How the Hawai‘i State Art Museum and its Partners are Navigating the New Normal
Public programs coordinator Aly Ishikuni-Sasaki, who also owns Mori by Art + Flea, tells us how she keeps the museum and shop engaged and available to everyone during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Editor’s Note: Through our partnership with the Hawai‘i State Art Museum, HONOLULU Magazine publishes a monthly blog written by Lisa Shiroma, owner of the HiSAM Museum Gallery Shop.
Photos: Brandyn Liu
Aly Ishikuni-Sasaki thrives in an environment filled with creativity and positivity. She has made it her personal mission to connect local artists, musicians, filmmakers, fashion designers and more with eager audiences. That’s what makes her job as public programs coordinator for the Hawai‘i State Art Museum a perfect fit. With the closure of the museum, Ishikuni-Sasaki, along with a small team from HiSAM, has been working hard during COVID-19 closures to keep people inspired and creative with the newly launched “HiSAM From Home” series.
You can join in on twice-a-week free live virtual takeovers of HiSAM’s Instagram and Facebook accounts. Last week, there was a colorful painting workshop led by Luke DeKneef and an intimate musical performance by The Tidelands. Don’t worry if you miss these live: You can still catch the “HiSAM From Home” sessions on the Hawai‘i State Art Museum Facebook page after they air.
Ishikuni-Sasaki also owns Mori by Art + Flea at South Shore Market, the sister shop to HiSAM Museum Gallery Shop x Mori by Art + Flea. Her brick-and-mortar retail shop has been fueled by big dreams, long hours and a loyal customer base for more than five years. Then the coronavirus came to town. We caught up with her to see how she’s been handling the situation and to find out what’s next for her.
HONOLULU Magazine: How has life changed for you since closing your shops?
Aly Ishikuni-Sasaki: It’s definitely been an uncomfortable shift. I remember bursting in in a panic every day during our first week of closure. All these thoughts started to pop in my head. “How do I pay rent? My bills? My employees?” All these years, my entire life was dedicated to work, my business and to helping other independent artists in our creative community, and then suddenly, we all fell into a dark pit of what felt like a living hell.
But on the bright side, I’ve grown a wonderful relationship with other small-business owners in Honolulu. We’ve become a support group for each other and we’re constantly sending messages and reminders of hope during this crisis.
My resolution at the beginning of 2020 was to separate business and my personal life by keeping work at work and strictly dedicating my time at home to be with my family and husband. Now with us being forced into quarantine, everything I was practicing just got thrown out the window. My kitchen has literally become my office, and now I am a master of multitasking. I can answer all of my emails, grade my students’ papers (Ishikuni-Sasaki is a lecturer in the Fashion Design & Merchandising Department at UH) and have phone conferences while cooking meals!
HM: A lot of people you work with own their own small businesses and have been affected dramatically as well. How do you think their businesses will evolve in order to keep going?
AIS: Personally, I’ve dealt with a lot of failure in my life and it’s only taught me to work harder to achieve what I want. This experience is forcing us to be more creative with how we run our businesses. It’s all about embracing the change, understanding what our strengths are and knowing how to use them to our fullest advantage. What can you do to make your brand more personable and accessible online? This is an opportunity for us to redefine our business models and to build a more progressive future for Hawai‘i.
HM: Some shop owners are choosing to close permanently. Did you think about closing, too?
AIS: To be completely honest, yes. The thought crossed my mind when the future looked uncertain for retail shops like mine to survive. But with all of the SBA funding programs and guidance resources available online, it’s been an incredible help. I can’t imagine myself giving up everything that I worked so hard for up until this point.
HM: What are you focusing on now so that your business survives?
AIS: Our business is being conducted entirely online. We’re pushing our web shop more than ever and we’re extremely active on our Instagram. It’s a powerful marketing tool for us and it allows us to enhance our connection with our customers and followers who have been continuously supporting us since the launch of our business. We post new items daily, and our workshops and concerts have become virtual. People can now be a part of the Mori experience in the comfort of their homes!
HM: What can we look forward to from Mori in the next few months?
AIS: More global artists, exciting new collaborations and definitely more community events to keep Hawai‘i’s creative spirit alive. This is just the beginning of a new chapter for us.
HM: Do you have anything else you would like to share with our readers?
AIS: Energy can spread rapidly, both good and bad, so be kind to others and most importantly be kind to yourself. Please don’t give up and don’t let the negativity of the world shrivel you up. If we can all visualize a better future for Hawai‘i and truly believe in it, we can make it happen together.
You can shop for your favorite brands from the HiSAM Gallery Shop, such as Mau House, Beachcake, Almeda Studio, Green Tea Leaves, MYTE NYC and more, at morihawaii.com. Follow @mori_hawaii for daily doses of creativity and inspiration.
Catch “HiSAM From Home” live art workshops and musical performances on the museum’s Instagram @hawaiistateartmuseum.
isa Shiroma is the owner of the HiSAM Museum Gallery Shop and runs it with partners Aly Ishikuni-Sasaki and Travis Sasaki from Mori by Art + Flea.
Lisa worked as gallery manager for Koa Art Gallery at KCC from 2014 to 2017.
In July 2017, Lisa, Travis and Aly renovated and reopened the Hawai‘i State Art Museum’s gift shop space as a new art gallery and gift shop “for Hawai‘i artists, by Hawai‘i artists.”