The Maui Arts & Cultural Center is an unprecedented project in the history of Hawai‘i which brought together state, county, and private funding resources and an unswerving commitment by the people of Maui to the performing, visual, and literary arts. General discussions were first initiated in 1966 to build a home for Maui’s art groups and were re-kindled in 1984 with extensive community dialogue which continued throughout the ensuing decade of design, construction, and facility programming.
The project comprised development of a 12-acre site above Kahului Harbor which is part of the Maui Central Park and adjacent to Maui Community College. The Center’s facilities include a 1,200-seat multi-use Main Theater with orchestra shell and proscenium; a 4,000 square foot art gallery, preparation rooms, and adjacent visual arts classroom; an outdoor amphitheater seating up to 4,000 people with stage, sophisticated lighting and sound equipment for outdoor concerts and events; a 250-seat studio theater for the Maui Academy of the Performing Arts with scene shop, costume shop, and classrooms for dance and theater; and the Center’s administrative offices, patron’s lounge, and the pa hula, an outdoor performance mound dedicated to indigenous Hawaiian cultural tradition.
The fundamental roots of the Center’s design concept lie in the acknowledgment of the land, climate, wind, and sun as the essential determinants of how buildings are placed. Orientation to the mountains and connection to the sea are important anchors which connect the Center’s buildings to the site.
As an echo of cultural tradition and a sense of celebration of place, the buildings are elevated above the adjoining terrain on a platform partially enclosed by a massive hand-built dry-stone masonry wall by Thomas Kamaka Emmsley in the ancient Hawaiian tradition. Unmistakable quiet references to the tradition of Hawaiian architecture occur in the use of the lanai as a unifying sheltered arcade which links and defines the Center’s form. The amphitheater is the focus of the arcade, embracing the entire complex and the mountains of ‘Iao Valley beyond. The various roof pitches of the surrounding buildings not only resolve the questions of scale between large and smaller elements comprising the diverse collection of facilities, but also serve to suggest a village of forms, appearing in constantly differing perspectives, sometimes silhouetted against the sea, at other times against the valley and mountain chain.
A fully integrated art program was achieved as part of the Center’s design, with the architect working cohesively over four years with a public art consultant and a diverse art advisory committee comprised of artists, craftspeople, arts professionals and community leaders. Each of the site-specific commissions to an artist or craftsperson of Hawai‘i, including the design and fabrication of the sculptural main entry gates by artist Pat Hickman and lead fabricator David Hamilton, lanai grilles, hand-fabricated stone walls, paintings, and sculptural wall relief elements, was formulated to incorporate multiple goals. The result was a layering of oblique meaning and content within the Center’s spaces which demonstrates the potent value of art and architecture being conceived and realized in an inseparable process.