Wednesday, February 24, 2010

S.P.A.C.E. - Belly Acres

A letter from Graham Ellis:


The Seaview Performing Arts Center for Education (SPACE) serves lower Puna as a multi purpose community center that hosts a Charter School, a farmers market, a night bazaar, arts classes, special performances and community meetings. We serve residents from Leilani to Kehena to Kapoho – and if you love what we do or have had a family member who has been lifted by our activities, programs or performances, please read on. This is an urgent request for your help.

Because SPACE provides services and activities beyond the Special Use Permit we were granted by Hawai`i County in 2001, we are in “non-compliance” with a number of government rules and regulations. We are challenged with making significant changes to our Special Use Permit and getting those changes approved by the Planning Commission to again be compliant. We’ve worked hard to make SPACE’s operations sustainable and energy efficient, but we don’t have anywhere near the additional capital necessary to implement the necessary changes. The harsh reality is that the tough economy means that grant funding and widespread belt tightening spells doom for small grassroots organizations like ours that do not have the financial resources to fulfill County requirements.

The original permit for SPACE activities was based on a vision for a community arts center that provided a home for the Hiccup Circus. However, motivated by the need for more local services, the facility has evolved over time to provide a variety of functions that enrich our community. We need your help to let the County know that the many services we now provide at SPACE are in the best interests of our community – and moreover, satisfy a need that the County (and other governmental bodies) has been unable or unwilling to provide to lower Puna residents. Sadly, SPACE is threatened with censure and possibly closure if the County refuses to modify the Special Use Permit.

If sustainability as a goal has any meaning at all, it must embrace community-based, community-run efforts to strengthen the social and economic fabric of their neighborhoods. One solution is for government agencies to be flexible - but will they?

The dilemma SPACE faces now is not likely to be unique to other Big Island communities that have taken matters in their own hands to provide essential activities and facilities for their neighborhoods. This is especially true when government agencies are unwilling or unable to use our tax dollars for these essential services. Can our government respond to the needs of a legitimate community asset that serves the public, promotes sustainability, and buffers residents of lower Puna from the harmful effects of the great recession? I’ve observed that if the people speak loudly enough, the government can be made to listen. For that, we must look to our base as a grassroots community organization and to our service to you.

SPACE is the creation of a grassroots community development movement that meets the changing aspirations and needs of our community. To better understand, let’s take a brief look how this unlikely movement began. I moved to Hawaii in 1981 and have now lived 23 years on the same parcel of land in lower Puna. I’ve worked most of my adult life in education and community development, most notably in the 20 years I spent as founder and director of the Hiccup Circus. You may not know that H.I.C.C.U.P. actually stands for Hawaii Island Community Circus Unity Project. For years, the HICCUP circus project has been employing a technique called “artistic intervention” using circus arts to educate and inspire hundreds of Hawaii’s children with workshops, camps, festivals and performances throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Our work has always been about bringing people together to facilitate harmonious and sustainable living, while we try to produce miracles on a shoe-string budget.

Community involvement has always been a priority for me. I’ve served on several community boards and presently serve as President of the Board for Hawaii’s Volcano Circus, the group that manages both SPACE and the Village Green Society Ltd, which owns the property. Both are 501 IRS non-profit organizations founded by 35 professional performers and run primarily by volunteers. The Village Green Society operates as a land trust and has leased approximately 2.5 acres of its land to the SPACE community center for $1 a year for 40 years.

Times change, and our aspirations and needs change similarly. When we started in 1987, the stated vision of Hawaii’s Volcano Circus was to organize a company of performance artists and to build and operate a cultural and educational center. The mission, until we opened SPACE, was “to promote the healthy development of our community and children using circus arts.” In January of 2008 - just after SPACE opened - our Board acknowledged the growing needs of our rapidly expanding community, and amended the organization’s mission statement “to creatively promote sustainable local community in Puna Makai”

Yes, times do change. In March of 1987 when l moved to Seaview Estates, there were only 10 occupied homes and a wild assortment of residents. With 933 empty lots we knew we had to prepare for some serious changes in the upcoming years. In order to improve living conditions and to establish an organization for creating community facilities, we started having residents and owners meetings. I was elected the first President of the Board for the Kalapana Seaview Estates Community Association in 1990 and was responsible for meeting with the Bankruptcy Trustee Judge in Oahu and the transfer of power and authority to the newly formed Board at Seaview.

One of my first tasks was to work with Chris Yuen, our attorney, to create the articles of incorporation and original by-laws for Kalapana Seaview Estates Community Association. In this process it became obvious to us all that whilst the original Seaview Developer had promised considerable community facilities to prospective lot buyers, nothing would happen unless we did it ourselves. We could see even then that the County would not have the funds to support us. That is one thing that has not changed.

From this time, l persevered with our intention to build a community arts facility.

In 1998, l started the three-year agonizing process of obtaining a Special Use Permit which was granted by the County Planning Commission in October 2001. The next five years were spent fundraising. Through the work of the Hiccup Circus we slowly and very painstakingly raised about $38,000 locally and then in 2005 had a gracious offer of a $250,000 challenge grant, which required us to match the funding. Dollar by dollar and in-kind pledge by pledge we managed to meet the challenge thanks to the depth of our community support in Puna and East Hawaii.

Between the issuance of our Special Permit in 2001 and the construction of SPACE in 2007, our lower Puna community experienced a rapid and dramatic growth in population, which increased the need and urgency for SPACE to offer more than just “a home for the circus.”

I freely admit that in 1999 when we started our special permit application, we never envisioned that SPACE would become a community center offering the wide scope of services we currently provide. We never proposed having a farmers market, a school, community meetings, weddings, memorials services, or a night bazaar. We only envisioned presenting performances for our members, not the general public. All along the way things changed, the world changed.

Our present permit does not allow us to do some of the activities we presently host at SPACE – we do them because our community says they want them, because it promotes a local sustainable community and because we all have no other place to go. I truly believe that in the coming years the web of exchanges along with the sharing and connection that is happening at SPACE will have a profound and positive impact on the welfare of all the residents of our community. Many of you have told me that SPACE has already provided such an impact in just two years.

Now we need your help. For each of you who wants this community center to flourish and continue to serve the people of Puna Makai, please stand up and speak out so that all our county and state officials hear how important SPACE and other similar centers are to the health of our community. And if this is not your district - please remember that this could also happen to your community-based organizations and affect your own local services, so please support positive government response to community-based initiatives.

Please attend the:

FEB 27th Community Realtions Meeting at SPACE at 12.30 p.m. and the

MARCH 5th Town Hall Meeting, at Puna Hongwanji in Kea’au at 5 p.m.

Thank you and aloha!

Graham Ellis

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