Since the 2011 merger the Honolulu Museum of Art has continually tried to find ways to bring its bring its Beretania and Makiki Heights campuses closer together. To that end, this year—as part of the exhibition HoMA Select—we started a weekly shuttle service between the two locations, but behind the scenes there was a bigger, more ambitious project in the works.
Museum special projects manager Samuel Gelfy details the project’s genesis. “There are hundreds of vehicles traveling up and down Mott-Smith Drive every day,” says Gelfy. “If we accept that those vehicles are contributing to the museum’s carbon footprint, then it’s the museum’s responsibility to come up with a sustainable solution.”
Enter the Allied Peoples for Responsible Innovations Looking to Fix Our Oceans with Legitimate Solutions. The group’s director of marketing and operations and emerging technologies and finance Humphrey Pennywhistle approached Gelfy with what, at the time, seemed like a radical idea: A water slide running from the Spalding House gardens to the museum on Beretania St.
“I nearly slammed the door in his face,” says Gelfy. “But I have to admit, I wanted to hear what a guy named ‘Humphrey Pennywhistle’ had to say. After a long conversation, and a few drinks, what originally seemed like a fifth grader’s literal pipe dream actually started to make sense.”
Together, Gelfy and Pennywhistle developed a plan for the transportation system, codenamed Operation Watercolors. “After seeing how warmly rail has been received by the community, we thought we’d follow HART’s lead,” says Pennywhistle. The plan calls for an elevated series of enclosed tubes that begin on the Spalding House lawn, and follow Mott-Smith Drive down to a second point of departure at Roosevelt High School. “Stopping at Roosevelt is in line with our education mission,” says Gelfy. “We want to encourage the next generation to spend more time with the arts. What better way to get them in the museum than to have a water slide deliver them directly to our door?”
From Roosevelt High School the slide continues over Makiki Cemetery, then follows Thurston Avenue to Victoria Street, where splashes down at the museum’s side entrance. Installation designer Larry Maruya discussed the potential for displaying art in the system, “Counting the left and right side walls, there are potentially more than four miles of empty canvas we can use to display more of the museum’s collection,” says Maruya. “Our team’s challenge now will be to create custom waterproof casings for each of our works.”
Pennywhistle claims that advancements in water recycling and reclamation technology means the system only requires an input of 42 gallons of water a day. “Under the elevated tubes will be a buried system of pumps moving the water back up to Spalding House” says Pennywhistle. “Of course, the buried system’s path will be more direct, to save money and energy.”
Critics claim that the city can’t afford another expensive transportation project, and that the elevated tubes will be an eye-sore for residents in Makiki Heights. Associate director of advancement Dave Washburn addressed the cost, “Are you kidding? We’re going to Kickstarter the crap out of this, there’s no way this is not going viral.” As for the view obstructing issue, Spalding House director Aaron Padilla believes he has a solution, “The slide’s exterior walls are just another canvas on which art can be made, we’re currently accepting bids from muralists, and already it’s clear that the artist community is excited about the opportunity.”
A representative for the city, who asked to remain anonymous, commented on the city’s decision to approve the project. “We envision this as being a big boost for our tourism industry, and since they’ve got the funding all taken care of, there’s really no reason for us not to say yes.”
The museum will break ground on the project in April of 2019, and will be just more than two miles long, making it more than four times longer than the current record holder for world’s longest water slide. “It’s more than a water slide,” says Pennywhistle. “It’s a transportation solution.” Critics aren’t so sure. “Water slides only go one way,” said a reporter for the Star-Advertiser. “How are you going to get people from Beretania Street to Spalding House?”
“We’ve got another project in the works to address that issue,” says Gelfy. “While I can’t comment on the details of that yet, I can reveal is the project’s codename—Operation Water Cannon.”