The opening of S.P.A.C.E. in November 2007 happened at the worst possible time for organizations like ours but the silver lining was that it forced us to become less financially dependent upon private donations and grant funding. The financial crisis caused us to abandon the business plan we had created in 2000 and pursue strictly sustainable means to support our HICCUP activities. This change of direction was led by ten well-respected prominent local community leaders I recruited to serve as our new governing body. Lorn Douglas, Shakti Martin, Jill Walton, Tom Walton, Beatrix Pfleiderer, Garry Hoffeld, Val Colter, Suzette Ridolfi, Sahara Laurence and Sherri Joy.
Our first priorities were to update our strategic plan and revisit our mission statement to respond to the current 2008 needs expressed by our growing community. After much deliberation, we adopted a new mission statement focused much less on circus and much more on building community. “To creatively promote sustainable local community in Puna Makai at S.P.A.C.E..” Our agreed vision was, ” to provide educational, cultural, artistic, performance, environmental, and sustainability activities with inspiration and celebration.” In the absence of any other community facilities within 14 miles (Kalani was almost totally closed to the public at this time) we saw S.P.A.C.E. serving as “the place in Puna Makai where connections between people and groups are made, renewed and strengthened for the purpose of developing a united, flourishing community.”
From that time forward we supported this development by providing opportunities for individuals of all ages to develop and share their gifts and talents; by modelling and promoting sustainability; by encouraging a sense of pride in our local environment; by assisting in dealing effectively with local emergencies; and by creating many opportunities to celebrate and delight in life together.
Our whole committee knew that many of the activities we could provide for our community were outside of our special permit; however, we decided to be brave and follow our hearts. We announced that we would offer S.P.A.C.E. facilities at no charge for community meetings, fundraisers, and family events, like weddings and memorials. We also accepted requests to rent our facility to a local public charter school and to other local performing arts groups for theater, dance, martial arts, and music classes, community recitals, and for political rallies. We decided to host public performances, a weekly farmers market, a night bazaar, and other events to serve the economic and cultural needs of our community and to raise funds to support our programs. We were excited, exuberant, and energetic with our ideas, not realizing how controversial many parts of our new development plan would be perceived by certain members of our neighbourhood.
This was a major shift but times change and our community had changed considerably in the years that led up to the completion of S.P.A.C.E.. We made no secret of our new direction and widely communicated it immediately. The local newspaper ‘Big Island Weekly’ published an article in August 2007 headlined “S.P.A.C.E. is looking to expand their activities in order to continue providing quality services to the community.” I explained “This is not just a new chapter for us, it’s a whole new book. We see our activities connecting the entire community—helping engage students, teachers, and parents in a set of mutually-supportive relationships leading to a greater quality of life for Puna residents. S.P.A.C.E. will operate as a multi-purpose, community resource for wedding receptions, baby luaus, community events, workshops, classes, festivals, and camps, and serve as a community business incubator addressing the ever-changing needs of the Puna district.”
From the first day S.P.A.C.E. opened it was busy. Events between November 2007 and March 2010 included:
- Weekly Farmers Market & Night Bazaar
- Public charter school programs: used by three schools with over 60 students at one time.
- HICCUP circus weekly classes and rehearsals
- HICCUP circus summer and winter camps
- Aerial training: weekly classes and weekend workshops
- Monthly ‘Jazz Café’ music nights during 2008
- Community movie nights
SPACE hosted a variety of community arts presentations often featuring international artists and world class teachers in comedy, dance, circus, music and drama including:
- Community arts classes with marimba band, tap dance, African dance, drama, gymnastics, ballet, music for kids
- Community theatre rehearsals and performances of Aieda, Cats, and Conference of the Birds
- ‘Le Chic’ vaudeville productions (4)
- International aerial skills week-long residential training camps (6)
- International clowning residential training camp (2)
- Backpack Puppets
- Swami Beyondananda
- Dan Rubin – Musicians workshop
- Eduardo Rodriquez (Cirque du Soleil)
- Automorphosis (art cars)
- Balinese Dance Troupe
- Puna Men’s Chorus
- Jewish Passover Celebration
- Cerro Negro
- Annette Lucero’s Masked Ball (fundraiser)
- One Night in SPACE (fundraiser)
- Avner the Eccentric Workshop Show
Community events held at S.P.A.C.E. included:
- ‘Sacred Space’—Universal Unitarian church Services
- Public meetings and local organization board meetings,
- Weddings & memorials (Manu, Ed Horvat, Mr String, Ted)
- Fundraisers & political rallies
- Pre-school families program place
- Aids project testing center
- Disaster relief center (for Tropical Storm Iselle)
- Eco Village Family Faire
- Race to SPACE
- Building Blessing
- Grand Opening Celebration
- Groove Temple Ecstatic Dance
- Playback Theatre
- Master Chess Player Demo
While community arts organizations everywhere seemed to be struggling economically, we became 95% economically self-supporting by the end of 2008. This was possible because of our extremely low overhead combined with very high levels of volunteer labor. Our gross annual income was only $80,000 (with only $4,000 in grants). Through our use of sustainable practices—including solar energy, water catchment, ecological resource management, and local community involvement—we also became an embodiment of the State of Hawai’i’s 2050 Sustainability Plan. After extensively researching other centers, I concluded that we were—at that time—possibly the most sustainable community development project in the U.S.A.
The broader community participation in our programs and events increased week by week. In addition to local resident volunteers, our staffing at S.P.A.C.E. included visiting work exchangers, members of the First to Work and Senior Employment programs, plus court-ordered community service persons and community volunteers. This was a time of euphoria for everyone involved. We witnessed firsthand the positive effects our busy community centre was having on our residents. Dozens relied financially on their weekly farmers market income and were thriving, hundreds attended the market and events and rubbed shoulders with neighbors making new connections and friendships, while even more were uplifted and entertained by our arts classes and performances. Our local community advisors thought we could support other communities in Hawai’i (and beyond) in their own process of providing sustainable community services and facilities for themselves as a demonstration model.
Public support was overwhelmingly positive and several articles where published including one in Hawaii’s Tribune Herald by Gloria Baraquio, a popular T.V. host and producer. She shared, “Aside from S.P.A.C.E. putting on amazing shows like ‘Le Chic’ the place is just beautiful to visit. I love that I can go there to learn tap dance, acrobatics, marimba, world percussion and juggling. And with the best ever Farmers Market it is such a sweet community, full of artists, contributing members of society and environmentally- conscious individuals. I think we can all learn a little something from them.”
By the end of 2009 we were seriously discussing adding additional buildings like more school classrooms, a commercial kitchen, and an industrial arts center, when we began to experience a growing opposition movement led by one close neighbor. Initially there were a couple of complaints made to the county planning department about noise and traffic. However, it escalated through the next two years and eventually culminated in the new county planning director issuing S.P.A.C.E. an immediate ‘cease and desist’ order for the school, our farmers market, our performances, and other unpermitted activities.
Garry and Cyd Hoffeld, Jenna and I had to make two trips to Hilo before the Planning Director agreed to talk with us and then she was extremely rude. When we were later forced to seriously cut back on our community-building activities many of our neighborhood friends shared highly emotional stories about the positive impact that S.P.A.C.E. had had on their lives. It was very touching—and also tragic because our ability to help build the social fabric of our community was eventually reduced to a fraction of its former self.
A new chapter began in the history of S.P.A.C.E. with huge amounts of effort and time being channeled into dealing with complaints and the county permitting process in efforts to fight off the demons. The price of renegade life really hit us hard and our heaven suddenly changed into a living hell.