Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Two people stand smiling in front of an art display. One wears a lei around their head and is accepting an award from the other.

Americans for the Arts (AFTA) and the National Association of Counties (NACo) presented Hawai’i County Council Member Ashley Kierkiewicz of Hawai’i with the Public Leadership in the Arts Award for her outstanding County Arts Leadership yesterday during a general session at the NACo Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas. Since 1997, the award has recognized elected officials who have advanced the arts within their community and whose vision and leadership provide heightened visibility of the value of the arts.

Nolen V. Bivens, President and CEO of Americans for the Arts, commended Council Member Ashley Kierkiewicz for her exceptional ability to seamlessly blend public policy and the arts in Hawai'i County, enriching the lives of its residents with a diverse range of county services. “Kierkiewicz stands as a role model for fellow county leaders, encouraging them to embrace their unique history and leverage the arts as a means to share their own stories and shape their futures. By harnessing the economic and social potential of the arts, they can effectively enhance the well-being of their communities."

Born, raised, and educated on Hawai’i Island, Kierkiewicz has served on the Hawai'i County Council since 2018. During her time on the Council, she has focused on catalyzing projects, policies, and programs that uplift the county and its people in a variety of ways, including harnessing the power of the arts and the creative economy. She is passionate about infusing an artist's creative approach to policymaking and projects to uplift her community and has enriched lives through installation of more public art and creative placemaking experiences.

“We have used art to bring our community together following the 2018 Kilauea eruption and COVID pandemic,” said Council Member Ashley Kierkiewicz. “It’s been a vehicle for healing, uplifting diverse voices, and celebrating what makes our island strong and unique. While the arts have positively transformed public space, it transcends murals, grants, and community activations. The artist way is our approach to governance and policy making – we cultivate curiosity, embrace creativity, and champion innovation to create spaces where all can thrive.”

Kierkiewicz was one of only six county teams selected nationally for the 2022 National Association of Counties’ (NACo) Creative Counties Creative Placemaking Challenge, a year-long program engaging various stakeholders using the arts to solve a unique county problem. She led a team of community stakeholders, lineal descendants, artists, the PangeaSeed Foundation, and County departments to complete a creative signage art installation with complementing digital and virtual media to depict the significance of Pohoiki, a historic fishing village and surf locale that was partially inundated by lava during the 2018 Kilauea volcanic eruption.

She is also an active member of the NACo where she serves on a variety of committees and is a Vice Chair of their Arts and Culture Commission. In addition, she leads a team of artists, engineers (Hello Thing Thing and Hawai’i Science & Technology Museum), County officials, and others to implement the National Endowment of the Arts Our Town grant. The project demonstrates the diversion of waste plastic from the County landfill and through a process of shredding, molding, and melting, create a new plastic material to be shaped into functional artwork and playground equipment at County parks across Hawai’i Island.

“Council Member Kierkiewicz truly understands and embraces how the arts can strengthen communities,” said National Association of Counties Executive Director Matthew Chase. “She has demonstrated bold leadership and forged partnerships to support the arts, contributing to community revitalization and an improved quality of life for residents. We congratulate her on this well-deserved award and applaud her commitment to championing the arts in our nation’s counties.”

During the pandemic, she co-led creation of Vibrant Hawaii's Economic Development Strategy, which identifies Creative & Performing Arts as an industry to support because it aligned with Hawaii's values, culture, and environment. To support implementation of this strategy, she secured $110,000 to launch a micro-investment program that supported local residents who pursued actions identified in the strategy. She is a staunch believer that every person is an artist, creating their grand masterpiece called life. Among her other successes since taking office are the coordination of public art murals as regional director of Temple Children, an arts and sustainability group; sponsorship of a youth art contest in 2019 for Puna students to design the cover of the County's Kilauea Recovery and Resilience Plan; distributions of over 7,500 Keiki Care Packs full of food supplies and art projects for Hawaii Island during the pandemic; and, most recently, sponsoring a resolution proclaiming March Youth Art Month in the County of Hawaii, to support youth-centered art projects coordinated by East Hawaii Cultural Center.