Discover Capitol Modern: A New Era for the Hawaii State Art Museum

HISAM Sculpture
Hawaii Aloha Travel > Blog > Discover Capitol Modern: A New Era for the Hawaii State Art Museum

Today we’re talking about the Hawaii State Art Museum, which recently introduced its new name: Capitol Modern. This is a great place for anyone to visit in Honolulu. 

We typically recommend it if someone is looking for something free, easy, and out of the sun. But really, you should include it in your Oahu vacation itinerary no matter what. 

Read on to learn all about this impressive art museum in Hawaii!

What is the Capitol Modern?

The Capitol Modern is a small art gallery located in downtown Honolulu. It features works of art that the state of Hawaii has acquired since 1967, when the Art in Public Places program began setting aside funds to buy art. 

The Capitol Modern encompasses 19,500 square feet and boasts four galleries, including a sculpture garden and a collection of student artwork. 

Hawaii State Art Museum
Hawaii State Art Museum oil on canvas display

The History of Capitol Modern and the Hawaii State Art Museum

Though the name “Capitol Modern” debuted in 2023, this art museum has been open since 2002. For over 20 years, it was called the Hawaii State Art Museum. But the history of the museum – and its building – extends even farther than that. 

No. 1 Capitol Building Honolulu

The location was once the site of a hotel, constructed under King Kamehameha V in 1872, first as the Hawaiian Hotel and then the Royal Hawaiian Hotel (the name would later be moved to the famous “Pink Lady” in Waikiki). The US military used the building it until it fell into a state of hopeless disrepair.

The building, in its current state, was constructed in 1928. It is on both State and National Historic Registries. After several ownership changes over the decades, the state purchased the No.1 Capitol Building in 2000, and it became the home of the Hawaii State Art Museum two years later. 

Art in Public Places Program

The art on display at the Hawaii State Art Museum is a result of the state’s Art in Public Places Program. 

In 1967, Hawaii was the first US state to enact a “Percent for Art” law, which requires that 1% of all state construction costs be set aside for the acquisition of works of art for public spaces. More than half of US states now have similar laws dedicated to enhancing public spaces with art.

The museum opened 35 years later, allowing the state to share the collection with the public. 

Visiting The Hawaii State Art Museum

The Hawaii State Art Museum (now Capitol Modern) is much smaller than other Honolulu museums, but that’s part of its charm. Plus, its convenient location and free admission make it a great place to visit during your Hawaii vacation – without taking up too much time. 

Capitol Modern is across Richards Street in Downtown Honolulu. It’s near Iolani Palace but is often overlooked by visitors taking in historic downtown.

It features a wide variety of compelling visual works by artists from the past and present, from Hawaii and around the world.

​​What makes the Hawaii State Art Museum so interesting is the sheer scope of works of art it contains. Works of painting, sculpting, ceramics, weaving, and multi-media populate its small yet intriguing galleries.

In addition to regular gallery hours, HISAM also hosts public events with live musical performances, storytelling, dining, and general merriment. 

As the popularity of the historical district grows among Honolulu visitors, the Hawaii State Art Museum remained somewhat “under-the-radar.” 

Iolani Palace, the State Capitol, the Honolulu Hale (City Hall) Campus, and Hawaii Mission Houses are regular stops on a tour of historic Honolulu. Hopefully, the museum’s rebranding will attract more visitors and residents to this great attraction. 

The free admission, quality of its works, and proximity to other popular destinations make HISAM an ideal (and air-conditioned) stop on any art enthusiast’s itinerary.