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Mahalo Stephan! HoMA Moves On

Noe Tanigawa
Noe Tanigawa

When Stephan Jost took the helm of the Honolulu Academy of Arts in 2011, Hawai‘i’s arts community got a shot in the arm.  He oversaw the consolidation of two museums (Honolulu Academy of Art + The Contemporary Museum = Honolulu Museum of Art), the Tattoo Honolulu show was one among many that wooed new audiences and membership to the museum is at an all-time high.  HPR’s Noe Tanigawa caught up with Mr. Jost on the eve of his departure to lead the largest museum in Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario. 

Outgoing Director of the Honolulu Museum, Stephan Jost, comments on Hawai‘i’s artistic edge and Honolulu’s potential cultural corridor along Ward Avenue.

  In the last 4+ years as Director of the Honolulu Museum of Art, HoMA, Stephan Jost has done enough for the arts that he can speak knowledgeably about our strengths and weaknesses.

He began our conversation by saying, “Honolulu deals with “difference” better than any other place I’ve ever seen.  As we move forward in the 21st century, that will be the difference between a civil and uncivil society.  So that’s a huge, huge advantage that we have.”   

The downside, Jost notes, is sometimes we let things slide for the sake of group cohesion.  

“Rather than saying this is actually the better painting, we say well, they’re all important.  How do you link that ability to deal with difference with kind of a rigorous critical mind set.  Getting that balance,  and kind of understanding that our goal is to strive for excellence, to be world class, and to start to drum that drumbeat again and again and again will actually make Honolulu, if we play our cards right, truly amazing.”

He’s talking here about defining excellence, and demanding it.

Noe Tanigawa
Credit Noe Tanigawa
There's a great little show at HoMA now on Hiroshige's woodcut views of Edo, "Hiroshige's City: From Edo to Tokyo". Fabulously, they map exactly where the views would be in today's Tokyo.

“The collection here is way better than most people realize.  Very few people realize the caliber of what we have here in terms of the art collection.  In order for us to accept new gifts we will need more space, so that’s just something that’s gonna have to happen in the next ten years if we want to move from good to great.”

The first step, Jost says will be an annex to the well-used Art School at Linekona, probably in the next couple of years.  The museum has just acquired a property across Beretania Street between the Admiral Thomas and Burger King that connects to two other holdings in the area.  The new space will be used for parking, possibly more classes and even a library.  HoMA has fifty thousand art related books as well as a lending collection of artifacts that need a home.

Expanding capacity for the Art School is a priority.   Currently DOE teachers fill all available training classes and HoMA works with Queen Ka‘ahumanu, the neighborhood elementary school, providing art teachers, enrichment and special art/English classes in a effort to develop  new curricula.  Outreach builds constituency, and this is a long term game.

“Our goal isn’t just to make Honolulu a better place, we’ve got to use the Honolulu Museum of Art to set national standards, to frame national conversations.

We can frame national conversations on education, on repatriation of looted art, on Asian contemporary art, HoMA has its sights on these areas and more.

Stephan Jost sees HoMA’s focus on accessibility as the key to recent advances.  Membership has doubled since 2013, largely because membership is now twenty five dollars.  The majority of new members are under 40.  Jost says younger members are renewing at a rate of 92%.

Noe Tanigawa
Credit Noe Tanigawa
In connection with "Hiroshige's City: From Edo to Tokyo," see contemporary work by the lithographer, Motoda Hisaharu and the video artist, Yoshimura Ayako. Motoda blends intact cityscapes with images of destruction, removing landmarks. Ultimately he's depicting the carcasses of the megacities now proliferating on this planet. This still is from the Yoshimura video on view in the gallery.


  “There’s a lot of handwringing here about the arts community and I actually think it’s in better shape than we think it is.  The state of tattooing in Honolulu is thriving, there are good oil painters, but it’s few and far between.  Maybe we’re just looking in the wrong places.”

Large scale murals, Jost says, we’re up there! Surf board art, too, he says is thoughtful, functional. A planned show of Hawai‘i graphic design will showcase the great work happening here in that arena.  Are you going to say that's not real art?  Are you going to say going to ARTafterDARK isn't really experiencing art? Don't bother.  Jost says it's all got culture embedded in it.

Asked what about his tenure in Hawai‘i brings him the most satisfaction, Jost says, “When I look at our staff, and there’s half a dozen people on staff here who I think in five, ten, or fifteen years could totally do my job with grace, and elegance and competence.  So that gives me pride and confidence that we haven’t seen anything yet.”

It should be noted that under Jost, pension and debt obligations for the museum were trimmed 85%, with budget surpluses the past two years.  A search committee has been formed chaired by Mark Burak and Josh Feldman.  They are now nailing down criteria for the search.

The listing will appear here when the search has officially started:

Allison Wong has been named Interim Director.

Noe Tanigawa covers art, culture and ideas for Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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