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‘Art on the Zoo Fence,’ first launched in 1953, can’t get city permits to reopen

Updated: Apr. 12, 2021 at 11:26 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Organizers of the “Art on the Zoo Fence,” a popular venue for residents and tourists since 1953, said they may be forced to fold if the city doesn’t reissue permits for them to reopen.

The nonprofit open-air gallery has been closed for the past several months, and restarting it hasn’t been easy.

Like most businesses, it was forced to close temporarily when the pandemic hit in March. It returned to the fence line in August, but when 2021 started, it was a different story. The city refused to issue permits to the organization, said Lynn Forney, president of Art on the Fence Inc.

“It just breaks my heart that something like this that’s been here forever -- that’s been a vital part of the community for locals and visitors alike -- may not continue,” she said.

“We feel it’s very unfair.”

During its heyday, more than 30 local artists exhibited their works on the fence along Montserrat Avenue next to the zoo. But since the pandemic hit in March, that number has dwindled down to about eight -- and none of them have been able to exhibit their work for months.

Under the state’s and city’s tiered reopening strategy, Forney said open-air galleries should be allowed to reopen -- just as in-door galleries, bars and restaurants and even weddings have been allowed to operate at reduced capacities.

But the city said that unlike private ventures like restaurants and bars, it’s difficult to enforce social distancing requirements at an open park.

“Because parks are open, public lands with multiple access points, it (is) very difficult to ensure that group activities like this follow COVID safety guidelines,” said Nate Serota, spokesman for the city Department of Parks and Recreation.

Forney said artists do follow social distancing guidelines, setting up more than six feet away from the nearest artist. She added that everyone uses masks and hand sanitizers are readily available.

Artists said the shutdown is not only hurting them financially but is hurting the public as well.

“It has had a horrible financial effect on me. I have lost thousands of dollars by not being able to set up,” said Debra Casey, a fine art photographer and secretary of Art on the Zoo Fence.

“Everyone loses if we aren’t able set up. The community loses. Art is very important.”

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