Hawaiʻi Museums Association 2015 Annual Meeting and Conference

By Kathy Suter

The Hawaiʻi Museums Association (HMA) held this year’s annual meeting and conference on April 24, 2015 in Honolulu, HI. Once again the Japanese Cultural Center’s Grand Ballroom provided the perfect environment for information exchange, conversation, and networking.

HMA provided several pre and post conference events that informed and entertained. First on Thursday night, April 23, Dr John H. Falk, Co-Director Institute of Learning Innovation at Oregon State University, discussed his research “Why Do People Visit Museums?” He shared the ways in which base assumptions have changed about visitors’ motivations to focus on the personal needs of the visitors. He suggested that traditional publicity and marketing are often less effective than word of mouth, which in this age of social media is a potent tool. He laid out 7 categories of reasons people choose a museum visit for their free time activity. He also talked about the research being done on why people do not choose to visit museums.

The conference theme this year was “Story Connects” which dovetailed perfectly with keynote speaker Victoria Nalani Knuebel’s presentation “Stalking the Story, Inviting the Voice.”

Victoria Nalani Knuebel speaking at the HMA 2015 Conference

As a local historian, playwright, mystery and television writer, she described the elements of story writing with an emphasis on structures, climatic and episodic, that form the story arc. Her talk provided the opportunity to consider how these elements of storytelling can be used to build the visitors’ experience.

Three of the panel discussions focused on technology, including digital strategy, uses within exhibits, including augmented reality and object enhancement with embedded technology, specific online collection projects and open access to collections and content through a variety of existing online tools.

The case studies illustrated these strategies and projects as well as some unexpected but gratifying results these technical tools provided. A new project, funded by the Hawai’i Tourism Authority (HTA) was described in detail. This project is being facilitated by the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program at University of Hawai’i (UH) Mānoa, and will develop visitor surveys in collaboration with ʻIolani Palace, Queen Emma Summer Palace and Hulihʻe Palace. The three institutions will survey visitors and the data will be compiled and collated by the UH students to be shared with the funding organization, HTA and cultural institutions statewide. A database will be also developed from the information.

Attendees were treated to an enlivening storytelling experience by Moses Goods of the Bishop Museum, and participated in an exercise used at the Hawaii State Art Museum with children. We were challenged to look at several pieces of art to discover and experience the stories they told. As always, the networking and sharing was as valuable as the presentations and idea exchanges.

Moses Goods leading attendees through an exercise

Discussing art at HMA 2015

During the business meeting, President, Heather Diamond, shared the work completed and projects benefiting the membership. Two new board members were introduced who will complete terms of members who resigned. Four new board members were elected and Heather was elected to her second term as president.

The formal program wrapped up with the exciting information that next year's conference will be held on Kauai up at the Kōkeʻe Lodge and Museum in Kōkeʻe State Park. We’re going to Museum Camp!

The evening of April 24th was a fun Pau Hana (end of work) event at the Mission Houses Historic Site and Archive that included two powerful performances portraying events in history through the eyes of historical characters. The two actors did a magnificent job and connected well with the audience through post-performance question and answer sessions.

Two post-conference tours provided rare behind the scenes experiences. The opportunity to go into the Hawaii State Archive was amazing. We were treated to an up close look at vital documents, objects, treaties and a letter of condolence from Abraham Lincoln to Kamehameha V upon the death of Kamehameha IV.

Attendees inspect objects at the Hawaii State Archive

From there we made the short walk over to ʻIolani Palace for our personal tour of the public spaces, as well as the “attic” work area and collection storage.

It was heartening to hear the stories of how the palace’s grandeur is being restored through painstaking research, collecting and reproducing of the furnishings and décor. We got a sneak peek at a carpet that had just arrived for the King’s bedroom. It was recreated based on photos and text descriptions from the time before annexation. Visitors will soon be able to see an even more complete picture of royal Hawaiian life at ʻIolani Palace.

Attendees touring ʻIolani Palace

Attendees touring the ʻIolani Palace work room

Kathy Suter is member of the Hawaiʻi Museums Association Board and recently retired as Manager of Media Initiatives from the Smithsonianʻs National Museum of the American Indian. She now lives in Kealakekua, HI.



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