Oct. 21, 2016
HONOLULU, HAWAI‘I—Following a seven-month international search process, the Honolulu Museum of Art announces its new director is Sean O’Harrow, who has led the University of Iowa Museum of Art for the past six years. He begins his new position on Jan. 1. He is the first director in the museum’s almost 90-year history to have been raised in Hawai‘i.
“Sean O’Harrow’s accomplishments and past experience, combined with his Hawai‘i roots, make him an ideal director to lead the Honolulu Museum of Art,” says Vi Loo, Chairman of the Board of Trustees. “As someone who has grown up in Honolulu and has national and international experience, he understands the needs of a museum that serves its local community as well as acts as an important visitor destination. In addition, he brings a unique background with him—while he has a PhD in art history from Cambridge, he also worked in international investment banking early in his career. He is poised to successfully steer Honolulu’s art museum into the future.”
The University of Iowa Museum of Art is one of the leading university art collections in the country. In his six years there, O’Harrow has had to be a creative leader during an interesting time in the museum’s history—in 2008 it suffered a flood and since then has operated in multiple temporary spaces. He leaves the museum with plans for a new permanent home to be completed in 2019.
Despite that transitional time, O’Harrow secured major accomplishments during his tenure. He helped increase the annual number of visitors and participants by over 500 percent, from around 40,000 pre-flood to over 200,000 now. He also helped significantly increase support for the institution during this difficult period. During the For Iowa, Forever More university-wide fundraising campaign, his museum was the first university unit to reach and exceed its goal for the campaign, raising more than 2.5 times the target number of $5 million to over $13 million. In addition, more than 800,000 visitors attended his museum’s international exhibitions that traveled across the U.S. and Europe, such as the highly regarded Jackson Pollock’s Mural: Energy Made Visible, which was featured at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection during the 2015 Venice Biennale in Italy, and which recently held its finale at the Picasso Museum in Malaga, Spain. He helped the university acquire major pieces and installations by renowned international artists, including Dale Chihuly, Richard Hunt, El Anatsui and Charles Ray.
“I am honored to be given this marvelous opportunity,” says O’Harrow. “The Honolulu Museum of Art is one of the great international art museums. I spent my childhood in this museum, and my education there has transformed my view of the world ever since. I believe that every person should be given the same opportunity for such a rich, life-changing experience.”
Before joining the UIMA, O’Harrow was executive director of the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa, where he oversaw significant increases in fundraising and attendance, as well as major art acquisitions and institutional partnerships.
Before becoming a museum administrator, O’Harrow was Official Fellow and development director of St. Catharine’s College in the University of Cambridge, where he helped raise some $34 million, with more than 75 percent going to scholarships, research, and operations, and a quarter used to fund capital projects. He also spent six years in the City of London as an executive in the investment finance and technology sectors, including the firm D. E. Shaw.
Born in the Paris suburb Neuilly-sur-Seine, O’Harrow, moved to Honolulu with his family in 1968, when he was just three months old. He was raised in St. Louis Heights and spent much of his extra-curricular time learning painting and ceramics at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. A graduate of the University Laboratory School, he went on to earn an undergraduate degree with honors in art history from Harvard University and a doctorate in art history from the University of Cambridge, England, where he was a Harvard Club of Hawai‘i scholar and a British Academy scholar, respectively. In his spare time, he plays the viola and harpsichord, and is a 2nd-degree black belt in kumdo/kendo. O’Harrow looks forward to re-establishing his roots in Hawai‘i and leading an institution he has admired since childhood.
One of the world’s premier art museums, the Honolulu Museum of Art presents international caliber special exhibitions and features a collection of more than 50,000 works that includes Hokusai, van Gogh, Gauguin, Monet, Picasso and Warhol, as well as traditional Asian and Hawaiian art.
Located in two of Honolulu’s most beautiful buildings, visitors enjoy two cafés, gardens, and films and concerts at the theater. The museum is dedicated to bringing together great art and people to create a more harmonious, adaptable, and enjoyable society in Hawai’i.
Honolulu Museum of Art: 900 S. Beretania Street
Honolulu Museum of Art Spalding House: 2411 Makiki Heights Drive
Honolulu Museum of Art School: 1111 Victoria Street
Honolulu Museum of Art at First Hawaiian Center: 999 Bishop Street
Honolulu Museum of Art Doris Duke Theatre: 901 Kinau Street (at rear of museum)
Honolulu Museum of Art: Tues–Sat 10 am–4:30pm; Sun 1–5 pm; closed Monday.
Honolulu Museum of Art Spalding House: Tues–Sat 10am–4pm; Sun noon–4pm
$10 general admission; children 17 and under are free.