Arts With A Purpose

Lila Metzger refers to Kauai underground artists (KUGA) as “a creativity-enhancing organization.” Her goal is to inspire keiki to love life.

“We only have one life to love and one life to live,” she says at the KUGA visual arts center in Kalaheo.

Her nonprofit, which promotes a drug, alcohol and suicide-free culture through creative expression, will host its annual Love Life Creative festival May 31. Hip-hop, breakdancing, live art and food are just some of the activities planned at Kauai Community College’s Performing Arts Center next Saturday.

“We all work really hard to give a good show, but the show itself is just an expression for the greater purpose,” says Metzger.

The festival and organization started in 2009 after suicide rates spiked on the island the previous year.

“We thought we can’t just sit there and do nothing,” says Metzger.

She developed the annual event and nonprofit as a way for keiki to express their creativity and feel a connection to the beauty of life by way of their imagination.

Having grown up in Kalaheo, Metzger is familiar with the lack of opportunities for keiki and understands that without many options or outlets, things can seem hopeless and bleak.

“This is trying to open up kids’ eyes to fun and creative things that can really set the tone for their entire future,” she says.

KUGA is her way of building something she wished she had as a child.

“I’m trying to leave Kauai and Kalaheo better than I found it,” she says.

Dance classes, including hip-hop, modern and breakdancing (ages 2 to adult), are held across the island at the Waimea Clubhouse, Organic Functional Fitness in Poipu, the Golden Lotus Studio in Kapaa and Island School in Puhi. By the end of the year, a new warehouse studio in Lawai will be KUGA’s home-base. Children, age 2 to teen, also can participate in KUGA’s visual arts program, which recently was added to the nonprofit’s list of creative offerings. Different age groups meet once a week to study artistic history and re-create pieces following those styles. Each five-week course ends with a gallery showcasing their work.

“They might not be the best dancer or artist, but this is just a tool to open them up to whatever their passion is and help them find things that excite them and bring them life,” says Metzger.

The Kauai High School graduate moved back to the island in 2003 after a brief hiatus on the Mainland to pursue surfing and modeling.

“I came home and really felt a need to do something, but I didn’t know what,” says Metzger, who always had an affinity for dancing.

Upon her return, she met some b-boys who took her under their wings.

“I didn’t realize the style I was looking for my whole life was breaking,” she says.

After spending countless hours training for the craft, KUGA was born.

“I love seeing kids dance, I love seeing them be free and have fun,” says Metzger, who with husband Nathan has two children, Luli (2) and Banx (5). “Seeing the little kids’ freestyle is worth everything for me.”

She is looking forward to holding another Love Life Creative Festival which will allow keiki to show their passion for art and hopefully inspire others to want to do the same.

“Life is precious and short and we need to make the most of what we’ve got,” says Metzger.

The event happens from 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Admission is free. Dance showcases will occur at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and tickets for the performances are $10 in advance or $15 at the door. Proceeds will benefit Malina Pereza, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia earlier this year. Visit for more information.