Capitol Modern is a small gallery with a big responsibility. Part of the Hawai‘i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts’ (SFCA) Art in Public Places program, it is the people’s museum and its art is everyone’s art, free to view. The museum promotes education and cultural enrichment and presents an evolving portrait of the Islands by showcasing the largest and finest collection of works by Hawai‘i artists. It was established as the Hawai‘i State Art Museum in 2002.


The museum needed a more engaging and memorable introduction that would appeal to a broader audience and elevate Hawai‘i art and artists in the contemporary art dialogue. 

After losing its restaurant, programming, and attendance in 2020 and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum needed to reintroduce the galleries and art to the public. It was also the perfect chance to address existing problems and misperceptions that had been impacting engagement, from confusion about what kind of art to expect in the galleries to the size of the collection and building space, and just who and what the museum was intended for.


While the name itself, the Hawai‘i State Art Museum, was accurate, it was also confusing, often setting the wrong expectations. Together, the words “State Art” sounded traditional rather than contemporary, evoking dusty portraits or even ancient art and artifacts. Some visitors simply confused it with other local art venues. Plus, the local public referred to the museum by the acronym HiSAM, which made sense for those who had already come to know it but didn’t reflect the seriousness of its growing collection of contemporary Hawai‘i art. 'HiSAM' also wasn't memorable enough to attract new guests who would appreciate its vibrant arts programming designed to engage the community with diverse art. 


It was time to reintroduce the museum to locals and visitors, set expectations of the space as a contemporary Hawai‘i art venue supporting Hawai‘i artists today and into the future, and signal its role as a dynamic, boundary-pushing hub that authentically reflects the people who interact with it.

“Capitol” reflects the historic and often undiscovered location at No. 1 Capitol District Building, across from the Hawai‘i State Capitol and ‘Iolani Palace, while “Modern” sets expectations for a relevant, dynamic experience and contemporary art forms. Omitting “Museum” was intentional, since the gallery space is small and constantly evolving. 'Capitol Modern' gives the museum a more ownable position in the local art landscape.


W|W was tasked with developing and rolling out the refreshed brand, starting with a new identity. The abstract monogram and open spaces are an invitation to find, imagine, and discover something new. The relaunch was supported with additional deliverables including robust brand guidelines, a wayfinding system, a digital campaign, and a website. 


The new website more accurately reflects the experience of visiting Capitol Modern, shedding the previous government feel and putting the focus on the art and artists the museum supports. Video features on a selection of Native Hawaiian artists place their work front and center – and in their own voices – providing a new venue for them to grow awareness of their art.


W|W strategized and activated a media campaign for Capitol Modern with two approaches to potential visitors. For Hawai‘i residents: reintroducing the brand’s new look and feel. For those planning to visit Hawai‘i soon: introducing Capitol Modern as a destination for modern art in Hawai‘i.

Our digital media activation served over 8 million impressions and brought 18,000 new users to the updated Capitol Modern website. The W|W team developed strategic creative that resonated with our core audiences, leading to a media campaign that performed above benchmarks across all channels, including Meta, TikTok, YouTube, and programmatic display and video.


To help ensure visitors can locate the galleries and experience all Capitol Modern has to offer both inside and on the historic grounds, we established a new system of wayfinding and signage. The main entrance lobby now features a 7-foot, led-lit sign custom made to fit the prominent niche behind the reception desk. 


Rack cards and print ads served to draw the broadest possible range of  visitors from around the island, while visitor guide brochures are available throughout the museum to help them better understand the museum’s purpose and find their way through the galleries.