Director Stephan Jost Steps Down from the Honolulu Museum of Art in March
Jost will leave his position as the head of the museum to become director and CEO of the largest art museum in Canada.
Photo: Linny Morris
After almost five years of leading the Honolulu Museum of Art, it was announced today that director Stephan Jost’s last day at the museum will be on March 11. He has just accepted the position of the Michael and Sonja Koerner director and CEO of the Art Gallery of Toronto, the largest art museum in Canada.
Since 2011, Jost has made a big impact on the local arts scene, beginning with the merger of the Honolulu Academy of Arts and The Contemporary Museum in 2011. “A lot of that was rebuilding accounting systems, HR systems, budgeting,” Jost says. “It was just really, honestly, an unsexy slog, but we got it, and now our budgets have been in the black the last two years.” Membership has also gone from 5,000 to 13,000 since 2013, with most of the new members under 40 years old, which has helped bring the museum’s debt from $15.1 million to only $2.4 million. Again, he says, “it’s not sexy, but you do it.”
His sense of what is necessary carried over to his approach to items in the museum’s collections that did not rightfully belong there. In 2015, Jost cooperated with authorities when it was discovered that seven of the museum’s rare artifacts had been stolen from India—six of them sold to the museum by Subhash Kapoor, a well-documented looter. “[He] sold things to us and many other museums. The only difference in our response was we didn’t hire a lawyer and we said, ‘How can we help?’” Jost says. “I don’t believe we should have anything to do with looting of archeological sites. And most likely this material came out of that, so we didn’t meet our own standard 10 years ago, but let’s make it right.”
Jost also returned some dinnerware, 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 and, with the palace, it’s the exclusive story.”
“The return of the pieces to the Palace demonstrates Stephan’s confidence in his experienced curatorial staff, his understanding of the Palace’s unique role in Hawaiian history, and his desire to partner with other local arts and cultural organizations,” says Kippen de Alba Chu, executive director of The Friends of ‘Iolani Palace. But Jost’s reach extended beyond Hawai‘i in the most recent instance of returning artwork that did not belong at the museum: a funereal totem pole of the Tlingit tribe of Alaska.
Beyond rightfully sourcing art, Jost expanded the museum’s reach into the community with a range of inventive exhibitions—including Harajuku: Tokyo Street Fashion , Modern Love: 20th-Century Japanese Erotic Art, and Land Division: An Installation by Sean Connelly—the Contempo ArtShop public art sale and education, including an expansion plan for the Honolulu Museum of Art School.
“I think, really, people enjoy being here,” Jost says. “[With] Bank of Hawai‘i Family Sunday, it’s free, super low threshold, easy to come to. We get a lot of people. And then you get school tours. You might be 12 there. Flash forward to 22 and you come to Art After Dark; then, who knows, 10 years later you have kids and you bring them. We are different things to different people, but we want to be that thread through your life.”
Allison Wong, deputy director of operations and administration, will serve as interim director.