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Maui: Center of the Arts in the Pacific

Going to Maui for the arts may seem to the uninitiated a bit like going to the Louvre for lunch, yet this sun-blessed, breeze-swept island in the middle of the blue Pacific has more than 40 art galleries and a thriving colony of artists, many with international reputations. Maui also supports not one, but two theater companies, along with a symphony orchestra. A major annual Maui Music Festival draws acclaimed musicians from around the world.

Maui's commitment to the arts is most vividly demonstrated in the new $28-million Maui Arts & Cultural Center which opened in the spring of 1994 in Kahului. The Center, which was the island's largest construction project of 1992, raised an unprecedented $11.3 million from private citizens in a population of 92,000. Additional funding has come from the state of Hawaii, the county of Maui and the National Endowment For the Arts.

The complex houses a 1,200-seat main theater, a smaller theater for experimental performances, a visual arts gallery, outdoor amphitheater, offices, and rehearsal space.

Maui has been a focal point for learning and the arts from earliest times. Lahaina was the first capital of the Hawaiian kingdom. With the patronage and encouragement of the royal court, the arts flourished. Lahainaluna was the first boarding school west of the Rocky Mountains and Hawaii's first printing press was installed on the school grounds.

Maui's first art league was formed by missionary descendant Ethel Baldwin and her circle of friends. Called Hui No'eau ("Club of Skills"), the group grew to become a prestigious visual arts organization bringing the world's leading artists to Maui for exhibits, classes, lectures and workshops. Hui No'eau is now housed in the gracious old Baldwin estate, Kaluanui, in Makawao and hosts some of the island's most important shows.

Lahaina has so many galleries it's easier to pick up a Chagall or a Miro along Front Street than it is to find a ripe mango. Where demon rum was once dispensed to rowdy Yankee sailors (including Herman Melville) the art of Dali, Erte and Gorman is displayed for discerning visitors. Even those lusty whalers left their art mark. Lahaina is the largest market for scrimshaw in the world, specializing in both antique and contemporary pieces. Thedemand keeps more than 40 Maui scrimshanders busy.

The cultural legacy of the missionaries includes himeni, the distinctive form of Hawaiian church music, transliteration of the Hawaiian language and literacy for the population, and the Hawaiian quilt, a unique version of the traditional American patchwork art.

Artists aboard the first European ships to visit the Islands left a vast collection of prized sketches and engravings depicting life in Hawaii at the time of contact with the outside world.

Art has become so associated with Lahaina that every Friday is Art Night when gallery browsers are offered music, complimentary wine and hors d'oeuvres.

Even at the beach there's art. Several resort hotels have commissioned and purchased such extensive collections of traditional and contemporary European, Asian and Hawaiian art that they conduct free art tours. Major art pieces are scattered about the hotels, in the gardens and even along the shore.

Several Maui publications specialize in island arts and promote local artists. There's even a specialty art tour visiting artists in their homes.

Why this flowering of the arts? Highly successful gallery owners who point out that two million tourists come to Maui every year with time and money for shopping.

Hawaiians maintain that Maui has mana, or a spiritual presence that inspires art. One artist perhaps said it best, "Maui is art. It is its own canvas."


Friday Night is Art Night in Lahaina, Theo Morrison, executive director, LahainaTown Action Committee, 648 Wharf Street, Lahaina, HI 96761; 808-667-9175.

Hui No'eau Visual Arts Center, Stephanie Sheppard, executive director, 2841 Baldwin Avenue, Makawao, Maui, HI 96768; 808-572-6560.

Maui Arts & Cultural Center, Pam Dobson, P.O. Box 338, Kahului, Maui,HI 96732; 808-242-ARTS.

Maui Symphony Orchestra, Susan Hallas, 808-244-5439.

Maui Academy of Performing Arts, Francie von Tempsky, 808-244-8760.

Maui Philharmonic Society, Sandy McGuinness, 808-244-3771.

Baldwin Mission House, Front Street, Lahaina, Maui, HI 808-661-3262.

Kaanapali-Lahaina, Maui, HI 96761; 808-661-1234. Contact for art tours.

The Art School at Kapalua, 800 Office Road, Kapalua, Maui, HI 96761, 808-665-0007

Article Courtesy of the Maui Visitors Bureau

See also:
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