“Today we’re asking for the state’s support to expand the Honolulu Museum of Art School to meet community demand. Our aim is to double the amount of classrooms, add teacher training facilities, and, of course, offer better parking,” said Stephan Jost to a panel of legislators on Feb. 12 at a hearing on Senate Bill 324, which would grant the museum $16 million to help it build an annex behind the Art School. (Pictured above: The Honolulu Museum of Art team outside the senate hearing from after the hearing. From left to right are executive assistant, director’s office Cathy Ng, grants manager Dave Washburn, director of the Art School Vince Hazen, museum trustee Indru Watumull, director Stephan Jost, museum trustee and artist Kelly Sueda, docent and practicing artist Deborah Nehmad, vice chairman of the board of trustees and president and CEO of Tori Richard Josh Feldman, deputy director Allison Wong)
The Art School offers Spring, Summer, and Fall semesters, and when the day registration starts, there is a rush on classes. Last year’s Summer Art Camp sold out in 18 minutes. Between youth and adult courses, the school serves approximately 3,000 students a year.
The Art School, and the adjacent area for proposed construction, is on state-owned land that is leased by Honolulu Museum of Art. The museum pays for all operations and building maintenance.
“This project at its heart is about meeting community demands, and making sure Honolulu is an even better place for all of us to live,” said Jost, sitting at a microphone before the panel. And the community turned out in force. The hearing received more than 60 letters, many handwritten, and more 20 people—of all ages and walks of life—attended the hearing to give testimony on the positive impact the Art School has on their lives, and the lives of those around them.
Tomoki Kobayashi, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Hawai‘i, found a deeper connection to his home through the Art School. “Last year April, I explored the exhibition CONTACT,” said Kobayshi, “I was shocked at how powerful the exhibition was, that every piece carried such a profound message, it was the most memorable art exhibition of my life. It made me ashamed to have not known so much of Hawai‘i’s history despite having grown up on O’ahu all my life. It made me want to learn more not just about the Hawaiian Islands, but about the entire Pacific Ocean.”
During his testimony, Kobayashi admitted that before experiencing CONTACT, he had given little thought to deepening his understanding of Hawaiian culture. The exhibition—one of the many organized by the school’s community partners, in this case Maoli Arts Alliance, ii gallery, Na Mea Hawai‘i and the PROP Foundation—was a turning point for him. Now he is enrolled in a Hawaiian studies class and a Pacific studies class. “I feel it is my duty to spread knowledge of the Pacific Islands and their culture on a global scale through audio and visual stories,” said Kobayashi, who majors in film studies. “I want to electrify the global audience as the school’s exhibit did to me.”
Amanda Lei Perron, an educator at Le Jardin Academy in Kailua, has led her middle school students to the museum’s See Art Make Art school tours (they are exactly what they sound like). “[These field trips] have made a huge impact on our students in multiple ways,” said Perron. “Additionally, the Lending Collection has been a huge help to our curriculum—providing artifacts that allow our students, especially those students that are more tactile learners, to better enhance their understanding of what they’re studying.”
David Simons spoke about the project’s potential economic benefits. “As a taxpayer, I think this is a great investment. We’re getting an art school that we need. The public schools don’t have money for art programs. My wife is one of more than a hundred volunteers, and getting a facility for which we don’t have to fund the personnel is great.”
While all of those who testified—students, teachers, artists, parents, and friends of the museum—spoke of very different personal Art School experiences, their underlying message was the same: Expanding the Art School is a valuable investment in Honolulu’s future.