Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, March 4, 1999

Hawaii as Pacific arts
and culture center

MICHAEL Tiknis has the wonderful idea that Hawaii can become the five-star arts and culture center of the Pacific.

He's executive director of the Honolulu Symphony. He helped it back to solvency, helped build a $7 million endowment en route to $20 million. Don't dismiss him quickly when he says culture can be an economic engine.

Tiknis tossed his idea to a tourism strategic conference last year. His listeners perked up, just as they also responded to University of Hawaii Professor David McClain when he said we can become a four- or five-star business destination, too.

Maybe we can round into a San Francisco in the Sea (my term, not theirs).

Listen to Tiknis:

bullet Only one U.S. city now is sought out and visited for its indigenous music -- New Orleans with its jazz. Why not Honolulu for Hawaiian artists?

bullet What about concerts in the Waikiki Shell every Friday and Saturday night featuring the likes of Hapa, Keali'i Reichel, Na Leo Pilimehana, Willie K and Amy Gilliom, and more. Build their names. The talent is there. Waikiki Shell is Hollywood Bowl with Diamond Head and palm trees. Tourists might schedule visits to include its concerts.

bullet What's with the Honolulu Academy of Arts? Its James Michener prints are there all the time, but draw long lines only when sent up to San Francisco to display.

bullet Bishop Museum. Already world class, undervisited.

bullet Our opera? First rate, but so far we can afford only three a year. Our local theatre? Diamond Head Theatre has had a total sell-out for "The King and I." Wonderful dance, singing, drama. Hawaii Theatre is a restoration gem. Convert its "Christmas With Friends and (Jim) Nabors" into an annual national holiday draw with other Nabors-like friends, too. Maui's Center for Performing Arts adds a second island opportunity.

Halekulani Hotel has won a reputation as the hotel where artists stay. In a trade-out with the symphony, they get free rooms while the hotel gets show tickets for its regular guests.

Super-cellist Yo-Yo Ma ordinarily would be hard for Honolulu Symphony to book. But he wanted to vacation at Halekulani, agreed to do a show while here, and the symphony will be $100,000 richer.

What we need most, says Tiknis, is to change our community mind-sets, to become proud of Honolulu as a city, to build faith in our opportunities, to have more of our wealthy people decide their philanthropy can be well-invested in culture here.

He sees it as a 10- to 20-year effort at mind-changing, but one that can succeed.

He has broached the idea of regular weekend symphonies at the Shell to Mayor Harris, even dared to suggest the city waive its usual demand for 10 percent of gross proceeds. Perhaps a 15-week season to start. The symphony's underpaid musicians would get more work. The neighborhood could be assured of respect for the 10 p.m. curfew and the decibel ceiling.

I remember when a Pan American Airways executive boggled our minds by telling a press conference Hawaii might get up to 350,000 air visitors a year. Or was it 500,000? Either way, ludicrously low in the light of over 6 million a year flying here now, but almost unbelievable then.

We have other reasons, too, for Hawaii to be a destination for more than surf and sand:

bullet World War II history at Pearl Harbor and Punchbowl. USS Arizona, Missouri, Bowfin.

bullet Polynesian Cultural Center.

bullet Serious educational endeavors and conferences.

bullet Top-flight sports events.

bullet Health treatments and recuperation.

Let's go.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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