Hit hard by pandemic, Hawaii’s arts community lobbies for creative caucus at legislative level

Published: Nov. 29, 2020 at 11:56 AM HST|Updated: Nov. 29, 2020 at 12:02 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The double hashtag plea on the Hawaii Theatre marquee says it all: #SupportTheArts and #DoNotAbandonUs.

A look around the arts district of Chinatown shows why the campaign is necessary.

“Drive through Nuuanu, Bethel, that area, there’s so many empty spaces,” said Teri Skillman, CEO of the Hawaii Arts Alliance.

The non-profit is downsizing and sharing space with other creative groups in the Downtown Art Center, and Skillman worries about the lost arts.

“The funding is going, and we know that it’s not going to be available,” he says.

During downturns, creative arts jobs and education programs are often the first to get the axe.

They could ask for help from the government, but they’re competing with programs dealing with food, unemployment, housing and safety.

The Brookings Institute listed Hawaii among the states that are the hardest hit in terms of losses for creative industries and occupations.

That’s why the arts community is advocating for a creative caucus at the legislature similar to the women’s and keiki caucuses as funding cuts seem to be inevitable.

“We are not asking for funds. We are asking for policies to be implemented that will be more beneficial to the creative sector,” said Skillman.

State Senator Brian Taniguchi, chair of the Labor, Culture and Arts Committee, says due to the pandemic, the legislature eliminated its non-profit grants worth $12 to 15 million. About a quarter of that is requested by arts groups. It’s just as dire for this upcoming session.

“This year I’ve heard rumors early on in this upcoming session there again would be no grant in aid money available to nonprofits,” said Taniguchi.

George Kon runs T-Shirt Theatre, which pivoted to Zoom during the pandemic. Despite losing $15,000 in state grants and a long-time teaching space at Farrington High School, he still sees the bright side of the pandemic.

“I learned many many years ago that theatre is not about the sets and the fancy costumes. It’s about the relationship between the actor and the audience,” said Kon. “We still have that and in zoom it’s actually extraordinary.”

Senator Taniguchi is holding what’s being called Creative Resurgence Virtual Information Meeting on Thursday, from 10 a.m. to noon, on Zoom. The link will be posted on the state Capitol website.

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