The Honolulu Museum of Art Wants You to Fall in Love With Art Again

Honolulu Museum of Art debuts a new “happening” concept; Island art auction brings in $163,000.
Photos: Ross D. Hamamura/SONY


Museums in most major cities rely on a stable cadre of art lovers and serious collectors to keep their galleries and events full of people, but, to stay vital, relevant and solvent, they must attract new patrons of the arts.


The Honolulu Museum of Art (HMA) is brainstorming creative new ways to encourage more local residents to make art a real part of their lives, including a new event—Contempo #ArtShop. The 10-day “art happening” debuts at the HMA Spalding House later this year with free programs that include Collecting 101  and a pop-up shop by Giant Robot magazine co-founder Eric Nakamura.


The goal is to raise funds for education programs, build relationships that connect the community to the museum and have fun. Museum director Stephan Jost says, “Contempo #ArtShop is actually about education and providing the opportunity for people to fall in love with art and artists.”


Building a larger audience, in turn, drives philanthropy, as art museums aim to stay financially agile in a modern world. Another way to engage is to sell art.


HMA, fortuitously, had some art to sell. After the Contemporary Museum and the former Honolulu Academy of Arts merged in 2011, the combined collection numbered more than 60,000 works, including duplicate pieces. Cue the practical solution: Hold a yard sale.


In October, HMA held an art auction that included artwork by Satoru Abe, Ken Bushnell, Juliette May Fraser, John Kelly and others. Trustee Sharon Twigg-Smith and Duncan MacNaughton also donated from their personal collections.


Some 600 pieces sold, raising $163,062 in net revenue. Satoru Abe’s 1976 copper and bronze sculpture The Tree brought the highest pricetag: $27,000. One print went for $10.


One happy bidder, Richard Malmgren, scooped up two bronze plaques that once flanked the doors of The Honolulu Advertiser Publishing Co. The construction company president and art collector was happy to pay a little more than $2,000 for both. “It’s a piece of history,” Malmgren says, even though he had no personal connection to the newspaper or to publishing. “I’m just glad to be their custodian for a while.”


Jost counts the auction as a success, both in attracting potential new fans of art to the museum and in raising money for the organization’s mission. He made it clear that all revenue from items auctioned from the museum’s collection will go directly to a fund dedicated to buying new pieces of art.


“If [the museum] sells art, we must buy new art,” says Jost. “It’s to ensure that no one’s selling Picassos to pay the utility bills.”


For more about Contempo #ArtShop, happening in June, visit