 Alamitos Avenue. For information about exhibitions and special events, visit

Check out my interview with Tevita Kunato, a wood carver from Papua New Guinea, who will be participating in the Showcase this weekend.

Read my first interview with Brenna.

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