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New funding gives isle arts needed boost

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A welcome infusion of public funding for the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts should fuel the success of an important turnaround for the institution, whose leaders have committed to improving management, transparency and outreach after a critical state audit last year.

The foundation was established 50 years ago by a state Legislature that recognized an appreciation for cultural arts, history and the humanities is central to ensuring that Hawaii’s people enjoy a high quality of life.

But in the intervening decades, with the ups and downs of the economy, the foundation endured budget cuts because too often the arts are considered less than essential in austere times.

Appreciation for and pursuit of the arts should never be relegated to secondary status. A civil society depends not only on the raw basics to flourish, but on sustained support for all the elements that make life beautiful, interesting and fun.

In education, especially, the fine and performing arts play a crucial role in engaging students of all ages in school, and can ignite a love of learning that dry lectures or lessons fail to inspire.

The additional $341,000 the foundation will receive over the next two years will go toward restoring four positions that were largely eliminated by the Lingle administration during an economic downturn.

The positions include a gallery director to oversee exhibits in the foundation’s Hawaii State Art Museum downtown and a project manager who will plan events and exhibits on Oahu and the neighbor islands to draw attention to the foundation and its collection of 6,300 works, most of which are by Hawaii artists or inspired or influenced by aspects of life in Hawaii.

Less creative but just as crucial is the authorization to hire an account clerk who will more carefully monitor whether state agencies are paying their full required amounts into the Works of Art Special Fund that finances so much of the foundation’s work, including its acquisition of work by local artists.

Past lax oversight cited by the audit presumably not only deprived the foundation’s budget, but also starved Hawaii artists of commissions full funding could have financed.

The foundation needs this turnaround to be successful, and so do the people of Hawaii, who will benefit from greater exposure to the arts.

The stinging state audit concluded that management must improve to ensure the accountability, accessibility and protection of the foundation’s unique art collection.

To the extent that management problems reflected a lack of resources, that problem has been relieved by Gov. David Ige’s signing Act 180 into law and releasing the additional funding sought by lawmakers to restore foundation staff jobs.

Sonowitisuptothe foundation’s leaders and staff to rev up their ingenuity and significantly improve the foundation’s reach.

As it stands now, only about 28,000 people a year visit the art museum downtown at the No. 1 Capitol District Building, a paltry number considering Oahu’s resident and visitor population.

A free event on Aug. 8 to mark the foundation’s 50th anniversary and a major retrospective opening September 3 should draw folks in.

Plans to add art education on the neighbor islands, including through the Artists in the Schools program, are especially promising.

Every Hawaii student should visit the museum on a field trip, or participate in an outreach program.

Exposure to the arts is an essential element of a well-rounded education and an important aspect of a meaningful life.

The foundation must do more to fill that need in Hawaii, especially on the neighbor islands, where opportunities are more limited than on Oahu.

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