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Fund-strapped arts scene looks for public support

Joleen Oshiro
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Graden Fukumitsu playfully battling a knight during the Honolulu Academy of Arts' Medieval Family Sunday. The local arts will persevere despite the hits it has taken last year.

It’s not a newsflash that the arts took devastating hits in 2010, and it doesn’t look much brighter going into 2011. But never say Hawaii’s arts community isn’t a resilient bunch.

Throughout the last year, talk of a merger between the Honolulu Academy of Arts and The Contemporary Museum dominated the visual arts scene. On Dec. 3, leaders of the two museums signed a joint letter stating they expect to sign an agreement sometime this month.

Furrowed brows ponder the fallout of combining two of the state’s top art museums, but the decision comes at a time when arts organizations across Hawaii are struggling not just to stay vital, but to stay alive.

The Honolulu Symphony lost that battle, succumbing last year to financial pressures and irreconcilable differences between management and musicians.

Management changed its yearlong attempt to reorganize into a liquidation proceeding last month, leaving musicians, management and classical music fans pondering how to bring symphonic music back to the islands.

And theater groups are not immune to the economic pressures endangering other arts organizations. Kumu Kahua Theatre, which is dedicated to supporting local, original stage productions, said in December that deep cuts in state funding over the past two years, and a 60 percent reduction in a grant from the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, has imperiled its program. It is appealing for public donations to see it through the year.

As the curtain rises on 2011, newly elected Gov. Neil Abercrombie is facing an estimated $71.6 million deficit, a scenario likely to pit arts organizations against human service agencies and other nonprofits for a share of limited public funding.

But here’s something to chew on as we enter the new year: The arts actually bring millions of dollars into the economy — through employment and direct and indirect spending by arts audiences and supporters. And local grants are used to leverage private and federal grants and donations worth millions more.

"Public and private funds for the arts are not charity, but investments in our community, with financial returns," writes Marilyn Cristofori, chief executive officer of Hawaii Arts Alliance, in the book "The Value of Hawaii: Knowing the Past, Shaping the Future," published last year by University of Hawaii Press.

Perhaps a small check to Kumu Kahua might not be such a bad idea after all, no?


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