Support for arts and culture in Hawaii is good business


POSTED: Sunday, February 08, 2009

Imagine a community where only the wealthy and privileged have access, in their private places, to paintings, sculptures, music, dance; where culture and heritage are neglected; where art education is limited to those who can pay a high price; and where artists and performers of all kinds find no public support or appreciation for their endeavors.

We do not believe this is a world in which most residents of Hawaii wish to live.Yet this is the world envisioned by the writers of the Grassroot Institute's 2009 Hawaii Pork Report, released recently.

Among its allegations of government “;waste and corruption,”; the report singled out the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts with a hyperventilated sense of outrage but no evidence of wrongdoing whatsoever.

Ian Lind, a good-government crusader and former Star-Bulletin investigative reporter, wrote of the report, “;In my view, the (report) is almost completely worthless, because so many of the examples are so wrongheaded that none of the rest can be trusted.”;

Forty years ago, Gov. John Burns, Masaru “;Pundy”; Yokouchi, Alfred Pries and other visionary leaders persuaded the Hawaii Legislature to set aside 1 percent of all state capital improvement expenditures to buy and commission art for Hawaii's buildings.

They believed that Hawaii's natural beauty should be complemented by artistic beauty to be enjoyed by all our citizens and visitors in every public building: airports, schools and offices, the state Capitol and later additions, like the Hawaii Convention Center. That program, the first in the nation, became a model for many other states to follow. So, yes, we do take pride in the fact that Hawaii leads the nation in support for the arts.

This support of the arts, culture and the humanities also includes grants that assist dozens of community arts education, performance and display organizations on every island; an artists-in-the-schools program and the immensely popular Hawaii State Art Museum.

At the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, our motto is, “;The Arts Affirm Life.”; We believe that in a democratic society, government has an important role in supporting culture and arts as a benefit for all people. We work hard to provide leadership to promote, preserve and perpetuate our diverse and unique culture and the arts for people of all ages throughout our state. You can learn more at

During these austere economic times, responsibility dictates that we monitor and evaluate how all of our public funds are spent and then assess the cumulative impact of those funds.

The amount spent on commissioned and individual art purchases is carefully monitored by a citizen commission, the foundation staff and others in the state administration to be sure it is in line with current prices based upon the size, materials and artisanship.

What kind of return do Hawaii taxpayers receive from our investment in arts spending? In 2003, Hawaii participated in Arts & Economic Prosperity, the most comprehensive study of its kind ever conducted. This study focused solely on the economic impact of nonprofit arts organizations and excluded data from commercial arts activity or individual professional artists.

Among its findings were that spending by nonprofit arts organizations in Hawaii during fiscal year 2000 exceeded $80 million. After an input/output analysis, this spending leveraged an additional $142.8 million in additional expenditures by arts consumers.

Hawaii's $223 million nonprofit arts industry pumps vital revenue into the local economy by attracting residents and visitors to art exhibitions, concerts, festivals, performances and special events.

Less quantifiable but more significant is the enormous contribution our local artists and performers make to Hawaii's distinctive sense of place. Without the living, breathing artistic expression of our beloved Hawaiian culture and the distinctive culture of Hawaii, these islands run the risk of becoming yesterday's tourist destination. Sun, sand and sea are easily found many places, but it is our culture that differentiates this extraordinary destination from all others.

Art and culture cannot be outsourced to a cheap off-shore manufacturer or reproduced by assembly line. Hawaii's nonprofit arts sector alone provided 6,092 full-time jobs and generated $20 million in annual revenues to local and state governments in 2003.

For all these reasons, we reject the baseless charges in the Grassroot Institute's report. We also urge the Legislature to resist the temptation even in these difficult times to raid the Works of Art Special Fund to balance general fund spending. Our spending on works of art, the state museum, grants to arts education and arts education is an investment in the heart and soul of Hawaii.


Lori Thomas is chairwoman of the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.