Girls Got Grit mentee Monica Kenny

From August through December 2017, the museum welcomed students from Sacred Hearts Academy for behind-the-scenes study as part of Girls Got Grit, a mentorship program developed by Shelley Cramer, Saks Fifth Avenue’s Vice President & General Manager—she attended Sacred Hearts and now so do her two daughters. Cramer developed the program with the intention to “prepare students to become future women leaders in Hawai’i’s workforce by focusing attention on job mentoring, skill building, leadership development, and networking opportunities.”

After a rigorous application process, 20 high school students were selected to participate in Girls Got Grit. Organizations such as Howard Hughes, Nalo Farms, YWCA, Hawaii News Now, Queens Medical Center, Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing, and First Hawaiian Bank also signed up as mentors.

HoMA hosted two eight-week sessions—the first with two students, the second with three. During each session, students met weekly with me. Rather than partner each student with one staff member for the full two months, I built itinerary sequences that moved students through a variety of departments, ultimately offering a comprehensive survey of museum careers. The goal was to have the students leave the museum with an understanding of what goes into sustaining an organization like HoMA.

Each session began with a docent-led tour of the museum that included information on its history, the legacy of  founder Anna Rice Cooke, and an in-depth look at the art she collected and used to create the foundation of HoMA’s collection. Then, students were invited to talk story with collections managers, archivists, curators, groundskeepers, security guards, installers, graphic designers, even director Sean O’Harrow.

The mentees were bright, curious, motivated students. Most of them had never considered museum work as a career, and were not familiar with HoMA. But Girls Got Grit changed that. After meeting with our events team, 11th-grader Monica Kenny—who dreams of becoming a dairy farmer—was so inspired that she decided to deepen her engagement with the museum by volunteering at some of our most popular events. We asked her to write about her Girls Got Grit experience at the museum:

“This past fall, I had the opportunity to take part in a mentorship program called Girls Got Grit at Sacred Hearts Academy, where I am a junior. This program focused on leadership and provided a rare opportunity to gain experience and exposure in various career fields. The first part of the program consisted of pitching Girls Got Grit to companies in our local community. Through these efforts we were able to secure the funds needed to sustain the program and create scholarships. The second part of the program is what brought me to the Honolulu Museum of Art—mentorship. My first internship was actually supposed to be at Nalo Farms, but due to some unforeseen circumstances the museum serendipitously became my after-school place of learning and discipleship, every Wednesday afternoon for eight weeks.

“My mentor, Janna Plant, led my classmate and I through every corner of the museum, introducing us to different staff members, departments, and different pieces of artwork. We saw the collections in the basement of the museum; we learned how the ancient Japanese texts are meticulously conserved and repaired with specific types of thread and paste; we learned how to read the medieval art, we saw Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa resting in its vault drawer—all in eight days! Now, I definitely do not in any way claim to understand art, and I don’t really produce art either, but when I’m standing in front of a painting with a thousand tiny brushstrokes all smoothing together to show me a fisherman gazing out into the turbulent Hawaiian waters [Lionel Walden’s Hawaiian Fisherman], I can’t help but feel something visceral. Maybe I don’t understand everything there is to know about the art world, but the museum taught me that I can appreciate it regardless. I am allowed to casually enjoy a practice without needing to devote my whole life to it. Perhaps this is an obvious fact, but I think it is important to remind myself of this while I try to figure out my future. Art historians can enjoy astronomy, and astronomers can live on dairy farms.

Those eight days were something of a spiritual journey for me. In the beginning, I didn’t know what to expect from the museum, or what I hoped to achieve, but every time I learned something particularly interesting or saw a work of art that was especially breathtaking, I found it hard not to think, ‘Hm, maybe I could major in Art History.’ An experience like this is so valuable for us teenagers who are told what to do and where to be their entire lives, before suddenly getting thrown into the real world, expected to know who they are and where they want to be. It was so worthwile to encounter adults who, maybe didn’t always have it all together, but who are happy with where they are in life. Through talking with various staff at the museum, I realized that I don’t really know what I want to do, and there’s no way I could know where my life is headed. Wherever it will go, it won’t be a straight path—and that’s okay! Everyone I spoke with travelled a winding road with unique encounters, experiences, and some mistakes—mistakes that were chances for learning. We are all still on that road. We will forever be on that road. It is okay if I don’t quite know where my life is heading; I will be happy regardless. Things will work out. I can be proud of the life that I am building for myself.

“After the GGG program ended, I have been very lucky to step into a volunteer role at HoMA events like ARTafterDARK and PechaKucha. This has expanded my experience of the Hawai‘i art scene and our rich community, and taught me more about event coordination as a career. At some point during those eight days of mentorship, somewhere in the halls of the Honolulu Museum of Art, at some point during a conversation, I realized that Hawai‘i is somewhere I want to stay. We are not just a tiny little rock stuck in the middle of the ocean with nowhere to go and nowhere to be —Hawai‘i has a diverse, bustling community that is so beautiful and alive. I want to continue to be a part of places like the Honolulu Museum of Art that make Hawai‘i the incredible place it is.”