Dan Inouye and Patsy Mink are two of modern Hawaii’s greatest political leaders.

To honor their memory, last year the Hawaii Legislature passed a bill calling for the commissioning of works of art of the late U.S. senator and late U.S. representative “to use their examples to inspire current and future generations.”

Lawmakers budgeted $500,000 for permanent three-dimensional artwork to portray “the life, vision, accomplishments, impact, and legacy” of both politicians. The bill was introduced by state Sen. Mike Gabbard.

The goal was to complete the art to commemorate Inouye in time to unveil it by the second anniversary of his death — this coming Dec. 17.

But it soon became clear that the original call for art needed adjusting.

In the case of Inouye, the senator’s family wanted to place the final work at the Daniel K. Inouye Center for Democratic Leadership at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, which is still in the preliminary design phase. The family also wanted to allow for proposals of abstract art; it does not need to be limited to his likeness at some stage of his life.

So, this year the Legislature amended the 2013 act, expanding the criteria for design entries and allocating $250,000 for the work “or so much thereof as may be necessary” in the fiscal year that begins July 1. That means the works could cost more — or perhaps less.

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State Rep. Mark Takai.

Lawmakers believe the money is for worthwhile projects.

“If you take a look at the people who have made their mark on Hawaii’s history, such as Queen Liliuokalani and Father Damien, when it comes to political leaders, clearly Congresswoman Mink and Sen. Inouye are two such leaders,” said state Rep. Mark Takai, who introduced the House bill to make changes to the criteria for the artwork. “We, in the Legislature, wanted to honor their contributions to our state.”

Few would dispute the notion that Inouye, who died in 2012, and Mink, who died a decade earlier, were important figures. Their accomplishments are too numerous to detail here, but they include:

Mink was the first woman of color and the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress. She co-authored Title IX, the landmark federal legislation that eliminated discrimination in higher education on the basis of sex. She was also the first Asian-American to seek the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, in 1972.

Inouye was the second-longest serving senator and the first Japanese-American to serve in the Senate and also the U.S. House. He was highly decorated for his service during World War II and rose to national prominence during the Watergate hearings. He later played a high profile role in the Iran-Contra hearings.

When he died his body lay in the Capitol Rotunda.

President Barack Obama attended his burial at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (aka Punchbowl). In the 18 months since his death, Inouye has been honored in a number of ways.

The Kilauea lighthouse on Kauai, for example, was renamed the Senator Daniel K. Inouye Lighthouse. Saddle Road, on the Big Island, was renamed as the Daniel K. Inouye Highway. Plans are in the works to rename the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Waikiki the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.

The current supplemental state budget includes $10 million in general obligation bonds for construction of the Inouye center at UH and $2.5 million for design. The latter figure is comprised of $1 million in private funding and $1.5 million from a UH revolving fund.

Mink has not been forgotten, either. There is $500,000 in the state budget that will go to the Patsy T. Mink Center for Business and Leadership at the YWCA on Richards Street in downtown Honolulu.

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Queen Liliuokalani statute at the Capitol.

Legislation to name a new public high school in Kihei, Maui, the Patsy Takemoto Mink High School, stalled at the Legislature this session. But the budget for the new fiscal year, which starts in July, does include $30,000 in general obligation bonds to start initial groundwork for a high school in Kihei. Whether it will be named after Mink, a Maui native, is not clear.

The money for the Mink and Inouye artwork will come from the Art In Public Places special fund administered by the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. The money for the fund, which has averaged about $2.5 million annually over the past 20 years, comes from a 1 percent allotment of state capital improvement project funds.

The foundation has commissioned more than 500 works, and they include the Liliuokalani statue on the makai side of the Capitol. (The Damien statue on the mauka side of the Capitol was a legislative initiative that the foundation participated in but did not fund.) The foundation administers and provides technical oversight of the Mink and Inouye projects.

Asked about the adjusted dollar amount for the Inouye and Mink works, Jon Johnson, the foundation’s new executive director, said, “We are trying to match the money with the needs of the project.”

The work for Mink will probably be a bronze statue, said Johnson, and the Mink family has indicated that they would like to see it placed on the grounds of the Hawaii State Library.

“For Rep. Mink, it might work at $250,000, but if it comes in at $251,000, we would be in trouble,” said Johnson, explaining the reason for the legislation change. “So, this gives us the room should the cost be less or more.”

For the Inouye art, because it will be attached to a large building at UH, the foundation needed more flexibility.

“Potentially it could be something broader than a bronze statute, perhaps a landscape, but we are moving forward together,” he said. “We did not want to be bound by the $250,000.”

Civil Beat File

Father Damien statute at the Capitol.

Takai said, “What happens is typically construction projects that use CIP (funds), or in this case Art In Public Places money, if they go a few dollars over in terms of acquisition of a piece or installation, we have some flexibility. We are not talking about spending millions of dollars.”

The foundation is not involved in choosing the art. That’s done by a three-member design selection committee consisting of a person selected by the governor, another by the Senate president and a third by the House speaker.

“We basically are the facilitators,” said the foundation’s chairwoman, Barbara Saromines-Ganne. “We have no vote.”

The foundation issued a call for entries last summer to local, national and international artists. Saromines-Ganne said more than 90 responded, submitting examples of past work.

Takai, who is a candidate for the U.S. Congress, illustrated the significance of commissioning the art by referring to the statues of Liliuokalani and Damien.

“Personally, I never met them, but I think I can relate better (to Liliuokalani and Damien) because of those art pieces,” he said. “I hope in the future, once these two works are done, future generations will come to appreciate the contributions of both Sen. Inouye and Congresswoman Mink.”

Contact Chad Blair via email at cblair@civilbeat.com or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

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