Honolulu Academy of Arts Reborn with New Name

Born Again: A merged Honolulu Academy of Arts sheds its maiden name.

illustration: jing jing tsong

It could have been HAM.

Clunky institutional names usually come with a snappy acronym. If it’s an art museum, an AM ending is a natural solution. Seattle Art Museum: SAM. Brooklyn Art Museum: BAM. But there are a few museums for whom it doesn’t work as well. It’s the Dallas Museum of Art, and not the Dallas Art Museum, for a reason.

photo: courtesy honolulu museum of art

So it is that, this month, the former Honolulu Academy of Arts unveils its new bricks-and-mortar signage: the Honolulu Museum of Art.

Why change at all? Museum director Stephen Jost says the museum’s recent merger with The Contemporary Museum, which created an institution that encompasses three campuses, a multifaceted art school, two cafes, two shops and a theater, also made a mess of terminology the new name will streamline: “TCM, The Contemporary Museum, and Makiki Heights are all the same place. Linekona, the Academy School—all the same place.”

A “Honolulu Museum of Art” is also a clearer signpost for tourists, only 13 percent of whom thought the word “Academy” described a museum rather than a school. “If we’re a museum, we need to call ourselves a museum,” says Jost. These concerns are not trivial—if the embattled museum can’t rebuild its finances, it’s in serious trouble, Jost acknowledges frankly. “If we don’t change, we’re gonna die.”

But the winds of change blowing through the former Academy of Arts feel to us like a breath of fresh air. Drive by the Beretania Street location this month and see the formerly fusty museum’s lawn gussied up with an installation from celebrated sculptor Patrick Doherty. Check out the Western galleries, which are in the middle of a major overhaul. Visit the long-term exhibition “Anxiety’s Edge,” the first time in decades the contemporary wing has felt really contemporary. And keep an eye on the former Contemporary Museum’s Makiki campus, the future site of an unprecedented—and nationally watched—experiment in art education.

So what’s the new acronym going to be? Griffith says that several are being considered, among them HoMA, HMoA, and HMA. My vote: HMoA is a mouthful, and HMA sends me reaching for my health insurance card. It’s time to go HoMA.

What's in a Name?

>>WAS: The Honolulu Academy of Arts

>>WAS: The Contemporary Museum

>>WAS: The Academy Art Center at Linekona

>>WAS: The Contemporary Museum at First Hawaiian Center

>>WAS: honoluluacademy.org

>>IS: The Honolulu Museum of Art

>>IS: The Honolulu Museum of Art, Spalding House

>>IS: The Honolulu Museum of Art School

>>IS: The Honolulu Museum of Art at First Hawaiian Center

>>IS: honolulumuseum.org