comscore Former YMCA site houses fine isle art
Hawaii's Backyard | Travel

Former YMCA site houses fine isle art

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    The Individual Artist Fellowship Exhibition is on display in HiSAM's Diamond Head galleries. Works are by Fellowship Award recipients Hanai Uechi Mills, John Koga and Sally French.
    Hands-on activities are among the draws of Second Saturday at the Hawaii State Art Museum.

It’s easy for Susan Hogan, museum educator for the Hawaii State Art Museum (HiSAM), to remember all the things that make Hawaii special. Her office is adjacent to HiSAM’s three galleries, where 232 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, collages, textiles and sculptures from the state’s $28 million Art in Public Places collection (see sidebar) are displayed in an area totaling more than 12,000 square feet.

Exhibitions spotlight creations by Hawaii’s earliest internationally known artists, award-winning contemporary artists and emerging artists. "There are wonderful art galleries and museums throughout the state, but only HiSAM focuses on works that belong to the people of Hawaii," said Hogan, who arranges tours for dozens of school, corporate and community groups each year. "It brings the beauty of the Hawaiian environment indoors. My personal connections to the artworks evolve as I interact with visitors and hear their points of view on individual pieces. I have favorites in every gallery."


» Address: 250 S. Hotel St., second floor, Honolulu

» Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. It’s also open from 5 to 9 p.m. on First Friday, the downtown gallery walk held on the first Friday of every month.

» Admission: Free (donations are welcome)

» Phone: 586-0900

» E-mail:

» Website:

» Notes: HiSAM offers one-hour guided tours for groups of between 12 and 20 people by appointment during regular hours. There’s no charge, but tours must be arranged at least one month in advance by calling 586-9958.


HiSAM opened on Nov. 1, 2002, as the principal venue to showcase selected pieces from the Art in Public Places program. It is housed on the second floor of No. 1 Capitol District, an elegant Spanish Mission-style structure built in 1928. The state acquired the property in 2000 and preserved its original floor tiles, cast stone detailing, iron grillwork, ornamental light fixtures and Italian scrollwork (which was modeled after the Davanzati Palace in Florence) in an extensive 18-month restoration project.

No. 1 Capitol District stands on the site of the first Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which opened in 1872 during the reign of King Kamehameha V. Located across from Iolani Palace, it was Honolulu’s premier hostelry for 45 years, accommodating foreign dignitaries and friends of the royal family.

In 1917 the YMCA purchased the building, which was used to house 25,000 Army and Navy servicemen during World War I. Nine years later the aging wooden structure was demolished to make way for the five-story concrete and stucco building that currently stands. Dubbed the USO Army and Navy Club, it included 268 sleeping rooms, a swimming pool, billiard hall, cafeteria, barbershop, gymnasium, auditorium and tailor and curio shops.

The facility was renamed the Armed Services YMCA in the early 1940s and served as an R&R hub for U.S. military personnel during World War II. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, it was owned by the Hemmeter Corp. and the BIGI Corp. of Japan before the state purchased it for $22.5 million in 2000 to house HiSAM and various state offices.

"HiSAM is the steward of a wonderful public art collection in a very special place," Hogan said. "Kamaaina are proud of the contributions of local artists both in and beyond Hawaii. They can identify with the imagery and messages that are shared. Visitors enjoy glimpsing island life through different artists’ eyes. Art makes us think and feel. It connects what is deep, innate and personal in us to our community and the wider world around us."

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.


Art Lunch

Notable artists and cultural practitioners present an hourlong lecture at noon on the last Tuesday of every month. Bring your lunch and friends to the Multi-Purpose Room on the first floor.

First Friday

Enjoy concerts and dance presentations on First Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. on the front lawn. Vocalist Amy Hanaialii and slack-key artists Jeff Peterson and Dennis Kamakahi will perform on Jan. 14 (First Friday will not be held this Friday).

Second Saturday

On the second Saturday of every month, the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, HiSAM and the Friends of HiSAM sponsor Second Saturday, a program designed to increase appreciation of the arts. There are free hands-on activities from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. while supplies last. Art demonstrations, storytelling, poetry readings and music and dance performances also might be featured.

Members of the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s ethnomusicology program will be on hand Saturday to provide instruction on various percussion instruments and how to create shadow puppets. On Feb. 12 artists from the Hawaii Watercolor Society will share their expertise. Other organizations that will lead Second Saturday activities this year are the Hawaii Potters Guild, Hawaii Craftsmen, Hawaii Handweavers Hui, Hawaii Quilt Guild and Hawaii Stitchery and Fiber Arts Guild.

Downtown restaurant

Downtown serves lunch daily except Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner on First Friday from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Call 536-5900.

Showcase Hawaii

One-of-a-kind jewelry, handmade soaps and original artwork are among Showcase Hawaii’s fine wares. The gift shop/gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and on First Friday from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Call 728-6388.

Art in Public Places

In 1967 the state Legislature passed the Art in State Buildings Law, which established the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts’ Art in Public Places (APP) program. This law requires 1 percent of the cost of state buildings to be set aside for artwork to beautify the structures.

The APP collection includes about 5,000 works by 1,400 artists. They are displayed in 500 state offices, schools, colleges, libraries, airports, auditoriums, civic centers and other facilities throughout the islands. In this way, APP is fulfilling its mission "to enhance the environmental quality of public buildings and spaces throughout the state; cultivate the public’s awareness, understanding and appreciation of visual arts; contribute to the development and recognition of a professional artistic community; and acquire, interpret, preserve and display works of art expressive of the multicultural heritage of Hawaii’s people and the creative interests of its artists."


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