The Hawaii State Art Museum, or HISAM, is an always-free museum operated by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts (SFCA). It features a wide variety of compelling visual works by artists from the past and present, from Hawaii and around the world.
Located across Richards Street in Downtown Honolulu and nearby Iolani Palace. It is an often overlooked attraction for visitors taking in historic downtown. In addition to the large number of works of art, HISAM is also an historically significant architectural feature of the area.
It began as 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). It was used by the US military until it was demolished due to 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 No.1 Capitol Building was purchased by the State in 2000 and taken over by the SFCA in 2002.
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Many features of the 1928 construction remain inside and outside the building. It is currently undergoing construction repairs, but the museum remains open and free to the public. Visitors are directed to a side entrance as repairs and improvements are made to the building’s façade. The popular sculpture garden is currently closed to the public during repairs but it is expected to reopen soon.
Hawaii was the first US state to enact the “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.
What makes HISAM so interesting is the sheer scope of works of art it contains. Works of painting, sculpting, ceramics, weaving, and multi-media populate its three galleries (all located on No.1 Capitol Building’s 2nd floor).
In addition to regular gallery hours, HISAM also hosts public events with live musical performances, storytelling, dining and general merriment. First Fridays have become popular at HISAM, which is open late along with HISAM’s boutique cafes. Other regular events draw enthusiastic and diverse crowds.
HISAM enjoys the support of community groups, the most active among them being the Friends of HISAM. The docents are knowledgeable and friendly.
As the popularity of the historical district grows among Honolulu visitors, HISAM has somehow 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. The free admission, quality of its works, and proximity to other popular destinations make HISAM an ideal (and air-conditioned) stop on any history and/or art lovers itinerary.