Hawaii's Museums Appeal to Travelers

New facilities and innovative programs bring visitors to Hawaii's museums

By: By Mindy Poder

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Click here for contact information and a calendar of exhibits.

While Hawaii’s natural landscape often eclipses the islands’ indoor attractions, recent enhancements to museum programming and facilities should place the Bishop Museum, Pacific Aviation Museum, Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii and Hui Noeau Visual Arts Center near the top of visitor itineraries.


Visitors can see a canoe exhibit at the Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii.// © 2009 Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii

On Oahu, the Bishop Museum recently reopened its newly restored Hawaiian Hall, which had not been renovated since the museum’s original 1889 opening. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Hawaiian Hall houses the largest collection of Hawaii- and Pacific-area artifacts in the world. Through a collaboration of Native Hawaiian practitioners, scholars, subject-matter experts and Honolulu architect Glenn Mason, the hall is now a modernized setting that underlines the power and native Hawaiian perspective of the artifacts.

“Hawaiian Hall ultimately reflects a living culture,” said Bishop Museum spokesperson Donalyn Dela Cruz. “Each artifact has a Hawaiian chant, proverb or quote that reflects it.”

The Bishop Museum, which includes a planetarium and science adventure center, has also renovated its picture gallery. Oil paintings and rare books from the museum library will be displayed on a rotating basis. Plans are currently under way to renovate the museum’s Polynesian Hall.

While the modernized Hawaiian Hall aims to provide a broad view of the island’s culture, other island museums prefer to narrow in on singularly important aspects of Hawaiian history. For instance, Oahu’s Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor perpetually honors the memory of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. As well as adding more original aircraft to its Restoration Hangar, the museum recently built a 1940’s-era restoration shop for visitors to observe aircraft undergoing renovation.

“Nowhere else in the U.S. can visitors see an aviation battlefield involving our homeland,” said Pacific Aviation Museum executive director Ken DeHoff.

One new way to relive history is through the museum’s new monthly Hangar Talk program, which offers visitors the chance to learn from pilots, aviation authors, veterans and other aviation experts. The subject of the free one-hour discussions changes monthly, with future plans to include topics dealing with the Vietnam War and Cold War.

On the Big Island, the Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii in Hilo has continued to develop its programming by merging current research from the nearby Mauna Kea Observatories with Hawaii’s tradition of star exploration. In celebration of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA), Imiloa runs free monthly Mauna Kea Directors Lecture Series talks, offering guests a firsthand look at research done by the observatories through the Imiloa planetarium.

“The kick-off speaker for the series, Chad Kalepa Baybayan, Imiloa’s ‘navigator-in-residence,’ set the tone by acknowledging, in the words of Queen Lilioukalani, that the ancient Hawaiians were the first astronomers,” said Imiloa Astronomy Center spokesperson Melissa Malahoff.

Visitors can enjoy Imiloa’s enhanced facilities any time. Last year, its planetarium became the first in the world to build a three-dimensional stereoscopic system. “Awesome Light 2: Exploring Radio and Submillimeter Space in the Skies,” which debuts on Oct. 31, takes advantage of this technology to go inside three of Mauna Kea’s telescopes.

Not to be outdone by the other islands, Maui offers visitors a chance to be artists while finding inspiration in the elegant Upcountry setting of the Hui Noeau Visual Arts Center. The center offers a steady stream of new classes, ranging in subject and schedule to fit the tastes and time constraints of visitors.

“All programs and exhibitions are open to the public and provide Maui visitors with an artistic and educational highlight to their vacation,” said Hui Noeau sales and events coordinator Keri Meyer. “Of particular interest to Maui visitors, is our new Art and Aloha program, which offers students the chance to learn about Hawaii through artistic expression.”

The center’s new media lab, which features computers and cutting-edge software, is offering several digital media and photography classes through the fall, while a new studio houses the center’s popular jewelry classes. The fall also welcomes visiting artists specializing in silver, clay, collage techniques and watercolor fundamentals.

Such recent improvements to Hawaii museums provide clients a chance to soak up Hawaii’s history and tradition in between sun and sand.