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Honolulu Museum of Art - A Must See for Art Lovers

Updated on July 26, 2013
Hawaiian Scribe profile image

Stephanie Launiu is a Native Hawaiian lifestyle and cultural writer. She has a degree in Hawaiian Pacific Studies. She lives in Hilo.

Honolulu Academy of Arts - view from the front entrance on Beretania St.
Honolulu Academy of Arts - view from the front entrance on Beretania St.
A central courtyard opens onto rooms containing art treasures from Asia and the Pacific regions
A central courtyard opens onto rooms containing art treasures from Asia and the Pacific regions

First impressions

I didn’t know what to expect when I recently made my first visit to the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

My first experience with a museum was when I went on a field trip to Bishop Museum as a second-grader. To a seven year old, it seemed dark and scary. There wasn’t anything alive except the people walking single file past the exhibits. We were told not to talk and not to touch. Perhaps because of this childhood memory, I have never liked museums.

The greeters at the door were very friendly and I took advantage of the free lockers to put my things away. I got there right at 10am so it was pretty empty. By the time I left two hours later, it was filling up a little more.

Visitors enter into a central courtyard area. The layout and architecture of the museum reminded me of the Spanish missions that I had visited in California. It doesn’t have an island or tropical feel at all and was quite sprawling. There are so many doors leading into different rooms that I got lost several times even with the map they gave me at the front counter. I was amazed at the amount of artwork they have! I just kept going on and on through different doors and into different rooms. It felt like I was going in circles, and in fact I was. My only suggestion is that it would be better for museum visitors if their signage was larger and clearer.

After I had finished my self-guided tour, I regretted that I hadn’t taken a docent tour. But I definitely will next time. And yes, my trip to the Honolulu Museum of Art freed me of my childhood phobia. I loved it. Whatever stress I felt entering the museum melted away as I relished the quiet enjoyment of art and appreciation for the creators' hands.

Anna Rice Cooke 1853-1934
Anna Rice Cooke 1853-1934

Honolulu Museum of Art

900 S. Beretania St.
Honolulu, HI 96814

Hours of operation

Monday Closed

Tuesday 10am-4:30pm

Wednesday 10am-4:30pm

Thursday 10am-4:30pm

Friday 10am-4:30pm

Saturday 10am-4:30pm

Sunday 1-5pm

The museum is closed New Year's Day, 4th of July, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.


Includes entry to Honolulu Museum of Art Spalding House.



Age 17 and under





Free Days

• Bank of Hawaii Family Sundays: Third Sunday of the month, 11am-5pm
• First Wednesday of every month
• July 31: Admission is free for Hawai‘i residents (with ID) in honor of La Ho‘iho‘i Ea (Restoration Day).

Entry to the Honolulu Museum of Art Shop, the café and the Robert Allerton Art Library is free.

The generosity and vision of Anna Rice Cooke

Anna Rice Cooke, the daughter of New England missionaries, wed a prominent Honolulu businessman,Charles Montague Cooke Sr. She left her philanthropic mark on Honolulu with her help in establishing the Cooke Library at Punahou School, the Waikiki Aquarium, and the Outdoor Circle in 1912.

Cooke was raised on Kaua'i where her family taught her to value and appreciate art. She was fluent in the Hawaiian language.

Anna and Charles Cooke built a home in 1882 on Beretania Street across from Thomas Square, a community park, and they began collecting artwork. In 1920 Cooke donated her home along with 4,500 pieces of artwork and $25,000 to found an art museum.

The Honolulu Museum of Art opened in a new building in 1927. It was reported that more than 4,000 people attended the opening. Anna Rice Cooke, in her wheelchair, greeted visitors who had come to see her collections of art. The wheelchair was no ordinary two-wheeler. It was a hand-carved Ming dynasty chair that had been converted by a local art importer and furniture maker, Yuen Kwok Fong.

Anna Rice Cooke's vision was to create a center where children of many nationalities could find out about and grow to love art from around the world. Honoring her vision, the Honolulu Museum of Art's collections include artwork from Hawai'i's major ethnicities including Hawaiians, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Koreans and Northern Europeans.

Anna Rice Cooke died in 1934 after a brief illness, but her love for art and people lives on.

From Anna Rice Cooke's founding collection of 4,500 of her treasured pieces, the museum has grown to house more than 50,000 works of art. Galleries feature art from North America, Europe and Asia. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions like the current one of traditional Japanese woodblocks.

Kolomona: Hawaiian Troubadour, 1898, Hubert Vos, Arts of Hawai'i exhibit
Kolomona: Hawaiian Troubadour, 1898, Hubert Vos, Arts of Hawai'i exhibit
Islamic tiles adorn a wall at Shangri-La
Islamic tiles adorn a wall at Shangri-La
Doris Duke's seaside home she called Shangri-La
Doris Duke's seaside home she called Shangri-La

Special programs you definitely should know about

Art After Dark: Monthly art party organized by a group of enthusiastic volunteers. Held on the last Friday of each month from January through October, 6-9pm. A fun way to socialize and explore the arts. Each month focuses on a special theme.

Doris Duke Theatre: Seats 280, features high-quality sound system, elevated stage, and air conditioning. Hosts independent and international films, lecture series, visiting artists from around the world, and some of the best local performers.Named to honor Doris Duke, a philanthropist and tobacco heiress who supported Islamic art and culture, along with music and the performing arts. One of the most popular annual events is the Honolulu Surf Film Festival.

August Moon: Annual event featuring wines from more than 20 winemakers hailing from Northern California, Oregon, Australia and Hawai'i. Local chefs and restaurants plate up mouth-watering edibles, while more than 20 artists create art all evening. Proceeds go to the museum's art education programs.

Tours of Shangri-La: Doris Duke's distinguished seaside home has become a center for Islamic arts and culture. Guided tours offered, along with residencies for artists and scholars.

© 2013 Stephanie Launiu


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