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Erin Aricayos (Castillo), NirManaFest Muralist

Despite this season of disruption and change to our lives there are some pretty exciting projects happening around the island. One such project, NirManaFest, is launching its first annual event of artistic collaborations of murals across downtown Lihue. I had the opportunity to connect with Erin, one of the featured artists on this project to learn more about what her journey as an artist has been like being born and raised on the island. I was incredibly struck by her diverse approach to art and how open she is to the unknown. She is constantly testing ideas, allowing curiosity to guide her approach and above all embracing the value of a collaborative approach to creativity. She offers words to live by in a season that requires us all to work together if we are to shape a more hopeful and creative future.

Tell us about who you were at 10 years old?

At 10 years old I was obsessed with everything baseball and basketball especially the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan. But at the same time, I was secretly in competition with a couple of my classmates for “Best Artist”. There were 2 of my classmates that I admired for their artistic skills. They both had skills that I wished I had and it drove me to push myself to learn those skills and get better at my craft.

What sparked the desire to be an artist?

From the age of 4 I can remember being crazy about crayons. I had all my crayons neatly in my crayon box and no one was allowed to use them. I was very particular about my “tools” (crayons, pens, pencils, etc.) My favorite color was (and still is) Cerulean. But I could never say it right when I was a kid. I would get lost in coloring and drawing. I couldn’t get enough, I still feel the same way. 

Who or What were key influencers in your journey?

My mom influenced me growing up. My mom is also very talented in art. She’s way more crafty than I am. I learned a lot from my mom. She had a notebook that she drew in. I would look at it when she wasn’t around. She used art to make things fun. She decorated my clothes with paint and puffy paints. Everything I had she decorated, clothes to lunch boxes. All the other kids were envious of course! I always aspired to be as creative and amazing as my mom. In my adult life, Joanna Carolan was a huge inspiration to me. Just like my mom, I looked up to her. She hired me as an artist when I was 18 years old. She taught me so much about art and ceramics. She put her faith in me to be a part of her team to create art and ultimately be a part of something really great. I’ve made art for celebrities, for people celebrating achievements, for loved ones, for everyone. We’ve done some amazing art for the community and for the veterans. Joanna really influenced me and taught me so many valuable things about business and family. I’m so grateful for her.

Why does art matter, what is the power you see it have in our community?

Art isn’t for everyone but it is undeniably important as a tool for children in developing fundamental skills. For me, it was one of my favorite classes, the one class that was an escape. A safe place to truly be yourself. You can be as creative as you want to be. I loved it! Art is a way to communicate and to send a message to people and the community. People interpret things differently but I believe that when people see Art, like murals on big walls, they get a rush of serotonin because it’s visually stimulating, especially if they’re seeing it for the first time. My wish for the Nirmana project is that when people see these amazing murals, they stop and take it all in. See it as love and hope. 2020 is not what we were expecting but it doesn’t have to be a complete waste. 

How have your goals stayed the same or changed through this process?

Like life, it’s a learning process. I’m working with 2 very talented artists and we all have the same goal. We all want this to be great! We know that we can do it. It’s a challenge but it’s gonna be a life changing experience. We want to do good for the community. The Nirmana project is giving us this amazing opportunity. 

What makes you feel most alive?

To be honest, it’s in the beginning when the idea is being thought of and I can see it in my head. It’s an awesome rush! The middle part is an emotional roller coaster but when you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, that rush comes back. Just thinking about how happy it’s gonna make people. 

What is your biggest challenge with the mural for NirManaFest?

I feel that the biggest challenge will be time. Our wall or building I should say, is quite large. I’m confident but I’m sure we’ll feel like it’s not gonna be done in time. We’re gonna have to be efficient and organized. I feel we’ll do well.

What have you learned about yourself through this process?

I am much more laid back than I usually would be. I think it has to do with 2020 and this global pandemic. “Don’t sweat the small stuff”. Everything will work out and don’t stress, don’t fight, it’s not helpful. Let’s lift each other up! 

What “dead ends” in this journey have been useful in moving forward?

I don’t know if it's really a “dead end” but I’ve been unemployed from Banana Patch Studio since April 2020. I’ve worked there for 18 years and I’ve never really taken time off or vacations longer than 10 days. It was fun in the beginning but 2 months in and I was miserable. I missed work and the people I work with. But because of being laid off, I used that time to teach myself more skills. I can do resin work, dishes and jewelry. I taught myself how to draw on an ipad. I didn’t do that but I’m quite skilled at Procreate and used it for graphic design, making stickers, company logos and tattoo designs. I bought myself a Cricut Explorer 2 and used it to cut out my stickers and vinyl for tumblers. It’s been essential for  my mental health and for the sanity of my husband lol. It’s never really the end, only beginnings! 

What are you . . . .

Reading? I stumbled across this book called The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante. I’m not much of a reader but I got into this book. It’s an easy read. This review of the book by Book Page- “ The novel simmers with overt rage toward parental deception, teachers’ expectations and society’s impossible ideals of beauty and behavior”. 

Listening to?

I love music! I’ve been listening to a lot of country music lately. Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, George Strait, Brooks and Dunn and John Michael Montgomery. It takes me back to my childhood. My mom loves country music so we listened to it a lot. I grew up in the late 80’s and 90’s so music of that time always has a place in my heart as well. 

Watching? I’ve been binge watching CSI re-runs. There was a time that I wanted to be a CSI, that could still happen. Las Vegas is my favorite but I like all of them. (Miami and New York) I like my crime, murder, mystery, thriller shows and movies.

What excites you most about the inaugural NirManaFest?

It’s exciting to be able to be a part of something this great! There’s A LOT of very talented people on this project, that includes Seth Womble and it’s an honor to work with them. And to be able to do something amazing for the community is very exciting. I know that it’s gonna be awesome!

What has it been like to work in a team?

I’ve been in team sports since I was 8 years old. It’s nothing new to me. At Banana Patch, we’re a team. So I’m used to the environment. It’s challenges and it’s triumphs. The way it works is we gotta be on the same team, same motion, we move as one. Same goals. And we gotta listen to each other and try not to discredit people’s ideas and opinions. It’s hard to articulate feelings sometimes but it’s important to hear out criticism and not take it personal. Easier said than done but at the end of the day we all mean well and nothing is malicious. 

What advice would you offer to others?

As always, treat people the way you want to be treated. You never know what people are going through. Just stop and ask, “are you ok?” It can make a huge difference. Be kind.

What are you looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to painting, it’s been awhile since I did a wall mural. I’m looking forward to seeing what the other teams created. It’s gonna be so much fun! Personally, I’m looking forward to what else this year has in store for us. I maintain that 2020 will be a great year and I feel like it is. There was a lot of personal growth for me. I learned so many things, and taught myself so many incredible things. Learned a lot about myself. I know that the best is yet to come. 

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