This week: The colorful return of POW! WOW! Long Beach

The year 2020 was busy with cancellations: So many stories from that year included the phrase, “Event X has been canceled due to the coronavirus” in which “Event X” was practically everything—Parades, concerts, festivals, plays, the Grand Prix, all took precautionary breaks for a year.

Long Beach’s premier art event, the weeklong POW! WOW! Festival, too, left blank walls all over town in 2020, when normally, artists from all over the country and the world would have painted dazzling, provocative and colorful murals to further decorate and enliven the buildings of the city.

Mural by Woes for POW! WOW! Long Beach 2019 at The Lab Learning Space at 927 Pine Ave. Photo by Jose Cordon.

This year, POW! WOW! is back, with eight muralists splashing color and eye-catching designs on otherwise lackluster wall/canvases to add to the more than 90 installations that have already been painted since the event’s inaugural season in 2015. The weeklong event, this year with the theme “Rise Play Repeat,” began Tuesday, but kicked off formally with a gathering of press and city and business leaders Wednesday on Seaside Way in Downtown. Work on the murals will continue through Oct. 5.

As a bonus, with the effect of making up for its dark year in 2020, this year’s POW! WOW! Includes an Art Renzei Festival series of multimedia art installations along the Long Beach waterfront.

“This is more than just art,” said Julia Huang, Long Beach adviser for POW! WOW! “It’s about engaging with one another, interacting with one another and enjoying art and culture in this beautiful city.”

Artists currently working on murals for the festival include:

  • Tang-Wei Hsu, at 849 Pine Ave.
  • Nat Iosbaker and Noelle Martinez, at 4975 Atlantic Ave.
  • Brittney Price and Shak Smart, 1731 E. Fourth St.
  • Blue the Great (Bryan Blue), at Ocean Boulevard and Pine Avenue.
  • Andrea James at 70 Atlantic Ave.
  • Brendan Monroe, Seaside Way and South Pine.

Art Renzei installations along the waterfront during the event by multi-media artists include:

  • Balloonski, Long Beach Shoreline Marina
  • Spenser Little, Long Beach Shoreline Marina
  • Tom Fruin, Junipero Ave. Alamitos Beach
  • Wan-Jen Chen, 411 W. Ocean Blvd.
  • Olga Lah, Long Beach Shoreline Marina

A wire sculpture, “Emotional Weathervane,” by Spenser Little, is seen at POW WOW! Long Beach press event, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

To fully enjoy the offerings of the week, check the event’s Digital Passport, which includes information on additional POW! WOW! Week special events, such as Friday’s Artist-led Bike tour, hosted by artists Nat Iosbaker and Shak Smart in a road trip exploring some of the works by the artists and their stories and how POW! WOW! has affected the city over the years. Riders meet at 5 p.m. at the Pedal Works beach concession stand at Junipero Beach, and the tour wraps up at 7 p.m. at El Barrio Cantina, 1731 E. Fourth Street. The event is free, register here.

On Saturday, there’s an Alamitos Beach Party from 3 to 6 p.m., with food and drinks, tunes by De La Playa Music, a drawing workshop hosted by Art Supply Warehouse and more. That’s followed by a beach screening of Disney/Pixar’s “Soul,” from 6:30 to 9 p.m. This one’s free, too. Register here.

You can check out other events plus a map of this year’s mural and art installation projects on the Digital Passport.

The weeklong festival in Long Beach is part of the globally recognized POW! WOW! Worldwide series of street art events, which since 2010 has brought murals to public spaces in cities like Honolulu, Seoul, Washington DC, Taipei and Tokyo.

POW! WOW! Long Beach has executed murals in over 40 square miles throughout the city, from South Street to Ocean Boulevard, creating a walkable, bikeable public art experience unlike anything else in the country.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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