Hawaii Arts Season

Art and culture is woven into the dayli life in the Hawaiian Islands

Beyond that, each year from February through May, Hawaii celebrates the arts. The Hawaii Arts Season mega-list of cultural events begs the questions: At a conference or convention have you ever chanted up the sun? Played a nose flute? Woven a fan from lauhala leaves? Attended a symphony concert featuring giant Taiko drums? Or heard storytellers reveal the tale of the volcano goddess Pele while watching the glow of molten lava as it pours toward the ocean? Did you know that no other state has its own language, music and dance, all dating back a thousand or more years?

Beyond this wealth of indigenous culture, Hawaii hosts hundreds of events celebrating the multi-ethnic mix of the Islands today.


For 12 weeks on six islands, days and nights are jam-packed with art events and art adventures, all ready-made to wrap into your convention.

Keeping the culture

Captain Cook Sailed in—Discovering a Royal Culture

Hawaii was once a monarchy. That royal legacy is celebrated year-round. Hula is part of the fabric of the Islands. It is often referred to as the “heartbeat of Hawaii.” King David Kalakaua, Hawai‘i’s last king, rescued hula from near extinction. He brought it from a secret, ancient art to the mainstream of Island life. Held a week after Easter, in Hilo town on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, the week-long Merrie Monarch Festival is named in Kalakaua’s honor, and is the world’s largest and most prestigious hula event.

If a full week of hula is too much, on March 12, the most traditional hula halau in the Islands will present their entire set of Merrie Monarch dances, surrounded by the golden grandeur of the 1922 restored Historic Hawaii Theatre in downtown Honolulu. Halau Mohala ‘Ilima, under the direction of kumu hula Mapuana de Silva, provides what is called “chicken skin” (or goose bumps) hula concert, presenting dances and chants that are pre-contact (before Capt. Cook sailed in). For a short shot of hula, the City and County of Honolulu offers nightly torch lighting, followed by hula and Hawaiian music at Kuhio Beach, in the heart of Waikiki.

Hawaiian music

From Don Ho to Hip Hop—Island Music Hums

The Royal Hawaiian Band, organized 168 years ago, serenades weekly at ‘Iolani Palace in the heart of downtown Honolulu and at the Victorian bandstand in Waikiki’s Kapiolani Park. In the Islands, music is a daily celebration. Master of all, Mr. Aloha, Don Ho, fills a Waikiki showroom several nights a week with the collective memory of Hawai‘i from the 1960s to the new millennium. His fans range in age from six to 86, with the back tables often filled with pop-rock band members wanting to see and hear “the legend”.

The lyrical sound of slack-key guitar has gained familiarity as Hawaiian musicians travel across the country, filling concert halls with the sound of backyard Hawaiian parties. Many of the guitar and ukulele masters have been named living legends in the U.S. and Europe and Hawaiian music is the newest category in the Grammy Awards.

Flower power

Lei Day Festivities—Don Your Garland

May 1 is May Day around the world, but in Hawaii it is Lei Day. Nearly the entire population of Hawai‘i can be seen wearing a flower lei. At the Waikiki Shell, The Brothers Cazimero present their lilting harmony to up to 8,000 fans. For over 25 years the evening has been filled with so much Aloha that, by the time everyone stands, holds hands and sings the Hawai‘i anthem, total strangers have become old friends. The Lei Day festivities are not limited to Oahu. Every island has a Lei Day celebration. Concerts, canoe races, art exhibits all honor the most Hawaiian adornment, the flower lei.

Native sounds

The Hawaiian Chant is a Time Machine

At free cultural programs offered in the lobby of Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach, visitors are welcomed with a Hawaiian greeting chant that connects today and the ancient times. They can often learn to make and play their own nose flute, or watch while Hawaiian artists create intricate feather lei or pound mulberry bark into the fine kapa cloth worn by the ancient Hawaiians.

Native healing workshops discuss the Islands’ medicinal plants and often end with a cup of native tea.

Waikiki, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Kauai and Big Island hotels host Arts Season events. On the Kona Coast of the Big Island cultural 8 specialist Danny Akaka steps out onto the black lava, chanting a request to enter and walk visitors through fields of ancient petroglyph rock art, followed by storytelling about the ancient voyagers who first populated these islands.

Stage lights-footlight

Stages Explode With Sound

Fact: The third oldest community theater in the U.S. is in Honolulu. Diamond Head Theater celebrates its 90th birthday with a season of Broadway-quality productions, including The Fantastics. Ft. Shafter’s Army Community Theater will present the first community production of Miss Saigon. Tucked in a lush rainforest above Honolulu, Manoa Valley Theater is known for cutting-edge drama. The University of Hawaiis Kennedy Theater stage hosts Indonesian, Japanese, Chinese and other Pacific Rim treasures rarely seen out of their home countries.

Thunder From The East! combines the renowned Honolulu Symphony, under the direction of Samuel Wong and Kenny Endo, master of the giant Taiko Drum, guaranteed to shake the seats of the Neal Blaisdell Center Concert Hall. When the echo stops, opera fans settle in for the world-class Hawai‘i Opera Theater production of Turnadot.

Maui Arts & Culture Center hosts an eclectic, international array of performers. High up on the slopes of the continuously erupting Big Island volcano, the Volcano Arts Centre’s award-winning After Dark In The Park is a magical opportunity to be within sight of the glow from a lava flow while listening to tales of the goddess of the volcano, Pele.

Gallery cruising and schmoozing

It has been said that Hawaii has more artists per square foot than any other state. It certainly has the art action to support that theory. In downtown Honolulu, stretching through Chinatown, 20-plus galleries are open and buzzing on First Friday, offering new art adventures. Art lovers may have an opportunity to blow glass, throw a pot or join a poetry slam.

A short walk from Chinatown, the Hawaii State Art Museum’s exhibition, Enriched By Diversity, showcases a portion of the massive collection owned by the State. In 1968 Hawaii was the first state to enact the “one-percent law,” mandating that amount of all new state building funds be set aside for art purchase. In addition to the new State Art Museum, the walls of Hawaii’s state buildings host more of this massive collection.

Words and music are the feature of Na Mele Nei Concerts. Every Arts Season Sunday afternoon, at Ward Warehouse in Honolulu, local authors read from and sign new books, a free music concert introduces new Hawaiian music CDs and fine artists demonstrate woodcarving, gourd design or stone carving in the entry way to Na Mea Native Books.

The major museums on Oahu are known for major exhibits, many showing only in Hawaii. Last year the Honolulu Academy of Arts made big news in the art world when it presented French Impressionist paintings never shown outside Japan. Impressionist fans traveled from across the world to see this one-time exhibition. For the 2017 Arts Season, it brings The Art of Rice: Spirit and Sustenance in Asia, drawing on the rich variety of art from a dozen Asian countries, exploring the significance of rice for Asia’s people. Honoring both sides of the globe, the second featured exhibition is Neo Rauch Works, 1994–2002: The Leipzinger Volszeitung Collection, known in Europe as the “coolest name in art.” The Honolulu Academy of Arts is also keeper of the amazing estate of the heiress Doris Duke.

Arts Season tours of her Shangri-la home on Diamond Head begin at the Academy.
The Academy of Arts Center at Linekona is home of the Honolulu Printmakers with its 77th Annual Exhibition. It is the second oldest printmaking organization in the U.S., often drawing internationally known printmakers for workshops.

Wandering the lush sculpture-filled gardens of The Contemporary Museum, perched high above Honolulu, offers spectacular views of Honolulu and galleries filled with a fine permanent contemporary art collection and traveling exhibitions of international stature.

In Lahaina, Maui, Friday night is Art Night. Galleries serve refreshments, artists paint in corners and every inch of wall space is filled with new, vibrant Island art. Wow Wednesdays! at the Shops at Wailea gives collectors a long afternoon to talk with artist about their Hawaii inspiration.
For moving art, imagine a 40-foot long fire-spitting dragon wending its way through Waikiki. Add in Taiko drum marching units, kabuki dancers and Japanese hula troupes and you have the Honolulu Festival. More than 5,500 Japanese artisans converge on Honolulu for a week of cultural celebrations that can otherwise only be seen in Japan.

The reason for the season

Beyond the Beach

The 2017 Hawaii Arts Season, sponsored by the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the Hawai‘i Visitors and Convention Bureau, is filled with hundreds of art events on every Island. The Arts Season offers choices of theater, symphony, opera, art exhibitions and cultural experiences unavailable in any other U.S. destination. These venues and events are accessible and available to meeting and convention planners.