09/10/2013 06:50 pm ET Updated Nov 10, 2013

Maui is More Than Perfect Weather and Beaches

Maui is known for its great weather, beautiful beaches and wonderful, friendly people. There are only 153,000 people who get to wake up every morning and call this place home. Often we transplants tell those we left behind, "I'm in paradise and I'm not dead!" Does it get any better?

Yes it does! When you leave the confines of the major cultural capitals (New York, London, Paris, L.A., San Francisco, etc.), you worry about being bereft of cultural opportunities. Not here; Maui is a beauty magnet, and where there is beauty, talent, resources and world-class facilities follow.

I lived in New York for a decade. Before that I worked with Jackie and Dollie McLean in their organization the Artists Collective in Hartford. I have seen what most people consider to be the best artists in dance, music, theater and the visual arts. I have been a reviewer for more than a decade.

Believe me when I tell you that Maui is cultural wonder. Because of the cosmopolitan nature of our visitors and their relative affluence, world-class musicians live and perform here. These are session musicians who regularly appear on recordings made here by everyone from Steely Dan to Melody Gardot.

For more than a decade Robert Pollack has been exposing Maui audiences to the world's best contemporary composers through his organization Ebb & Flow Arts. Now, Maui has one of the most sophisticated contemporary music audiences anywhere. Their concerts are always filled to capacity. When composers come, they are astounded at the size and knowledge of the Maui audiences. Composer John Selby said, "There is nowhere, not even New York, where you would see this many people at a concert for new music."

In dance, you obviously expect great hula -- it's Hawaii after all -- but would you be surprised to learn that Maui has two adult dance companies and two outstanding schools for classical ballet training? The two companies are in their nascent stages, but both Adaptations (for which, I am a board member) and Ampersand have exceptional dancers as their founders and mentors. After seeing their work, especially Adaptations, I am confident they have bright futures.

Both the Maui Academy of Performing Arts (MAPA), which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, and Alexander Academy, have excellent faculty and rigorous programs. MAPA teaches everything from tap to hip-hop, whereas the Alexander Academy is strictly a classical ballet training school. Both schools have produced several professional dancers. Seabury Hall, Maui's oldest prep school, also has an excellent dance program and a brand new six million dollar studio and performance space.

Naturally, a place such as Maui produces many excellent scenic painters, but there are also some great abstract and conceptual artists, sculptors, wood workers and installation artists as well. Because it's a beauty magnet, it's also an artist magnet. On Maui, there are more then 2,000 people who, according to the occupation field on their taxes, make their living as artists and/or designers. There probably are more than double that amount who create art, but it is not their primary occupation.

For the past three years, and continuing in 2014, artists throughout the island have opened their studios to the public for visits every weekend in February. This project is the only such event like it in the state and Carolyn Quan, who organized and manages it, modeled it after successful similar events in California. "After recognizing that Hawaii has no such event to promote and support its abundance of talented artists," Quan said, "we began putting plans in place to produce one here, where so many gifted and talented artists reside, visit, create and find inspirations for their art."

The events are organized geographically so visitors will easily be able to visit as many of the studios as they like. A full schedule, including maps, information and examples of work by every artist is available here.

Artists are encouraged to put on demonstrations, discuss and sell their work, create unique exhibition spaces and serve refreshments. Over $100,000 worth of artwork was sold during last year's event and there were 7,100 individual studio visits.

Theater has not been ignored by Maui. There is a great professional company, which does an original production called 'Ulalena. With music by the Beamer family and a historical story inspired by the Kumulipo, the Hawaiian creation myth, as well as historical accounts of the coming of haole (foreigners) to the islands, it is a must see for all visitors to properly introduce them to this magical place.

There are four theater companies that produce high quality revivals and one that specializes in original plays. Maui OnStage (MOS) celebrated its 85th year recently, making it the oldest continuously producing community theater company in America. MAPA produces a full season at Steppingstone Playhouse in Queen Ka'ahumanu Center. Talking Story and Pro Arts are the newest companies, but both have made a strong mark. Talking Story produces original Hawaiian scripts that celebrate the people, places and culture of Hawaiians. Pro-Arts, which is a professional company, produces excellent work in an intimate off-off Broadway type setting.

Where in the world, with a population of 153,000 would you find simultaneous productions of two of the biggest musicals/operas of all time? If you answered Maui, I'd be shocked, but that would be the correct answer.

MAPA and MOS recently presented outstanding productions of the Boubili/Schoenberg Les Miserables and Jonathan Larson's Rent. People who had seen numerous productions throughout the world of Les Mis reported that this production, which featured an unheard of standing ovation at intermission, was the best they had ever seen. Perhaps hyperbole, but a testament to the excellence that Maui people are used to.