Hawai‘i’s Arts Infrastructure: EWC Gallery & Līhu‘e’s New Arts Center

Sep 24, 2019

There are shifts underway in Hawai‘i’s art scene, both in Honolulu and on the neighbor islands.  As part of a series charting our arts infrastructure, HPR is checking in with key players.  Today, a visit to the East- West Center Gallery, whose curator is leaving after fifteen years.

EWC Gallery curator Michael Schuster worked with gallery founder Benji Bennington, and with former curator Bill Feltz before assuming his post 15 years ago. Once a puppeteer, Schuster may return to that art form after he retires, early next year.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

“First Nations Art of British Columbia,” showcasing traditional and contemporary masterworks of the genre, opened yesterday at the East-West Center Gallery. The show runs through January 12, 2020, with related programming and events. 

At the East-West Center Gallery recently, a retrospective of curator Michael Schuster’s tenure as curator featured textiles from Uzbekistan, an Iban shield from Sarawak, a contemporary Bhutanese prayer wheel made from plastic bottle parts, and more.

Prayer wheel made of recycled plastic bottles. Bhutan is a carbon neutral country.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

“Our project is a little different in that we don’t see the creation of art as separate from process, ritual and performance.”

For that reason, lectures, workshops or screenings add context to exhibitions, and artists often accompany their work. About nine thousand people attended EWC live programs kast year, about three thousand visited the gallery. Last year, for the Bhutan exhibition, several monks created a sand mandala in the gallery.

“As they watched it being created, people would meditate. The whole football team from the University came to study what it means to focus and concentrate in this way to do this very detailed work.”

Schuster says the gallery is not funded through the East-West Center, it relies on grants and the East- West Center Arts Ohana.

“The people in their 80’s, people their 90’s, are very generous and have made sure we’ve been able to do our projects.  What I’m concerned about as I look into our community in the future, where are these people who are really devoted to their community, and want to share the wealth they have made in the community.

Who gives to EWC arts? Schuster says it’s people who believe world peace depends on understanding. People have their own reasons for doing things, like being on an arts board. The interim president of Hawai‘i’s Tourism board, Lloyd Unebasami, is the new chair of the State Foundation board. Attorney Jay Suemori is the new president of the Friends of HiSAM.

Visiting monks Lama Thinley, Kinley Penjor, and Lopen Tenzin created a sand mandala in the East-West Center Gallery for the exhibition, Bhutan: Gross National Happiness, February to May, 2018.
Credit East-West Center

By the way, no word on when the EWC GAllery curator position will be posted, but there are currently state job openings for an arts coordinator and an arts educator there at HiSAM. A new Director for the Honolulu Museum of Arts should be in place by 2020, and according to a spokesperson, a contemporary art curator would follow, after which, a decision would be made about the curator for the Arts of Hawai‘i position.

Note: The Call to Artists to submit for the 2020 Artists of Hawaii show has just been issued.

Congratulations to Donkey Mill Art Center in Hōlualoa, new hire Jake Boggs should put some muscle behind your ceramics program. The current show at DMAC is Regenerate! Book Arts in Hawai‘i, a survey of contemporary book arts. Curated by two of O‘ahu’s leaders in the field, Thad Higa and Minny Lee, catch the show through October 12, 2019.

Credit East-West Center

On Kaua‘i, Carol Yotsuda reports that amidst all the construction on Rice Street, work continues on the old Kress building.  The owner, investment advisor Mark Gabbay, is trying to reproduce the double curved doors of the original entrance. According to Yotsuda, Gabbay plans an art center inside.  Photographer Brune Stude will relocate her Gallery 103, star ceramist David Kuraoka has signed on for a studio there, and Yotsuda is developing programs for the space. 

Timeline? Depends on county permitting.