Posted on: Sunday, February 18, 2001
Cayetano throws unnecessary support behind art museum
By Bob Dye
Kailua-based historian and writer
Will the philistine Bob Dye, the one who dared use the E-word to describe the state art museum, please identify himself?
For decades Ive hidden behind the good reputation of the YMCAs Bob Dye, with whom I share a name. But now a letter writer blows my cover, causing me to fess up. I am the political junkie who said the state art museum was an "elitist project." And further woe to me, I expressed surprise that Gov. Cayetano had "embraced" it.
Sure, I was surprised. Other than karaoke, Ben had never supported the arts in any meaningful way that I knew of. But I was aware that during his administration a significant chunk of money due the culture and arts agency - like more than a million dollars - wasnt transferred to it. Nor were other monies due that agency from executive departments. Ben must not love artists, if the legislative auditor had to tell him to make his delinquents pay up. Thats what I thought, anyway.
Bens supporters thought differently. A letter from a culture and arts appointee (Letters, Jan. 28) "strongly disagreed" that a state art museum was an elitist project. But she went on to declare the museum will "[e]ncourage and honor artistic excellence." That sounds pretty elite to me, if the word means the "choicest" as my dictionaries claim. Of course, art museums are elite institutions.
Only the best work is collected and displayed by them. Thats as it should be.
Who wants to look at junk stuff? Not me.
Other letters defended high culture by attacking lowly me. Unfairly, I thought. Hadnt I rented a tux and shiny black shoes to attend the opera ball? I even married a ballet dancer. How much more can one man do for the arts?
To my dismay as a taxpayer, a letter by Bens press secretary said this accusatory thing:
"Mr. Dyes commentary contributes nothing meaningful to the public discourse and is instead a cheap shot taken at the governor and first lady."
Sadly, people may have thought the press secretary was referring to the YMCA Bob Dye, born in 1927. I was born a year later. And its just not fair that good ol Bob share in the calumny flowing forth from Bens folks. So, Ill say it again: Bob The Younger (Or is it The Lesser?) is the culturally challenged columnist who just couldnt bring himself to believe that Ben The Gruff had gone smarmy over objets dart.
You see, psychologically, Id never completely suppressed Bens earlier image, honed as an up-and-coming lawyer: Driving Porsche, wind ruffles Prince Valiant hair. So I tried, in a gauche guy way, to protect and preserve todays better image: Battlin Ben, master of Boomer The Bulldog. The artsy stuff didnt fit that image, so I asked: "Is it really his idea to show off pretty things at the old Y?"
There was no need for me to ask. The day after my column appeared, Ben told legislators: "When Gov. John A. Burns established the State Foundation, the concept was to create an art museum · It took a while but when the state bought the [Hemmeter] building last December, John Burns vision became reality." I had remembered it was the idea of Alfred Preis, the former head of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.
Mind you, Im not the only true disbeliever in town. Fellow pub grubbers at Murphys are astounded that "Gallerie Cayetano" will open next year on the second floor of the old Armed Services YMCA, nee Hemmeter Building.
More surprising, there may be a restaurant for galley-goers. Paid for by money designated for the purchase of art? But its easy to fudge that requirement.
Furnish it with antique tete-a-tete tables, so de rigueur for talk story at lawn parties in Nuuanu Valley a century or so ago. How educational for bused-in schoolkids of two hard-working parents to witness the polite munching of hors doeuvres by swell people at leisure.
But not even swells can ruin a healthy appetite for good art. The works in the state collection, carefully selected by local experts, will be a joy to see in a gallery sensitively designed by Group 70. Even us philistines will cruise that gallery. Its really kind of culturally cool that Ben has gone over the moon for art.
But I think he should hit up the financial elite for tax-deductible donations to build the art museum. Hes doing that for other pet projects. Some of the money to build Bens Aquarium will come from private sources. And hell ask rich folks for a modest million to build a new Governors Mansion for his successor.
But philanthropy is out for this project. The gov is tapping deeply into public money squirreled away at the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. The millions hes taking out could have been used to employ more artists in programs that allow kids at school to see art created by someone theyve gotten to know.
Or to commission our truly great artists to create works to beautify public places all around the Islands. Or even make galleries where none now exist.
Instead, the money will be spent in town, where we already have a world-class art museum. Supported by private financing, the Honolulu Academy of Arts is just a few blocks away from the old Y. And its only a short drive up to the excellent Contemporary Museum, also supported by private money. Bens art gallery does not fill a void. It will be a nice but unneeded redundancy. And it will cost more than $3 million in public money.
If Ben loves art, his first concern should be our local artists. Starving or not, they deserve a shot at the dollars for fees and commissions that he is taking away.
This is a bread-and-butter issue, and Bens on the wrong side. Too late to complain? Its a done deal, Im told. Fait accompli! Pau already!
But this question remains: With so many pressing social needs unfulfilled, why did Ben steamroll this particular project through the bureaucracy and the Legislature? The museum is far more important to Ben, apparently, than commissions to artists and who knows what else.
Is the art museum to be the icon of a political coming out in the fall of 2002?
Gotta give that ol pol his due. The timing is exquisite.
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