Say Hello to Our New Look and New Name: Capitol Modern

A peek behind the scenes of our exciting rebrand

At the end of September 2023, we reintroduced the public to the Hawai‘i State Art Museum with a new website, new look, and most noticeably, a new name. This is the culmination of a multi-year process and purposeful strategic plan. It is a thoughtful change meant to help us better share our collection and programming with a wider audience to further support Hawai‘i art and artists.

Our museum was born from prescient State government legislation, but that doesn’t mean we have ever been a stuffy or formal institution. We are current, relevant, always evolving and pushing boundaries. We are a dynamic hub for contemporary Hawai‘i art that authentically reflects the people who make and interact with it today.

The name Capitol Modern better reflects not only our historic and often undiscovered location at No. 1 Capitol District Building, but also the vibrant, contemporary art experience people have come to love after more than two decades. Our new name now reflects who we are and what we’ve already been for many years.

Why did the museum need a new name?

First created by the legislature in 2002, the name Hawai‘i State Art Museum was accurate yet unintentionally confusing, often setting the wrong expectations. Together, the words “State Art” sounded traditional rather than contemporary, evoking expectations of established or even ancient art and artifacts. Those who had heard of us often confused us with other local art venues and events. Moreover, the public called us by the acronym HiSAM, which made sense for those in the local community who had already come to know us, but was not clear or memorable enough to attract new guests who would appreciate our arts programming.

Neither got at what makes us unique: that we feature a growing collection of contemporary Hawai‘i art, provide a platform for diverse artists, and are a hub for people to not only view but also engage with art and the community. Our museum needed a more engaging and memorable introduction, one that appeals to a broader audience and elevates Hawai‘i art and artists in the contemporary art dialogue.

What was the process behind the rebrand and name selection?

Our 2019-2023 strategic priorities included reaching a wider and more diverse audience and strengthening the museum’s brand, all while deepening our engagement with the community. Partnering with Honolulu-based branding and design firm Wall-to-Wall Studios, we began with an audit of our brand and programming to better understand obstacles, challenges, and opportunities for reaching our audiences. Our working group included curators, art educators and community art leaders. We also enlisted Market Trends Pacific to poll over 200 residents and visitors about their expectations of local art venues. The process shed light on audience confusion with other art museums, events and galleries named with acronyms and similar words.

Rather than the museum being known merely as an acronym, the new name needed to breathe fresh life into our collection and program of exhibits and events. Together with Wall-to-Wall, we composed long lists of names, exploring everything from subtle shifts to inventive solutions, from names that included the words “Hawai‘i” and “museum,” to those without. We explored a broad range of themes, styles and tones, ensuring that the chosen name would allow room for interpretation, accurately reflect the museum today while also growing with us over time. And we developed a design that reflects our role as a champion of new artists and provocative ideas, including a logo that now symbolizes a space where community comes together, that shares art and culture with a wide audience, and pushes boundaries to keep evolving into the future.

How does the new brand and name better reflect the current museum experience and reintroduce the museum to a broader audience?

The larger brand refresh helps communicate our role as a hub for artistic connection, expression, and dialogue. The word “Capitol” in our name helps ground us in place, housed as we are in our quiet and often undiscovered location in Honolulu’s historic No. 1 Capitol District Building, across from the State Capitol and ‘Iolani Palace. The word “Modern” sets expectations for a relevant, dynamic experience and our fresh, contemporary artforms. Omitting “Museum” was intentional, since we are at present a small gallery and a versatile space that is constantly changing and evolving—we are also so much more than just a museum.

Together, the name Capitol Modern places us in a unique and more recognizable position in the local art landscape. It supports our strategic vision by acting as an open invitation to all audiences—artists, viewers, community members, students, visitors—to collectively engage in the authentic art of Hawai‘i today.

What can I expect now from Capitol Modern?

Though our name and look have changed, we are still the Hawai‘i State Art Museum, forever free and dedicated to the public. You’ll find the same dynamic programs and events you’ve loved and expect from us, and they’ll keep evolving, too. Our entire collection is now easier to access online and complemented by new artist videos that offer deeper dives into their lives and work. Our new artist-in-residence program, Passion on Display, launched in 2021 with artist Saumolia Puapuaga, followed by artist Solomon Enos. Engaging events have returned, from First Friday evening gatherings and Super Saturdays hands-on family art activities to the new Second Friday event, The Vibe at Capitol Modern, with live music performances for all ages in our sculpture garden.

Come see for yourselves, in person. Rediscover your museum. Admission to our galleries, exhibits, sculpture garden, and events are always free.

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