By Akane McCann
Many of us here on Maui are familiar with Art Maui, the beautiful art exhibition that showcases a collection of juried works annually from Maui County artists. As the first juried show on Maui, Art Maui has always set itself apart from the rest of the Maui art scene. But what makes Art Maui so special? And what is its history?
Art Maui first began in 1979 changing the Maui art scene forever. Co-founder of Art Maui, Janet Allen, was approached by Miriam Fendler who had an idea to create an art show here on Maui that would encourage visitors to collect Maui art. After some time and careful planning, the idea evolved into a juried art show that would showcase Maui artists and help them figure out where they stood in Maui’s art community. Janet brought on the help of artists Richard Nelson, Marian Freeman and husband and artist George Allen, who greatly contributed to Art Maui’s beginnings. Instead of putting on the show right away, the group took 14 months to come up with a plan that would be the fairest for all of the artists but still academically sound. “It really hasn’t changed in all these years,” George said.
Since its beginning, Art Maui has been an all-volunteer run, nonprofit organization. They decided that there would be one or three extremely qualified jurors that would select the work to be featured in the show. The jurors cannot be from Maui and must be extremely knowledgeable in the arts. This year’s juror was Lauren Faulkner, a fine art consultant from Oahu. The Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts (HSFCA) always gets the first chance to purchase art from Art Maui. About 65 percent of the art selected by HSFCA will be displayed in the Hawaii State Art Museum, others are chosen for public locations. This gives Maui county artists the opportunity to be recognized not only by Art Maui jurors, but the State as well. There is also a purchase pledge preview dinner where select members of the art collecting community can preview the exhibition during a dinner in the gallery itself and pledge to purchase artworks. This event helps support the artists and Art Maui.
Prior to Art Maui, the Maui County Fair’s art contest, shows at local galleries and small shows at the public library were the only opportunities Maui artists had to show their work. These shows were not juried, so all artists of varying calibers could have their art displayed. When submitting to Art Maui, artists quickly realized that Art Maui was quite different from other art events at the time. “There were many people that were just shocked because they had always gotten into the Maui County Fair show,” Janet said, “So they couldn’t understand why they couldn’t get into this show.” Some Maui artists suggested that each artist should be able to enter at least one piece into the show but Art Maui volunteers knew that would defeat the point. “Art Maui was always for the artists,” George said, “It’s for the artists to assess where they are today with a good juror.” Artists were so upset that they couldn’t get their work into the show that Art Maui volunteers returning unaccepted art had to dodge rocks being thrown at them. Janet was even threatened by a large male artist who told her, “If you were a man I’d sock you in the jaw.”
“I’m so glad I’m not a man,” Janet said with a smile.
Thirty-seven years later, Art Maui volunteers are still working tirelessly to put on a beautiful show year after year and bring Maui’s artists and community together. “I think it’s really a labor of love for all of us,” said Art Maui president Renee Lackey. “It’s the love of art and the love of community. I think that’s the best way to sum it up,” Lackey said, “We want to share the gifts of these very talented people with the community.” Art Maui’s all-volunteer board of directors works together throughout the year to ensure Art Maui’s success. “We have a very cooperative board,” Lackey said, “Everybody really pitches in and everybody is really proud of the show we do put on.”
In recent Art Maui’s many established artists have entered, but this year’s show featured many artists that have not been a part of Art Maui before, including Kari Von Wening, whose mixed media piece, “Heart Of Maui,” was chosen to be next year’s publicity image. “It’s so rewarding when we see people who have never entered before get that kind of exposure,” Lackey said. Art Maui’s volunteers hope that many new artists will continue to submit to Art Maui in the future. “Whether you get in or not, it’s a great opportunity to further your art,” said Art Maui Board Member Jim Powlan. This year, 293 artists submitted 462 works of art and 116 artworks by 100 artists were selected for the show.
As a nonprofit organization, all of Art Maui’s profits go to putting on the exhibit. Any money that is left over is put toward future Maui artists in the form of scholarships for Maui County seniors. Any high school seniors in Maui County can enter and the scholarship is applied to their education in art. “It gives them the opportunity to further their education in the arts and hopefully come back and be contributing artists on the island,” Lackey said. The same juror who selects artworks for Art Maui’s exhibition chooses the scholarship recipients. This year, $2,000 scholarships were awarded to Julia Kimoto and Gunnar Turnbull of H.P. Baldwin High School and Samantha Shoemaker of Maui Preparatory Academy. A $1,000 honorable mention scholarship was awarded to Treanna Altura of Maui High School. “It feels great to win a scholarship for art because I’m going to an art school next year, so it’s kind of nice to have a little kickstart and almost a confidence booster,” Shoemaker said. Due to age restrictions, scholarship recipients do not show their work in the exhibition itself, but a beautiful book with their artwork is available for viewing at the front desk.
Over the years, Art Maui has changed its perspectives to evolve and adapt to new technologies and styles of work. “Every year we try to be as inclusive as possible so that everybody has a chance to enter,” Lackey said. Recently, Art Maui has removed size restrictions to give artists the opportunity to show large works that might not fit in a gallery. “Our motto is, if it fits through the door it’s eligible,” Powlan said. Two years ago, woodworker Steve Turnbull submitted a piece that barely made it through the doors. The driftwood sculpture of a mother and baby giraffe (titled “Mother and Child”) stood 16 feet tall and was featured in Art Maui 2014.
Art Maui will continue to bring artists and Maui County residents together in the years to come. If you missed this year’s exhibition, you can see artworks featured in Art Maui 2016 and previous years at artmaui.com.