East Hawaiʻi Cultural Center
The roots of the East Hawai’i Cultural Center go back to 1967, when beloved local school principal Frances Chang Sherrard brought together a group of visual and performing art organizations to form a council that would share resources and advocate for the arts. In 1979, the group convinced Hawai’i County to let them lease the old District Court House and Police Station, which had been slated for demolition. The group restored the facilities, and the main building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, now houses an art gallery and an intimate black-box theatre. The police chief’s garage has been turned into a dedicated studio for Javanese gamelan and the former jail – where visitors can still see bars on some of the windows – now offers a ceramics studio, print studio, and classroom space for children’s art classes.
The mission of EHCC is to be an inclusive platform for culture and the arts. Through visual and performing arts and education, we give voice to our diverse communities and provide a forum for inquiry into their experiences and histories. Our gallery showcases provocative exhibitions of artists from Hawai’i and beyond. Exhibitions are complemented by artists’ talks and lectures, either live or on line. While the pandemic has limited use of our theatre in recent years, it has traditionally provided a venue for community theatre. A pre-Covid highlight was Biloxi Blues, performed in January 2020; on stage this August is Cabaret. During the pandemic, EHCC initiated an “EHCC Out of Doors” program, the centerpiece of which is a theatre on wheels that can travel to parks, senior centers, and schools. Through the out-of-doors program, we bring the excitement of live performances to those who may not be able to travel to EHCC.
Our youth art programming stresses free and affordable programs for children and youth of all ages. We offer after-school classes, school break and summer day camps, open art activities on our lanai one Saturday each month, and pop-up workshops that teach children creative skills from ceramics to digital photography to gyotaku (Japanese fish printing). Every year we host Young at Art, a much-beloved annual exhibition of art by keiki from across Hawai’i Island. One of our newer programs is “Art Forward,” a free after-school art program that combines art instruction with college counseling and mentor presentations by local professionals in the creative economy who demonstrate to young people that they can build a career on the Big Island that uses their artistic skills.
As EHCC evolves, we place increasing importance on not just offering a space for art, but on exploring context and telling the stories that lie behind the art. Our gamelan and koto classes provide not just musical instruction, but share and celebrate the cultural forces intertwined with the music. Our latest Native Hawaiian exhibition, Kilo I Ka Mo’o, examined the paradoxical experiences of modern Hawaiians, as the emerging Kānaka Maoli live in the junction of two worlds: the history of its occupation and the consequential product of a monetized island.
1. From the Hawaiian Contemporary exhibition Kilo I Ka Moʻo, on view April-May 2022, a work by Ian Kualiʻi: hand cut paper with painted verso portraits of Haunani-Kay and Mililani Trask.
2. EHCC inaugurates its new “Out of Doors” program, featuring a theatre on wheels, with a musical revue in October, 2021.
3. Professional photographer Krystal Marcellus makes a presentation for high schoolers about having a career in the arts while living on the Big Island.
4. Students in the Javanese gamelan class take a few minutes out to try another Indonesian musical instrument, the angklung.
5. Children make pinwheels on the EHCC lanai in March, for display in Kalakaua Park during Youth Art Month in April 2022.