Get a Big Dose of Inspiration with the Young Artists of Hawai‘i Exhibition at the Hawai‘i State Art Museum

See 96 winning works created by Hawai‘i students in grades K-6.
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Photo: Brandyn Liu


HiSAM’s annual Young Artists of Hawai‘i exhibition is changing things up: The theme of this year’s event is “What does good leadership look like?” It replaces the theme of celebrating Hawai‘i’s cultural diversity through the eyes of our keiki and marks the first change in themes in the exhibit’s 24-year history.


The change emerged from a partnership with Aaron Salā and Monte McComber from The Native Imaginative, a local nonprofit. “When we first began planning our student exhibitions for the 2021 and 2022 school year, we wanted to inject some new life into our existing Young Artists of Hawai‘i programming in order to really challenge our student artists in ways that extended beyond just the visual arts,” says HiSAM project manager Kamakani Konia.


Young Artists Of Hawaii Hisam Isabella Anderson

“Good Leaders Are Made,” Isabella Anderson, Grade 6, Kapolei Middle School. Image: Courtesy of Hawai‘i State Art Museum


To help teachers with the new theme and have students expand their experience through the process, the competition provided them with a reading list for further enrichment and prompts for lively classroom discussions about leadership and community action. “What we’ve noticed over the years is that it’s sometimes difficult for schools to implement ‘art for art’s sake’ in their lesson plans,” Konia explains. “For some teachers any sort of classroom exploration in the visual arts has to be accompanied by additional subject matter from math or reading sections, which is why we’re really thankful to be able to offer this kind of opportunity to their kids.”


SEE ALSO: The Hawai‘i Triennial 2022 Takes Over HiSAM’s Exhibition Spaces


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“Leadership is Balance,” Taino Stanbro, Grade 6, Hanahau‘oli School. Image: Courtesy of Hawai‘i State Art Museum


A total of 420 entries were submitted from 12 schools across the Islands. This year’s panel of judges consisted of Makanani Sala, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Culture and the Arts; KHON2 newscaster Kamaka Pili; and award-winning Hawaiian musician Raiatea Helm. The judges focused on how students interpreted the competition theme in their artwork while incorporating elements of color and design. The 96 works that were selected are full of bright colors and positive messages worthy of museum space. Konia hopes those who see the exhibition “see how our students are envisioning themselves as future leaders in their communities and how they come to the realization that their worlds extend far beyond themselves.”


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“Loving Earth,” Wells Szabo-Hwang, Grade 1, Pōmaikaʻi Elementary School. Image: Courtesy of Hawai‘i State Art Museum


This juried art competition was established in 1998 by the Hawai‘i State Foundation for Culture and the Arts and the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority and was developed in cooperation with the Department of Education and the Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools. Replicas of the winning artworks are also displayed for an entire year inside the Hawai‘i Convention Center’s Pā Kamali‘i Courtyard for visitors from around the world to see.


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“Positive,” Oaklee Olsen, Grade 3, Maryknoll School. Image: Courtesy of Hawai‘i State Art Museum


Konia is particularly excited by the number of students who participated and is grateful for the educators who carved out precious classroom time to give students a chance to “celebrate their creative achievements during school hours.” Students took part in meaningful discussions about the qualities of good leadership and where they could find inspiring leaders in their own families, classrooms, schools, neighborhoods and global communities. Though the theme is a serious one, much of the art reflected the whimsical images that often spring from young minds. One piece that stood out to Konia was Curious George Washington by Jonah Castellano from Helemano Elementary School. “There’s just something about a monkey in a powdered wig swinging a banana sword that just makes you want to smile.”


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“Curious George Washington,” Jonah Castellano, Grade 5, Helemano Elementary School. Image: Courtesy of Hawai‘i State Art Museum


Exhibition runs through June 11, Hawai‘i State Art Museum, 250 S. Hotel St. Open Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (closed on Memorial Day), free admission., @hawaiistateartmuseum


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Lisa Shiroma


Lisa Shiroma is a correspondent for HiSAM and is an artist and art educator. Lisa is the former owner of the HiSAM Museum Gallery Shop, which she ran with partners Aly Ishikuni-Sasaki and Travis Sasaki from Mori by Art + Flea from 2017 to June 2020.