After a national search lasting nearly a year, the Honolulu Museum of Art has selected a new director. Hālona Norton-Westbrook is currently director of curatorial affairs at Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio. Norton-Westbrook recently talked about the Honolulu museum’s size, quality collection, and connection to the community as key assets.
Norton-Westbrook is the third female director in the history of the Honolulu Museum of Art, now 97 years old. Her name is from a Native American source, but Norton-Westbrook’s parents lived on O‘ahu in the 1970s before she was born, and she made frequent trips to the islands growing up.
Norton-Westbrook’s career trajectory includes discovering her passion at Mills College in California, and completing a Ph.D. in London focused on the history of collecting and development of the curatorial profession.
Norton-Westbrook began her tenure at the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) in 2013 as the Andrew W. Mellon Leadership Fellow in a program designed to train the next generation of museum professionals. Between 2016 and 2018, Norton-Westbrook served as director of collections and associate curator of modern and contemporary art at TMA. In 2018, Norton-Westbrook was named director of curatorial affairs.
This move to the Honolulu Museum, she says, feels like a good fit.
“For me, it was a museum that had all those elements of strong connection to the community, and incredible collection that was just really wanting someone to take all those elements together and think about, 'How can we move forward as a 21st century museum?'”
Norton-Westbrook says becoming a museum director has long been her goal, and she’s learned a lot from being involved in TMA’s transition toward being a 21st century institution.
“It’s definitely a team effort,” she says, “So a lot of it is listening and coalescing those elements together into something people can get behind.”