Everything We Do Matters!

One of our favorite quotes comes from one of our favorite people, Dr. Jane Goodall, who said:


Everything you do makes a difference. Only you can decide what kind of difference you want to make.


We were impressed when we first met artist Calley O’Neill because one of the first things she said Calley at the International Wildlife Exhibition, Londonwas “Everything we do matters.” Calley O’Neill is on a mission of inspiration through her unique collaboration with Rama, an Asian elephant, and Jeb Barsh, Rama’s keeper. We had a fascinating first meeting with Calley and her assistant, Julia, during dinner at the home of mutual friends. Conversations ranged far afield, but we soon learned that we share many interests in common.


Calley is Artist-in-Residence at the Four Seasons on the Big Island. She also teaches yoga twice weekly in Waikoloa. She has a long career as a muralist, stained-glass artist, painter and landscape designer. She has many clients but especially enjoys working with grade schools to create collaborative murals that light up the eyes and imaginations of young people.

Rama Four

If you watch the attached video, she tells the story of meeting Rama, an Asian elephant who painted at the Oregon Zoo. Much earlier in her life as an artist she had considered collaborating with an abstract artist on paintings that would include her more realistic images, but did not find InterspeciesPainting-OurDedication--element944the right person with whom to work. The idea of working with an elephant on a collaboration of that kind seemed just right. Ten years ago she began the project that will ultimately consist of thirty-six 5’x7’ canvases with Calley’s endangered species paintings overlaid on abstract backgrounds painted by Rama.



Rama, Calley and Jeb at the Oregon Zoo

With 21 of the planned paintings completed, Calley began to try to figure out when, where and how to exhibit these incredible images. She received a bigger first YES! than she could imagine! These wildlife thangka paintings will be presented as the major art exhibition at the IUCN World Conservation Congress comes to Oahu in September of 2016. The conference brings representatives from 170 nations together to share conservation successes and challenges, so it seems fitting that the THE RAMA EXHIBITION, SPEAKING ON BEHALF OF THOSE WHO CANNOT SPEAK, will have its public debut here.


Everything-We-Do-Matters---Framing, transporting and displaying these works of art is not inexpensive and cannot be reasonably covered by the IUCN or by Calley herself. The Rama Exhibition team has put together a crowd funding program with Kickstarter.com to help bring this unique collaboration to its first major viewing and then expand around the world to inspire people to think about our ongoing collaboration among all species to live on this Earth together in harmony.


You can be part of this unique collaboration between a very talented Big Island artist and the late RAMA, an amazing elephant ambassador born in captivity. Visit Kickstarter to make a contribution and please share the story of Calley’s commitment to conservation awareness and action with your networks.


Mahalo nui (many thanks),

Lisa and Tim

Encouraging a Community of Arts

Today we stopped by the Donkey Mill Art Center just south of Holualoa, Hawaii, and enjoyed a small but fascinating exhibit based on area artists taking the challenge of creating a unique work of art from one eight foot two by four, the most basic unit in wood home construction. The variety of results achieved by the artists inspired us.


By Kathleen Dunphry

By Kathleen Dumphry

I actually liked all of the pieces to varying degree. The burnt one to create charcoal to write on a graffiti panel, the carved birds and chameleon, the large colorful face, the sidewinder and the people figures were my favorites (my names for the examples, not the names provided by the artists). The Art Center invited the artists to participate in this year’s event, but may offer a more open event in the future that would allow anyone to submit a creative 2x4x8’ entry.


We have lived near Holualoa the past eight months while building a new home near Kealakekua Bay about fifteen miles further south. Holualoa is a charming heritage community that has seen good times and tough times over the last century and a half with the economic challenges of growing sugar cane, coffee and avocado on the rugged terrain of Hualalai, one of the five

Bus Stop by Kate and Will Jacobson.

Bus Stop by Kate and Will Jacobson.

volcanoes that make up the Big Island of Hawaii. But even before European and Asian farmers began larger scale production of those crops, the area comprised part of the ancient Kona Field System that Hawaiians used to raise breadfruit and other crops. In recent years Holualoa has become well known, not only for its exceptional Kona Coffee, but for the many artists and art shops in the two-block downtown area.


Started in 1994, Donkey Mill Art Center states their vision as”


We are a gathering place where people develop as creative, conscious and healthy human beings through art, education and experience.


Charcoal by April Matthews.

Charcoal by April Matthews.

They offer art education and experiences to people of all ages and abilities at the center, which is a beautifully restored part of the agricultural history of the community. Holualoa hosts a “community stroll” one Friday evening each month that keeps the varied creative businesses and cafes open later than usual to invite everyone to stop by and enjoy “pupus” (snacks), beverages and local music while celebrating the artistic creations of the community.


Several thoughts come to mind from looking at the important work of Donkey Mill Art Center.

  • Communities with an artistic vision create a very strong sense of place that brings people, stories, and ideas together to grow and embrace heritage.
  • A simple challenge like “make something creative from an 8 foot 2X4” can demonstrate the depth and power of creativity in any community.
  • Cultural heritage, agricultural identity and artistic endeavors create a beautiful community fabric of expression, a stronger identity.


Sidewinder by Ken Little.

Sidewinder by Ken Little.

Art centers are often seen in large metropolitan communities but this one in a small town makes the point that the arts help us identify our own sense of self and place and could be in any community. The creative 2x4x8 exhibit could be used by nature centers, zoos, aquariums, museums and parks as a way of bringing attention to recycling, reuse, biodiversity, and any number of other concepts. Creative expression is a great way to engage people of all ages and build a stronger community. Kudos to the Donkey Mill Art Center.


– Tim Merriman


Thematic Events

Master Gardners answered questions for guests about plants and pests.

Master Gardners answered questions for guests about plants and pests.

Last weekend we attended the 11th Annual Grow Hawaiian Festival at the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook. It was a celebration of Hawaiian culture and traditional foods. Almost everything at the event supported the theme. They made a point of focusing on the original 27 “canoe plants” known to have come with the early Polynesian immigrants to the islands. The first Hawaiians chose those plants carefully for the great value each provided as food, oil for light and fiber for clothing. This thematic event landed particularly well because the coordinators so carefully keep the booths and activities closely aligned with “grow Hawaiian.”


Making poi was popular with guest of all ages.

Making poi was popular with guest of all ages.

One booth invited visitors to make poi from kalo (taro) or ulu (breadfruit) by pounding it on a papa kui ai (wooden board with a trough shape) using a pohaku kui ai (stone pounder). People of all ages were trying the traditional Hawaiian method of preparation to make a smooth starch poi and each one could take home the resulting creation in ziplock bags. The gardens show the kalo growing so visitors make the connection between the food and the plant.


The lunch served at the event was a traditional plate lunch with Kalua pork and cabbage or lomilomi salmon along with macaroni salad, poi or rice and a tomato salad for $10, including the beverage. It was delicious, cooked and served by local families.


Parents captured their child's lauhala lesson by an elder of the community.

Parents captured their child’s lauhala lesson by an elder of the community.

I watched many parents of children using a cell phone to take a video of their child learning hands-on lessons on lauhala (pandanus fiber) weaving or making poi. The focus of the event is learning by doing and selling items is not permitted until the event has concluded at 2:30 PM. This well-planned and attended event will bring us back year after year.


The Big Island of Hawaii has a number of festivals year-round. The climate, scenery, culture and tourism make it profitable and useful to create outdoor events that tell a story, but some tell their story better than others. We have written about the Chocolate Festival and Coffee Festival in the past because they exemplify the power of thematic events to tell community stories.


The 27 canoe plants were selected for their usefulness on a long journey by canoe from the South Pacific to the Hawaiian Islands.

The 27 canoe plants were selected for their usefulness on a long journey by canoe from the South Pacific to the Hawaiian Islands.

We have also attended recent agricultural festivals where the thematic identity was present in name only. The many artisan booths could have been set up at any marketplace to sell their wares. They are festivals in name only and do nothing for the community or branding of the host site.


Non-thematic events are not bad. They simply lack the personality that a thematic identity brings to the table. They are not very engaging for the community or the attendees except as economic events. Themes deliver a message, a reason to connect with the idea behind the festival.


Thematic events that match your natural and cultural history help in branding your organization and community. Think about your events and whether they help create your sense of place.


– Tim Merriman

Talking Story

I was walking back down the hill to our home in Hawaii after running, when a new neighbor smiled and said hello from her lanai just behind her house. She held a bunch of bananas and a shrink-wrapped package of macadamia nuts, gifts to a new neighbor. Flora and her husband have a family-run coffee and mac nut farm. We exchanged small talk for a few minutes to get acquainted. We were “talking story,” a Hawaiian reference to chatting and telling personal stories that reveal much about who we are, what we like, and how we live. Storytelling reflects and reveals our values, our hopes, our disappointments and our way of thinking.


Farmer's markets have become one of these important places to talk story in Hawaii and many other communities.

Farmer’s markets have become one of these important places to talk story in Hawaii and many other communities.

Talking story is a time-honored tradition here. I feel very much at home with the storytellers. As a young boy, I would be out with my father, a salesman, and would tug on his pants leg to go home as he chatted with farmers, neighbors, customers and anyone he met. I grew to appreciate his stories, some historical, some autobiographical, many humorous. The stories were well known in the family. I inherited them and have continued the tradition of passing them along. They express some of my beliefs and experiences with life or they just seem funny and a way to remember dad. When my son was very young he endured my long visits with friends and strangers, sharing stories, getting acquainted, talking story.


I love that the culture here has a name for this activity, but the activity itself is not unique to Hawaii. The small town where I was raised had several local cafes, which had daily coffee drinkers who gathered to “talk story,” known as the third place by city planners. These homes away from home included “regulars” and their friends or drop-ins, someone new to town or returning home for a visit. These third places are important in communities because they allow people to hang out, catch up with friends, and take time to understand each other better.


As a nature center director, I supervised building a restaurant next to the Arkansas River in Pueblo, Colorado. The center had been a popular daily stop for joggers, dog walkers, fishers, birdwatchers and nature lovers. A café added food, beverages and great places to sit with friends, un-hassled. It encouraged people to meet for lunch, stop by for a drink, hold a birthday party or even a wedding or funeral. I enjoyed talking story with our “regulars” each day. The restaurant added to our attraction power for people as a third place, not work, not home. We encouraged staff to take the time to talk story with visitors. It became an important part of the workday, getting to know people well, listening to their stories.


Think about how you might encourage opportunities for storytelling beyond the traditional exhibit space or program areas. That café, coffee shop, tearoom or picnic area that serves as a “third place” at your facility may become “the” place for talking story at your site and as such, an important place for creating a sense of community.


– Tim Merriman





Branding a Region – Kona Coffee Cultural Festival

KCCF_2014ButtonThe coffee tree (Coffea arabica) was brought to Kona in 1828, now flourishing on more than 800 farms on the rich volcanic soils of Mauna Loa and Hualalai on the Big Island of Hawaii. It is one of the most expensive coffees in the world due to its rich flavor, very limited growing area and demand for the brand. The people who grow it are from diverse cultures and the coffee is celebrated in varied foods from coffee butter to spicy tapas.


This past weekend, we enjoyed several events as part of the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival. This 44th annual event takes place throughout North and South Kona with more than 45 separate events that celebrate Kona Coffee, Hawaiian culture, local food, and the diverse people of North and South Kona communities. A $3 commemorative pin is sold at every event and provides entrance to all events spanning 11 days from Nov. 7 to 17, 2014.


We started on Saturday morning at Holualoa, a beautiful community of more than 6,000 people nestled among the coffee farms that blanket the western slope of Hualalai volcano. Hundreds of people streamed up and down the main street stopping at dozens of coffee stands to try samples of hot Kona coffee, iced coffee or coffee husk tea. Tasters can vote on their favorite coffee by booth number. It was all tasty and the food varied from BBQ to delicious confections like the haupia purple sweet potato pie with a macadamia crust. It was obvious that there were as many or more local folks as tourists at the event.


kumuLast year we enjoyed the festival by attending the Kona Coffee Recipe Contest and this year we ended our stay in Kona at the Aloha Makahiki Concert with wonderful music by renowned Hawaiian musicians Bobby Moderow, Jr., Aaron Mahi, George Kuo and Stephen Akana. Kumu Mika Keale-Goto performed a makahiki oli (harvest blessing), joined by dancers from both local and Tokyo halau (hula schools).


Most community festivals happen in one community and over a short period of time. This festival takes you from coffee estate tours to music venues, food competitions, art shows, street markets, living history farms and much more. It helps shape the Kona Coffee brand against the backdrop of the entire region and the diverse cultures of people who live there and enjoy Kona lifestyles from mauka (up the mountain) to makai (down the mountain to the seashore).


halauCommunities too often compete for attractions when they might do more with collaboration. This festival demonstrates the power of working together regionally to bring tourists in to learn and local people to celebrate their communities and cultures. It is this rich mix of culture and community, nature and history, tradition and trade, ancient and recent, that has drawn us to purchase a small coffee farm on Kona where we will soon make our year-round home. It may take a few years to visit all 45 plus venues of the festival, but we will enjoy working on it. If you get to the Big Island the second week of November, try to find time to attend whatever events are happening near you.


– Tim Merriman




Seven Reasons to Fly Your Banner High

The Aquarium of Western Australia in Perth has a banner at the building entry to attract attention.

The Aquarium of Western Australia in Perth has a banner at the building entry to attract attention.

I try to photograph interpretive media wherever we travel to serve as an idea file. In recent years I’ve seen some really creative uses of banners at varied sites, but especially at zoos and aquariums.


Banners are usually long strips of fabric or weatherproof vinyl with a verbal or visual message. As interpretive media they offer some unique qualities that may make them a better choice than a sign or exhibit or maybe to use in conjunction with signs and exhibits. Here are five reasons to consider using banners as a media choice at your location:


  1. Attention Grabber – A well-designed banner can brighten up an entryway or building exterior as an ad or teaser. Photos of highlights on the property often serve to entice someone to enter even better than words or descriptions. They create a festive look to a trail or large building interior that gets your attention.


Street banners in Monterey, California, remind you of the Steinbeck characters from Cannery Row.

Street banners in Monterey, California, remind you of the Steinbeck characters from Cannery Row.

  1. Wayfinding and Thematic Connectors – A distinctive banner can be used to mark a path or road and connect physically separated features into a thematic trail. Sub-themes can be designated with the banners by changing colors, or by using a different graphic or word while maintaining the general look to tie everything together.


  1. Sense of Place or Time Marker – A banner can be used to identify an event or person with a specific place or date. Intangible stories can be identified with the setting where they occurred, inviting curious guests to learn more. A banner that tells me I am standing where President Washington once stood or a peace treaty was signed can be a powerful attraction. While a sign might do the same thing, a banner’s movement may be more eye-catching.
Monterey Bay Aquarium has colorful banners that emphasize their themes of Explore, Discover and Act.

Monterey Bay Aquarium has colorful banners that emphasize their themes of Explore, Discover and Act.


  1. Branding – The organizational logo on banners throughout a property can reinforce the brand and make your boundaries clear, especially if your site merges with that of some other organization.


  1. Messages – Use of a thematic message on banners may make it more memorable through repetition. It might have to be a word or phrase that more telegraphically delivers the message than you would use on an exhibit.


  1. Use of Space – Often banners can be placed higher than regular signs or exhibits, using space that cannot be used for more detailed messages or graphics. The effect can be beautiful if the banners are professionally designed and produced.


  1. Cost – Banners have likely been around since there’s been cloth. Some of the new methods of transfer of digital images to fabrics make it easier and less expensive to generate banners than ever before.


At Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, one banner provides the branding and the other helps you identify the exhibit's theme.

At Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, one banner provides the branding and the other helps you identify the exhibit’s theme.

Because fabrics may be more fragile or may fade in direct sun, you may need to consider the longevity you require before deciding on materials. Fabric banners may work better for short duration, while vinyl might be needed for longer terms (over the course of a summer season, for example). Funding for replacement or changes when needed will have to part of the decision-making process when determining whether banners are the right medium for your site.


– Tim Merriman








Light Up People’s Brains with Music


When I was in the third grade, Lloyd Higgerson, the music teacher, came to our class and introduced the opportunity to be in the band. I wanted to play trumpet and my parents bought the instrument and encouraged me to practice. And practice. And practice some more. It was lots more pressure than I wanted so I quit band one day at school. When I arrived home, I found Mr. Higgerson waiting with my parents, in what could only be called an intervention. They all explained that I should not expect to quit learning new things when it became challenging.


The Hulihee Palace (historic site) in Kailua, Hawaii, hosts a monthly music celebration that is free to all who wish to attend.

The Hulihee Palace (historic site) in Kailua, Hawaii, hosts a monthly music celebration that is free to all who wish to attend.

Music became a part of my life from then on. I was in the marching band and a dance band in high school that performed at proms for other schools. In college I learned guitar and enjoyed participating in hootenannies, informal acoustic music gatherings on the Southern Illinois University campus. In my 30s I bought a mandolin and slowly learned to play well enough to play in a band. Playing music puts me “in the zone” in a major way.


If you’ve seen the video about recent research regarding music and the human brain, you know that researchers are finding out how music engages our senses in a holistic way. We use all of our brain when we play music and it helps us in other areas of cognition and emotional intelligence. Music is a catalyst for engagement. I am grateful that a dedicated music teacher bothered to ask my parents to keep me involved.


Think about the opportunity this knowledge creates for non-formal, free-choice learning programs. The National Center for Education Statistics released a report in 2012 on the arts in formal education. The good news was that music is still in 94% of grade schools showing no decline in the previous decade. Dance and theater did not fare as well.


The annual Mount Fuji Festival in Fujinomiya, Japan, is a celebration of culture through music and dance for people of all ages.

The annual Mount Fuji Festival in Fujinomiya, Japan, is a celebration of culture through music and dance for people of all ages.

Music as a part of programming at a zoo, nature center, museum, aquarium, community or historic site has great value. It lights up the brains of visitors just to hear music. If you involve them in making music the brain benefits are even greater. Music that is congruent with a place, culture and community can create lasting memories as it helps engage the brain in diverse ways.


Many free-choice learning sites host concerts, dances and varied arts performances. I haven’t seen many that teach music or bring musicians in on a regular basis. When I was a state park interpreter, I hosted monthly bluegrass and old-time music open-mike jams at the outdoor amphitheater. It was some of the most popular programming we offered and really appealed to local people who rarely took advantage of other park programming. It was a celebration of their local culture and a great social event over and over. As a nature center director, I started a music festival that became a great fundraiser and hosted many outdoor dances. We also had monthly music jams where players could learn from each other.



With our upcoming move to Hawaii, I am now learning to play ukulele and enjoying every minute of it. I hope to find opportunities to jam there, where the ukulele is part of the cultural soundscape at every community event (even though the instrument was originally introduced by the Portugese and is not considered a traditional Hawaiian instrument by many).


As a planner of interpretive experiences and trainer, I suggest that we think more about how to make music a part of the programming and ambiance of the places where we enjoy sharing our natural and cultural heritage. Neuroscience researchers suggest that the benefits of music to our well-being and in making memories are much more than we might have expected. Mr. Higgerson was obviously way ahead of them.


– Tim Merriman