History of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts

The State Foundation on Culture and the Arts (SFCA) was established by the Hawai‘i State Legislature in 1965, in large part through the vision and effort of Hawai‘i leaders such as architect and State Planning Coordinator Alfred Preis, SFCA Founding Chairperson Masaru “Pundy” Yokouchi, State Senator Nadao Yoshinaga, and Governor John Burns.

The creation of a state arts agency made Hawai‘i eligible to receive federal grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), newly established as part of the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities on September 29, 1965.

The first SFCA member and Chairperson was Pundy Yokouchi, appointed by Governor John Burns on January 14, 1966. The first SFCA Executive Director was Alfred Preis, who served as Acting Executive Director until he was formally appointed to the position on July 1, 1966.

Initially, the SFCA was placed within the Office of the Governor and was located in the Princess Victoria Kamamalu Building at 250 South King Street in Honolulu. One of the original programs was the SFCA Biennium Grants Program. This vital program has provided millions of dollars to nurture and invigorate arts and cultural programming statewide.


The mission of the SFCA is to promote, perpetuate, and preserve culture and the arts in Hawai‘i.

An image of the Art Museum building.

An event on the grounds of the Hawai‘i State Art Museum

Important Milestones


In 1967, the State Legislature enacted the Art in State Buildings Law that established the Art in Public Places Program within the SFCA, the first such program in the nation. A separate method of funding for this program was created through accessing one percent of the construction cost of new state buildings, making Hawai‘i the first state in the nation to establish a percent-for-art law.


In 1970, the SFCA and the state Department of Education established the Artists in the Schools Program to provide opportunities for students from kindergarten through 12th grade to work with professional artists. Hawai‘i was the first state to establish a direct instructional statewide program between students and professional artists in the schools.


In 1980, the existing Hawai‘i State Foundation on History and the Humanities, which similarly was created in part to qualify to receive federal funds through the newly established National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), was dissolved by the State Legislature. Consequently, the History and Humanities Program was created within the SFCA to incorporate some of the duties of the former state humanities agency. The SFCA moved to the United States Post Office, Custom House, and Court House at 335 Merchant Street in Honolulu.


In 1983, the Folk Arts Program was initiated through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. This program helps to promote and perpetuate traditional folk arts throughout the state of Hawai‘i.

To expand and improve upon the provisions made in the Art for State Buildings Law, the State Legislature in 1989 established the Works of Art Special Fund, which among other features created a non-lapsing fund allowing for the long-term planning and completion of public art projects.


In 1993, the State Legislature established the Individual Artist Fellowship Program within the SFCA to recognize and honor Hawai‘i’s exceptionall talented visual and performing artists.


In 1994, the SFCA office relocated from the Old Federal Courthouse to the newly renovated historic Kamehameha V Post Office Building at 44 Merchant Street in Honolulu.


In 2001, the SFCA moved into the second floor of the historic Armed Forces YMCA Building, since renamed the No. 1 Capitol District Building, at 250 South Hotel Street in downtown Honolulu, just Ewa of the Capitol Building.


The Hawai‘i State Art Museum opened in the fall of 2002. The museum is located on the second floor of the No. 1 Capitol District Building. The museum houses three galleries featuring artworks from the Art in Public Places Collection.

SFCA Commission Chairs

  • Masaru “Pundy” Yokouchi 1966-1978
  • Bea Ranis 1978-1981
  • Naomi Morita 1982-1986
  • Franklin Odo 1986-1989
  • Millicent M. Y. H. Kim 1989-1994
  • John Hara 1994-1998
  • Eunice DeMello 1998-2002
  • Mona Abadir 2002-2006
  • Gae Bergquist Trommald 2007-2008
  • Lori Thomas 2008-2010
  • Mary Begier 2010-2011
  • Barbara Saromines-Ganne 2011-2015
  • Patricia Hamamoto 2015-2019
  • Lloyd Unebasami 2019 – present

SFCA Executive Directors

  • Alfred Preis 1966-1980
    Alfred Preis
    Alfred Preis (1911-March 29, 1993) designed the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.
    Preis, who was born in Austria and lived in Honolulu, was detained for three months at the Sand Island Detainment Camp in Hawai’i after the December 7, 1941 attack. His other works include the entrance to the Honolulu Zoo, creation of a park around the Hawai’i Capitol, and championing a successful effort that made Hawai‘i the first state to require companies to donate 1 percent of construction costs for public art. (Bio from Wikipedia)
  • Sarah M. Richards 1980-1989
  • Wendell P. K. Silva 1989-1996
  • Holly Richards 1997-2000
  • David C. Farmer 2001-2002
  • Ronald Yamakawa 2002-2012
  • Eva Laird Smith 2012-2013
  • Jonathan Johnson 2013-Present