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Q+A Stephen Little


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Q: You've called your current position your "dream job." Why?

A: You can do things with works of art that really illuminate the world. People are only here in the museum for half hour to an hour. Yet in that time, you have their undivided attention. Visual art can be enlightening-or mystifying. How can we, as the museum, mediate that experience? It's a very powerful thing, a great responsibility … and huge fun.

Q: What is Hawai'i's art climate?

A: Improving. People who live here-and in America in general-are becoming more visually sophisticated. Being an artist in Hawai'i is hard, because there just isn't the market. Most artists I know here have to work at other full-time jobs and then create their art whenever they can.

Q: You've started an "Art to Go" outreach program in response to the ice epidemic. How can art help with a drug issue?

A: Art embodies who we are as people. If you take young people who have been marginalized, there is nothing more empowering than the realization that they can express themselves. It's theirs, a pure expression of their needs and vision. It gives them something to be proud of. It sounds simple and trite, until you see it working.

Q: The Impressionists are always crowd-pleasers. Why do you think that is?

A: The Impressionists are about vision, about perception. They are free of an agenda and very approachable. It's the kind of exhibition I want to do more of. We have more freedom as a smaller institution, because we can actually be riskier. This show is about Japan's ongoing relationship with the West; there's never been an exhibition like this. If someone leaves with one or two ideas they haven't had before, then we've done our job.

Q: What is your vision as director?

A: We have one of the best permanent collections in the United States. We need to catalog it and travel it. The art should travel to London, Berlin, Tokyo. Our collection is designed to be a mirror image of the population of Hawai'i; it's very diverse. I want people to hear our name and think of the overwhelming quality of our collections. The Chinese have a saying, "The sparrow is a small bird, but it has all of its organs."

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Honolulu Magazine February 2018
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