Arts & Culture: Stephan Jost

Championed Hawai‘i art
Photo: Aaron Yoshino 

“Running a museum is a team sport,” says Stephan Jost, the dynamic 47-year-old director of the Honolulu Museum of Art. Under his leadership over the past five years the museum has cut its debt from $15.1 million to $2.4 million. In the past two years, the budget has been in the black, and membership skyrocketed from 5,000 to 13,000. And, in 2015 alone, the museum returned items from three collections to their rightful places around the world.


“My question is always, is owning looted or stolen art part of our mission?” Jost says, which made it easy to part with seven of the museum’s rare artifacts when it was discovered they were stolen from India. Soon after, the museum gave some dinnerware originally commissioned by David Kalākaua to ‘Iolani Palace, since “the monarchy is part of the story we tell of Hawai‘i, but it’s not the exclusive story. With the palace, it’s the exclusive story.” 


“[Jost] is genuine in his desire to do the right thing, and realized early on that HMA needed to change the way it operated in order to remain relevant and to thrive in the community,” says Kippen de Alba Chu, executive director of The Friends of ‘Iolani Palace. “The return of these objects underscores his strategy of building relationships for the long term.”


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Lastly, the museum returned a totem pole (that was donated by actor Vincent Price) to the Tlingit tribe of Alaska. “There was no legal or moral question,” Jost says. After an impactful run, Jost’s last day at the museum will be March 11, as he heads to the Art Gallery of Toronto.