The galleries of the new State Art Museum will display the state's "Art in Public Places" collection. The pieces were purchased under a 1967 law requiring that 1 percent of funds set aside for the construction of state buildings be spent on art.

Collected works

The State Foundation on Culture and
the Arts finally secures a permanent
home for its public collection

Opening-day events
It's your art

By Nadine Kam

A lot can happen in 30 years -- a fortune can be won and lost, a forest can turn into a city, a generation will grow to adulthood. While older folks can recall evenings spent watching radio, younger ones now listen to music via TV, and of course, the Rolling Stones can't give away their records in the Britney Spears era.

And planning? There are no guarantees, as anyone who hoped to soon retire on stock earnings is learning.

So you can see how a document called "The Hawaii State Capitol Civic Center," dated 1968, could be forgotten, locked away inside a government file cabinet or sitting on a bookshelf collecting dust as administrations have come and gone.

Now, imagine the shrieks emanating from the second floor of 250 S. Hotel St. when the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts moved into its new home, and Lisa Yoshihara, curator of the SFCA's Art in Public Places program, finally found and began to read that document, the bible of Capitol District urban planning.

"I was sitting awhile and I started screaming," she said.

You had to be there.

Madge Tennent's "Two Sisters of Old Hawaii" is part of the collection.

FOR DECADES the SFCA had been trying to find a home for its collections, to no avail. Buildings came available several times, but the size was not right, or the price was not right, but now Yoshihara was reading a prophecy that had come true, executed to the letter, though many times it seemed as though fate conspired to wrest the building away from its destiny. Thirty-four years have passed since planners envisioned a Hawaii State Art Museum, but it's better late than never.

A shady hallway opens to the second-floor galleries of the new museum. Existing doors, windows, balconies and ornamental light fixtures were repaired and refinished throughout the building.

"It was there (in the plan) all along," said Yoshihara. "I felt like it was meant to be. For me, it was Alfred Preis saying, 'This is where I want the museum to go.'"

Preis died in 1993, but his son, architect Jan-Peter Preis, will be there when the Hawaii State Art Museum opens Nov. 3 with a free "Celebrate Culture and the Arts Festival" to mark its inaugural exhibition, "Enriched by Diversity: The Art of Hawaii."

Jan-Peter Preis was in his early 20s when his father headed the SFCA, and he recalls watching the slide shows his father would stage to share with his family the organization's latest acquisitions.

"He was very supportive of artists and excited about the work. A lot of the pieces were controversial in their time, but when he knew the pieces should be purchased, he stuck to his guns.

"He was influential, not pushy, and always confident things would work out. He was a positive thinker.

"One never knows how long it takes to do anything. It would have been about time to have a state museum 10 years ago, 20 years ago, but it's great that it's happening now. I know my father would be very, very delighted that it's happening now.

"When he started, I don't think he realized how many pieces there would be. It has grown, so it's more and more important to have a place where the work can be exhibited. I'm anxious to see it myself."

FOR THOSE unfamiliar with the museum's history, it will seem like a quick two years since the project started with the state's purchase of the former Armed Services YMCA building at the corner of Hotel and Richards streets in December 2000.

The Armed Services YMCA as it appeared in 1924, when the earlier building was destroyed and a new mission-style building took its place.

But the project's genesis dates back to a few years after statehood. Preis, an architect who served as the SFCA executive director from 1965 to 1980, was a visionary who understood the importance of art, and wanted to create a state museum to preserve Hawaii's unique legacy.

He was conscious of all art forms and was an early advocate of the Hawaiian Renaissance of the '70s. A progressive thinker, he applauded the notion of men doing hula when few had the courage to do so.

Pries was among the 60 community leaders who sat on a state panel during Gov. John A. Burns' administration, to set a plan for the Capitol District.

Their aim was to turn a seedy area filled with bars and tattoo parlors into a lively corridor full of shops, restaurants, art and entertainment.

With Preis on the committee, it was written into the master plan that "a place should be provided for a museum of the varied ethnic traditions which characterize and enrich the Hawaiian culture," and it was suggested the Armed Services YMCA should be acquired and used "for cultural and civic activities such as civic and professional clubs, educational programs, art galleries and studios, a downtown library reading room, restaurant ..."

The YMCA took over the 1872 building dubbed the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in 1917 to help house some of the 25,000 servicemen stationed in Hawaii during World War I.

When work on the museum is completed, it will provide a venue for education, talks and performances. A restaurant is scheduled to open next spring, one of the last pieces of the monumental jigsaw puzzle.

"I wish he could be here," said Yoshihara. "He maintained all along that there would be a state museum, and showed us the one place it should go. It feels like we're coming home."

THERE WERE many times the museum seemed like a lost cause. The YMCA building was offered to the state for $5 million in the mid-1980s, but the state could not afford the cost of renovations. So the building -- which had been modeled after the Davanzatti Palace in Florence, Italy -- was sold in 1987 to developer Chris Hemmeter and Hemmeter Investment Co. for $11 million. His restoration followed the master plan in turning a front parking lot into an inviting manicured lawn and restoring architectural details to their original condition. The work, including construction of a four-story annex, cost $30 million.

When the building was sold again to Japan-owned BIGI Corp. in 1990 for $80.5 million, it seemed the building was lost to art lovers forever. But as if to prove there can be a bright side to a poor economy, BIGI sold the building back to the state for $22.5 million on Dec. 14, 2000, and work on opening the museum to the public could begin.

A treetop view of the new museum shows its place in the cityscape. The original building was modeled on the Davanzatti Palace in Florence, Italy. The trees surrounding the structure have been retained to provide shade for a planned sculpture garden.

The task of choosing pieces for the inaugural exhibition fell to Yoshihara and a curatorial committee: Graphic House owner and president Momi Cazimero; Honolulu Academy of Arts director George Ellis; The Contemporary Museum associate director and chief curator James Jensen; University of Hawaii Art Gallery director and professor of art history Tom Klobe; Fine Arts Associates owner Greg Northrop; and UH emeritus professor of art Duane Preble.

They started by viewing 5,000 slides of works by 1,400 artists that form the state's "Art in Public Places" collection. Over the years the works have graced some 466 state offices, schools, airports and hospitals in creating "museums without walls" in the places people congregate. From the 5,000, the work was culled to 750, and finally, to the 360 that will go on view next month.

Dating from the 1960s to the present, the show is a testament to Preis' prescience, capturing a history of art in Hawaii, with works that range from images of two Hawaiian women by Madge Tennent to the vibrant pop work of Sally French. In between are works by Wright Bowman Sr., Ann "Kapulani" Landgraf and Rocky Jensen, reflecting native Hawaiian consciousness in dealing with such issues as sovereignty and the environment, and works by Bumpei Akaji, Isami Doi, Chew Hee and Tadashi Sato that reflect the rise of Asian ethnic consciousness following World War II. At that time, artists of Asian ancestry were able, for the first time, to pursue educational opportunities on the mainland, and their work often blended an Eastern aesthetic with Western media and styles.

PUTTING the works on display meant wresting them back from the institutions that have housed them, in some cases grudgingly, though like certain people and pets, art has a way of insinuating its way into the hearts of its beholders.

Franco Salmoiraghi's "Aunty Edith Kanaka'ole Chanting in the Koa Forest."

Part of Yoshihara's task over the years has involved giving crash courses in Art 101. "I'd meet with people in the buildings and bring about 20 cards featuring the artwork and talk about what they were seeing. A lot of them were not accustomed to looking at art. They'd say, 'Don't you have any landscapes or beach scenes?'"

It wasn't easy for her to deal with some of the responses, such as, "What is that? Godzilla could do it," or "A child could do it."

"I didn't flinch. I'd start over and show them an abstract landscape, show them the horizon line and explain how colors and shapes convey a feeling. Nobody really taught them, and two years later I'd come back to find something they hated, they really like, to the point where they don't want us to take it away.

"They say, 'You're gonna bring it back, right?' Which makes me happy.

"During construction of the galleries, I got to know the contractors and subcontractors and watched their reactions when we started bringing in the artwork and heard them say, 'Yes! I know that one.' They were so appreciative.

"Of all the institutions in Hawaii, we were the only one systematically documenting art created here since statehood. When you see all these works in one place, it starts hitting you, the wealth that is there. It's a visual history of Hawaii over that time period. And yet it's something that the public doesn't really know because they've never had the opportunity to see it this way."

Oddly enough, even as the SFCA promotes the arts, other state agencies do their best to cut the arts, considering it a luxury during hard times. The same is true nationwide, Yoshihara said.

"Art is a part of everyday life throughout Europe and Asia. America is a young country, based on Protestant roots; we're practical. Arts education is an uphill battle, but with this museum we're saying, 'This is what we should value as a society.'

"It's important to start when kids are young. I took a crate of art, including Kay Mura's sculptures of cats, to Molokai, and as we were opening it in the library, the kids said, 'Wow!' They didn't want to go back to class. They were just fascinated. Hopefully, adults will have the same reaction here."

Celebrate Culture and the Arts Festival

Grand opening of the Hawaii State Art Museum and its inaugural exhibition, "Enriched by Diversity: The Art of Hawaii":

Featuring: Music, dance, food booths, art demonstrations and hands-on art activities for the whole family
Where: 250 S. Hotel St.
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 3
Admission: Free
Call: 586-0900

A shady hallway opens to the second-floor galleries of the new museum. Existing doors, windows, balconies and ornamental light fixtures were repaired and refinished throughout the building.


Opening-day events

These activities will take place on Nov. 3, opening day of the Hawaii State Art Museum. For more information, call 586-0900. Look for updates in this paper the week of the event:


Glass blowing demonstrations: Rick Mills and University of Hawaii students
Raku demonstrations: Shige Miyamoto and UH ceramics students
Solar prints: Photographer Shuzo Uemoto
Watercolor demonstrations: John Wisnosky and Shige Yamada
Honolulu Printmakers: Demonstration and children's activity


Hawaii Opera Theatre
Iona Contemporary Dance Theatre
Mini tours: With historian and storyteller Glen Grant


Bento lunches: 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Cafe Laniakea; shave ice offered until 3 p.m.
Activities: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; face painting for kids, interactive art booth, paint-a-tile activity, ceramic sale, facility tours. A small fee may apply to some activities.
Family Swim Time: 2 to 4 p.m. in the courtyard pool


The following museums and art galleries will be open for free tours to coincide with the grand opening:

Hawaii Craftsmen and the ARTS at Marks Garage: 1159 Nuuanu Ave.
Hawaii Theatre: Free tours at 9:30 and 10:30 a.m., with 2 p.m. contemporary dance performance.
Honolulu Academy of Arts: 900 S. Beretania St.
Honolulu Police Department's Law Enforcement Museum: Self-guided tours 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Iolani Palace: Basement galleries and barracks open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
King Kamehameha V -- Judiciary History Center: Self-guided tours 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Mission Houses Museum: Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with free tours of the 1821 Frame House and a printing demonstration on an antique press.
State Capitol: Including the executive offices, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Docent-led tours.
Washington Place: Open house and tours, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The Contemporary Art Museum at First Hawaiian Bank: 999 Bishop St., offers tour of rotating exhibitions.
The Downtown Gallery: 1131 Nuuanu Ave.
Eleven Thirty Two Bishop Street: offers seldom-seen art from private collectors.
Pacific American Art Gallery: 925 Bethel St.
The Pegge Hopper Gallery: 1164 Nuuanu Ave.
Photo Finish Hawaii: 1142 Bethel St.
Ramsay Gallery: 1128 Smith St.
Smith Street Galleries: 1117 Smith St.
Studio 1: 1 N. King St.


It’s your art

Hawaii set a national standard in 1967 when it became the first state to adopt a "Percent for Art Law," mandating that 1 percent of construction appropriations for state buildings must be set aside for art.

It was a progressive idea that has since become a national model for states and municipalities, and was one of the few laws created to address the loss of beauty with the rapid rate of urban development.

Ron Yamakawa, acting director of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, said, "In the '60s there were a lot of giant buildings going up. People felt we were replacing natural beauty with concrete and we needed something to humanize these institutions."

Today the SFCA's Art in Public Places Collection comprises 5,000 pieces by 1,400 artists, also serving to preserve a vivid visual history of Hawaii through the eyes of its people.

The Armed Services YMCA as it appeared in 1924, when the earlier building was destroyed and a new mission-style building took its place.

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