Tony Wagner


As someone who dropped out of high school once and college twice, Tony Wagner has used his negative experiences in the education system to spark change. A Senior Research Fellow at the Learning Policy Institute at Harvard University and acclaimed author of six books, he now travels the world speaking to educators, community groups and foundations about reimagining the way that students learn in the new age of innovation.


This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, July 22, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.


Tony Wagner Audio


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We’re all born curious, creative, imaginative; that’s the human DNA. The average five-year-old asks a hundred questions a day, and most kindergartners think of themselves as artists. But then, something happens. We call it school. ‘Cause you see, the longer kids are in school, the less curious they become. The more they become obsessed with getting the right answers versus continuing to ask their own questions, curiosity begins to wither. And so, no; we can’t teach curiosity, but we can sure as heck nurture it.


He dropped out of high school once, and college twice. But he went on to earn two degrees from Harvard University, and is now one of the leading voices for education innovation. Dr. Tony Wagner, next, on Long Story Short.


One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.


Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Tony Wagner, who holds a Harvard doctorate in education, hated school for much of his life. Today, he travels the world, speaking about transforming the way that schools do their job in this age of innovation. As of this conversation in early 2018, Dr. Wagner is a senior research fellow at the Learning Policy Institute at Harvard University. He wants to see students prepare for the challenges of the 21st century through play, passion, and purpose. Wagner authored six books on education, including Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era, co-authored Ted Dintersmith, who was also featured here on Long Story Short. Wagner says he intensely disliked his school experiences throughout his middle, high school, and college years on the U.S. East Coast.


My father was a fighter pilot in World War II. He volunteered for the Royal Air Force a year before the Americans got in the war, and he flew Spitfires, and he was a very hot pilot. But he was shot down three days before D-Day, and spent the last year of his life in prison camp. And he told me years later—he didn’t like talking about the war experience, except to say it was the happiest time of his life. Go figure. But he did say that one of the things that sort of kept him going was the dream of having a farm. So, right after the war, he married my mother, and they bought a farm. And that’s where I was born, on a farm; Spook Hill Farm in Upperco, Maryland. And so, I really grew up on the farm.


And what were your experiences in school?


From a very early age, school and I just didn’t seem to get along. I think partly it began perhaps because I was slow to learn to read. I was sent to a reading tutor for a few years. And you know, it may have just been that I was a boy, and sometimes boys learn to read late. I just never quite figured out why we were asked to learn the things we were learning, and I just wasn’t very interested. But at the same time, I quickly became a very hungry reader, and I just read every single night. I’d read under the covers with a flashlight at night. So, while school and I didn’t get along, I was passionate about reading, and then became passionate about learning other kinds of things along the way. I was going to an all-boys middle school in Baltimore. My parents had moved closer to town by then and given up the farm, so I could go to this boys’ middle school. But I didn’t do much homework, and so finally, you know, partway through eighth grade, they call a conference, and my parents and I are invited in, and I’m told I’m not gonna be invited to come back to that school next year.


It was a private school?


It was a private school.


Where did you go after that?


I went to a very second rate boys’ boarding school called Avon Old Farms. And that was worse.


And you lived there.


That’s why it was worse, of course. You know, people ask me a lot about co-ed, and what do I think about single sex schools. I think single sex schools are great for girls; they’re horrible for boys. Because, you know, boys at that age can be just sadistic, and vicious, and if you don’t have clear guardrails from adults, you know, kids just are mean to each other. At the same time, I was sent to a summer camp, all summer long, for six years. And that was where I really came alive as a learner. And it kind of made up for what school wasn’t. And you know, I learned all kinds of skills, and I learned to love hiking, and camping, and canoeing.


Well, that’s survival stuff. You can see the value of that.


Yeah; but it was also—they had a full-blooded Cheyenne Indian in residence, so I studied Indian lore and Indian dancing with him, and performed. Another guy, you know, I studied axemanship all year. And it became very influential to me as an educator later, because this camp pioneered the concept that the Scouts later called merit badges. The whole idea of kind of having a certificate of mastery, having mastered a certain competence, was something that I later was kind looking back at that experience and said: Oh, yeah, that’s really what high school should be.


Meanwhile, you’re in high school, and you’re getting closer toward college age. How’s it going in high school?


It never got better?


No. It never got better.


Oh … that’s a long time.


In fact, it got worse.


Why’d it get worse?


Well, October of my senior year, I had this gruff English teacher, and really kind of a mean guy. He had this huge four D-cell flashlight. He’d go around campus with the flashlight at night, looking for trouble. So, we called him The Mole. And that was his nickname; but we all were scared to death of him. So, one Saturday night in, I think, mid, late October, I came in about twenty minutes after curfew. We were allowed to go into town on Saturday night. I was late. And sure enough, The Mole was on duty. And he spots me with this big flashlight. And I can’t repeat word-for-word what he said to me, so I’ll have to just kinda fill in a couple words. He said: Wagner, you’re a screw-up; you’ve always been a screw-up, you’re always gonna be a screw-up. Only he didn’t use the word screw-up. At any rate, I had never heard an adult use that language, and applied to me. And so, I left. Next morning, I called a cab. This was in rural Connecticut, outside of Hartford. I took at train to New York. I said: I’m not going back there.


Yes, it’s a recurring theme. After dropping out of Avon Old Farms School during his senior year, Tony Wagner decided to enter a boarding school near Baltimore, Maryland so that he could finish high school and graduate. Things didn’t go any better at the new school.


It was a tiny little school that was sort of a school for kids who hadn’t made it anywhere else. It was what you call a last-chance boarding school. And it was run by a woman who was a sadist. It was a for-profit school. It was shortly before I was supposed to graduate. I had taken the regents exams. So, she calls me in. She says: Sit down, I have bad news for you; about the biology regents, you got a forty-nine. Meaning I wouldn’t graduate. I rushed screaming out of her office. She yells: Just kidding; it was a ninety-four. Can you believe that? Can you believe somebody would do that?


Although Tony Wagner had many dark, dispirited times in middle and high school, he was curious about learning, if the subject matter interested him. There were a few bright spots, and some teachers who nurtured his passion for literature.


It began a few years earlier. I had an English teacher in ninth grade whom I liked, and we were reading great stuff. We were reading Steinbeck, and Hemmingway, and Fitzgerald, and all of that, and I was really enthralled with the literature. And he gave us creative writing assignments, and I wrote my first short story. From then on, really interested in writing. And so, then I got to this last-chance boarding school, and for whatever reason, I decided I wanted to be a writer. And so, I kinda looked around, and there was a guy who was one of the other English teachers. He was not my senior English teacher; he was another guy, he was an English guy, totally nice guy. So, for whatever reason, I went up to him, and I said: Will you teach me to write? He said: I’d be delighted. So, every week, we would meet, and he would give me a different assignment. And it was a genre kind of an approach; one week it’d be a dialogue, next week a monologue, a childhood reminiscence, an essay, whatever. And so, every week, I’d bring him this, and he’d sit down and we’d talk. And he’d point to one or two things that he thought I’d done well, and maybe give one suggestion. And it later became the way, in fact, I taught writing as an English teacher. But I was just totally enthralled. And so, I think that experience saved me, in a sense, in school. Because finally had something to go to school for.


After graduating from high school, Tony Wagner enrolled at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia. And then, he dropped out. He moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida and found work as a hotel waiter, with the idea of writing the great American novel. Well, things didn’t go well, and back to school he went


So, I got myself into another college, down the road from Randolph-Macon. It was called Richmond Professional Institute; now it’s called Virginia Commonwealth University. This is now September of ’65. And I’m studying, for the first time, because I’ve decided I can’t kinda be jumping around like this.


You’ve gotta get through this.


And I started a novel. And so, I’m pretty serious now. But then, in the first week, I see a bunch of students protesting outside the dean’s office. This was, again, September of ’65. These were seniors who’d been told by the college they could not finally come back as seniors, because they’d grown longer hair and beards over the summer. Honor students, refused readmission ‘cause of their hair. So, they’d started this little group called Students for Individual Rights. So, I decided to join; protesting. And from there, I’d kinda learned about a meeting about civil rights, and I actually went to Southern Virginia as a part of a boycott. It was a small town where there was a lot of Ku Klux Klan activity, and so a group of us were volunteering to sort of help organize for this boycott. And it was dangerous and scary. And it left a mark on me, just kind of having that experience. But I came back to campus, and in a little while, I got a note from the dean of students asking to see me. Not asking; telling me to show up. So, I walk in. Finally, he says: Son, we know all about your communistic homosexual drug activities. That’s all he said; that’s all he said. Communistic? No; I was looking forward to voting. Homosexual? No; I was kinda living with a girl at the time. Drugs? I’d tried a little pot, but you know, everybody did that; nothing serious. So, I just freaked; totally. Like, I don’t want to be here; I don’t want to be in the South, I don’t want to be anywhere where, you know, it’s threats and intimidation. So, I dropped out again. Then, I go to work for a civil rights lawyer in Washington, D.C. by the name of Bill Higgs.


What did you do?


Oh, all kinds of things. I helped to organize the bus boycott in D.C. This is now late fall of ’65, early winter of ’66. I’m working with him, he gives me seventy-five bucks a month, plus room and board, and doing whatever. But I start working on a lawsuit challenging the D.C. tracking system. The D.C. public schools have four tracks. And through this guy Bill Higgs, I met William Kunstler, the now famous lawyer of the Chicago Seven, bla-bla-bla, who was working with Higgs.


So, you were in the hotbed of activism.


Oh; oh, yeah. Absolutely. And it was through Bill Kunstler that I heard about this brand new small startup college called Friends World Institute, started by the Quakers. Whole philosophy is you study social problems, you study in different parts of the world. And I got excited, for the first time. By that time, I really wanted to understand social problems. I thought maybe I might want to do social work. I still wanted to write, I wanted to be a novelist. So I was more, I guess, focused and purpose-driven.


At last, Tony Wagner earned his bachelor’s degree from Friends World College in New York. And that’s not all he came away with. He’d spent a great deal of time doing independent study in San Francisco, Mexico, and Vermont. During that time, he honed in on what he wanted to do with his life.


I wanted to be a teacher.


You decided that?


By that time, I knew I wanted to teach. Because it was it was a mission, it was a social purpose. And it felt like it was a way to combine my love of writing. While I was at Friends World, I’d gone to a war resisters conference, a pacifist conference. And a man was there by the name of Ryan Desai; he was a disciple of Gandhi’s, worked closely with Gandhi. And he was there at the conference. I asked him: What’s revolution; what’s your definition of revolution? And he said: Revolution is the dynamic process of transforming individual virtues into social values. And I wrote that on my Harvard application. I said: I want to become a teacher for this reason, in order to work towards transforming individual virtues into social values. And I think Harvard had never seen a transcript like mine. That’s the only reason I got in. You know, it had no grades, I’d been to all these colleges. And I’d published a couple things by then; I’d published three or four articles at the age of twenty-one or whatever I was then. So, I went for a master of arts in teaching.


Did you enjoy Harvard?


I hated the education classes. I thought they were miserable. You know, you practiced with a so-called master teacher in the first summer. He was a horrible teacher. He was terrible. He was not a master of much of anything. But half of my curriculum were electives. I loved my electives. And my most favorite class of all wasn’t a credit class. This guy by name of Jay Featherstone, who was then a journalist with the New Republic, writing about education, started a non-credit seminar, where we read a book a week about education. And it was all the 60s guys. And he was a model of good teaching, ‘cause he believed, and said this, that a teacher’s job is to provoke a thoughtful conversation. And so, that’s what he would do. Frame a question or challenge, and sort of keep a few boundaries around the conversation.


And did you also later teach that way, as well?


I did; very much. Both those teachers very much influenced my own teaching style. I left there with a clear understanding that I was gonna teach, but I didn’t want to teach in a conventional high school. So, I found this small little alternative school within a school in a large public high school in suburban Washington, D.C., Montgomery County, that a group of students had started by walking out of their classes, saying: We want something more relevant. And the school kinda just shrugged its shoulders and said: We don’t know what to do with these kids. So, you know, somehow, they got my name, and they said: Well, let’s hire this guy Wagner and let’s see what he can do with them.


So, you had a reputation already.


You know, wrote and thought about, you know, wanting to transform education. By that time, I had a sense that education wasn’t working for large numbers of kids, I being one.


So, real world education now. I mean, then you have a chance to apply your own ideas.


Well, I don’t know how many ideas I had back then. I just knew that we needed to try to develop different models, and the only way I knew to do it was trial and error. And so, my job was to figure out how to engage them. And you know, it was the kind of problem I had as a learner. So, I began by just simply having a conference with a student; every single student, once every two weeks, fifteen-minute conference. And I’d take notes, and I’d simply say: What do you want to learn? You can do anything related to reading and writing. I can give you an English credit, I can give you a social studies credit, but you have to read and write. What do you want to read, what do you want to learn? And whatever they answered, I’d write it down, so I had a record. And you know, they’d come back two weeks later, and I’d say: Well, what’d you do? Uh … I didn’t do that. So, okay; I said: I’ll start over. Tell me something you want to work on, something you want to learn about, something you want to read, something you want to write. And I started a writing seminar, writer’s workshop somewhere, but I learned over five years about the importance of intrinsic motivation. I mean, I knew that in part from my own experience. But I learned that as a teacher, my job is to figure out what that spark is, that spark of curiosity, that desire to learn, that spark of the desire for self-expression, and to, you know, give it life, give it breath.


And did they all find what motivated them?


You know, nearly every kid did. I mean, it took some much, much longer, ‘cause they’d been more damaged. But what I found was, they knew I was gonna ask them the same question every two weeks, and I was gonna write down whatever they said, and I wasn’t going away.


After a decade as a high school teacher, Tony Wagner decided to move into administration, and became the principal of a K through 8 school. The job did not work out for Wagner, and after just two years, he and the school parted ways.


Cambridge Friends School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When I received the job offer, I was thirty-three years old. I had a decade of high school teaching experience, no elementary experience, no administrative experience. Total hubris on my part, to think that I could do this job. Disaster. Arguably, probably one of the hardest setbacks of my entire career. Not one of; it was. What was hard was that I heard the echoes of that English teacher from my first boarding school. The echoes of his voice: Wagner, you’re a screw-up. You’ve always been a screw-up, you’re always gonna be a screw-up. So, it was very difficult to overcome that. But I’d become very involved—this was now 1982, in this little group in the Boston area calling themselves Educators for Social Responsibility. There were twenty or thirty of us. And somebody said: You know, we ought to start a national organization. I said: Okay; I’ll do that.

Sheer hubris, again. But you know, I had a few months’ salary in the bank, I could take a risk. We had, you know, a box of index cards of people calling themselves members. Leslie, four years later, we had ten thousand members. We had a hundred and twenty-five chapters, and I had been on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, I’d been on the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour. I was really interested in our being the conscience of our profession. I mean, there was a schism within Educators for Social Responsibility. Some folks said: Want to go the barricades, want to sponsor demonstrations. I said: No, we’re gonna write curriculum, we’re gonna do teacher professional development; we’re gonna become the conscience of our profession about how to teach controversial issues in ways that are responsible.


Oh, that’s very much who you are now.


Yeah. So, you know, it was very much something that captivated me back then. And I started writing articles; I wrote a number of articles back then about different aspects of kind of developing this kind of idea. What is critical thinking, how do we teach it, how do we assess it. And along the way, I decided to throw an application in at the Harvard Ed School for a doctorate, ‘cause I didn’t know what I wanted to next, but I knew I wasn’t gonna run this organization forever. I didn’t want to do that.


Tony Wagner went on to earn a doctorate in education from Harvard University. He continued to write and publish about reimaging education. In this information and innovation era, he has keenly observed how the world has changed, and how schools and education have not adapted to the times. For the last fifteen years, Wagner has traveled extensively, both nationally and internationally, to share his observations and advice with fellow educators and institutions.


We no longer live in a knowledge economy. Knowledge is no longer the corner realm; it’s a commodity, growing exponentially, changing constantly, on every internet connected device. It’s like air, it’s like water. There’s no competitive advantage in knowing more than the person next to you, because Google knows everything. The world doesn’t care how much you know. What the world cares about is what you can do with what you know. And that is a brand new and totally different education problem. There are a series of fundamental contradictions between what is required to succeed in the innovation era of an individual, and what school requires. Contradiction number one: schools are all about celebrating and rewarding individual achievement, aren’t they? Not the world of innovation. It’s all about teamwork; innovation is a team sport. The world of innovation is all about iteration; trial and error, rapid prototypes. World of school penalizes you for making any mistakes at all. So, you can’t make a mistake; you’ll get graded down for it, you’ll get the dreaded F-word. So, finally, the world of innovation is interdisciplinary. You can either study, understand, or solve any problem you can name, using a single academic discipline. But back in school, we’re using a compartmentalized system that’s a hundred and twenty-five years old. So, there are a series of very fundamental contradictions between the traditional cultural of schooling, which is a century and a half old almost, and the new culture, and the skills required. ‘Cause they’re the same; the skills you need for learning, for citizenship, and for work have converged for the first time in human history.


When would you say that happened?


Just in the last twenty years. That’s what’s so extraordinary. And living in the midst of rapid change, we can’t see it. I mean, that’s in a sense all I’ve tried to do in my books, is try to chronicle kind of this is what’s happening in the world, and here are some things we might want to consider as parents, as educators, as community leaders. You know, the problem with the last decade of education reform is that it’s been on the necks of educators. We’ve been blaming teachers. The theory of change, Leslie, is that teachers aren’t working hard enough, so if we make them accountable for improving test scores, that’s surely gonna make them work harder, and that’s gonna solve the problem. Well, that’s ridiculous. The world had changed; that’s not our fault. The education system hasn’t; that’s not our fault. But it is our responsibility. Change is scary, it feels risky. Not changing is also risky, only in that case, it’s our kids who are at risk. So, that’s the context I try to explain. This is not anybody’s fault, but it’s a different world. We don’t have a knowledge economy anymore; we have an innovation economy requiring completely different things from kids.


Where do we stand now?


We desperately need leadership, and I think that’s where this state has a real opportunity. We need leaders at the top who can clearly say: These are the competencies that matter most in the innovation era. Getting into a good school may be nice and fun, but it’s not gonna be a guarantee of a good job. Schools aren’t failing; they’re obsolete. They don’t need reforming; they need reimagining.


Even if leading educators advocate this, there are citizens that are gonna say, no.


Well, this is what I meant by community leadership. So, on Thursday, a group of community leaders from all over the state, from all these different sectors, are coming together at the Bishop Museum to talk about, what’s the knowledge, what are the skills, what are the dispositions that our high school graduates need to thrive in the future. That’s unprecedented.


And what is your answer to that? What do they need?


Well, first of all, I think it’s a community decision. The answer in Hawai‘i is gonna be very different than perhaps the answer in Detroit. There will be some similarities. I can tell you virtually everybody will talk about some version of critical thinking, collaboration, communication skills, and creative problem solving, as well as the disposition of perseverance, tenacity, and having a good character. That’s universal. But you know, in Hawai‘i, it’s all about the Aloha Spirit, it’s all about the sense of home. In Detroit, it’s all about conflict resolution. I can tell you. So, in different communities, there’s gonna be a different emphasis. But what’s important is that we first identify what does it mean to be a high school graduate in the 21st century. Let’s create a high school diploma as a certificate of mastery, not a certificate of seat time served. And then, let’s create the assessments and accountability systems that align with those new outcomes. That’s the really good work that Hawai‘i can and should be doing right now.


At the time of this conversation in early 2018, Dr. Wagner was completing a week-long trip to Hawai‘i, talking with both private and public institutions about education in the innovation era. Mahalo to author Tony Wagner of Cambridge, Massachusetts and Sandwich, New Hampshire. And thank you for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawai‘i. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.


For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit


I don’t like the F-word. I don’t want to see the word fail, ever again in school. It’s iterate. We learn through trial and error. How do we learn to talk? How do we learn to walk? What if we said to a kid: I’m sorry, you can never bicycle, ‘cause we know you’re gonna fall and skin your knee. Trial and error is how we learn the most important things we learn. And the sooner we recognize that as intrinsic to education, the better we’re gonna be.



Part 2 of 3


Based on Agatha Christie’s novel, this thrilling, three-part series features the talents of Aidan Turner (Poldark on Masterpiece), Charles Dance (Game of Thrones), Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), and Miranda Richardson (Harry Potter). Ten strangers are drawn away from their normal lives to an isolated rock off the Devon coast of England.


Part 2 of 3
The guests on Soldier Island are dying one by one, according to the rules of the nursery rhyme, “Ten Little Soldier Boys.” As they make plans to combat the killer, the body count continues to rise – and dreadful secrets are teased into the light.



Special “Lost Battalion” Film Screening for War Veterans


CEO Message

Special “Lost Battalion” Film Screening for War Veterans
World War II veterans Robert Kishinami, Henry Ishida and Takeo Ikeda

World War II veterans Robert Kishinami, Henry Ishida and Takeo Ikeda


It was a full house, as sons, daughters and other family members and friends came out in force with some of Hawai‘i’s World War II veterans of Japanese ancestry for a special screening of a documentary film, Rescuing the Lost Battalion: The Story Behind the Heroes. The film was made by the international arm of Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK.


It’s a painful war story that many people in Hawai‘i know. Many local boys of Japanese ancestry suffered grievously to save Texas soldiers who were pinned down by German gunfire in steep, dense woods in France. The Japanese Americans had volunteered for their country’s wartime infantry, patriotic to a government that distrusted them.


This epic battle is only now starting to become known throughout Japan. The film director, 30-something Yoichiro Sasagawa, and several NHK World-Japan executives came to Honolulu last month and gave local veterans an opportunity to view this English-language version of the film in person before it airs on PBS Hawai‘i next month.


Left image: Decorated war veteran Yasunori Deguchi told me he’s always mindful of the fallen soldiers. Center image: Film director Yoichiro Sasagawa (right) greets Laura Miho (seated), widow of veteran/lawmaker “Kats” Miho. Right image: Taeko Ishikawa lost her husband George, her brother Kazuo and her cousin Tsugio in WWII.

Left image: Decorated war veteran Yasunori Deguchi told me he’s always mindful of the fallen soldiers. Center image: Film director Yoichiro Sasagawa (right) greets Laura Miho (seated), widow of veteran/lawmaker “Kats” Miho. Right image: Taeko Ishikawa lost her husband George, her brother Kazuo and her cousin Tsugio in WWII.


Nine World War II vets in their 90s, including former Gov. George Ariyoshi, attended, as did four widows of veterans. They were among more than 400 attendees. Widow Taeko Ishikawa still makes every effort to represent her husband George, who passed away in 1970.


One of the attending vets, Takeo “Ike” Ikeda, opened up about his experiences in the battle for the Lost Battalion for the first time in his life, in an emotional interview that’s part of the film.


This hour-long documentary will air on PBS Hawai‘i at 8:00 pm on Saturday, August 4.


Aloha nui,

Leslie signature


Leslie Wilcox
President and CEO
PBS Hawai‘i



Kawika Kahiapo


Slack key musician and singer-songwriter Kawika Kahiapo is a longtime member of the PBS Hawai‘i ‘ohana. In 2008, he wrote the theme song for our “PBS Hawai‘i and You” campaign. He then served on our Board of Directors for six years, from 2009 through 2015.


Kahiapo makes his NA MELE debut, performing music inspired by his lifelong home, Windward O‘ahu. “When I lived in Lā‘ie, driving up and down the coast every day, coming to and from work and from gigs, I was just inspired by the natural beauty,” Kahiapo says in the program. “I wanted to celebrate that.” Song selections include “Nani Wale Kualoa,” “Kaulana Makapu‘u” and “‘O ‘Oe ‘Io.” Kahiapo’s wife Laurie and daughter ‘Ālana accompany him with hula during several songs.


Here is a behind-the-scenes look at this production of Na Mele:


Donʻt Miss Kawikaʻs Na Mele Digital Short.


Ulalia Woodside


As the daughter of a wildlife biologist father and kumu hula mother, Ulalia Woodside’s passion for the natural world was rooted in her since childhood. This early passion blossomed into a career in protecting Hawai‘i’s diverse natural resources. She is now Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i.


This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, July 15, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.


Ulalia Woodside Audio


Download the Transcript




And we are, aren’t we, the state that has the most quickly-disappearing species.


We continue to be an endangered species capital.  The Bishop Museum, not that long ago, had an exhibit on feather work and Hawaiian birds, and they also had a timeline up on the wall of when birds went extinct.  And … it brought tears to my eyes to stand there, and to look at when I was born, and I don’t remember the number of birds, and to see the number of birds that had gone extinct in my life.  That was hard to look at.


She grew up tagging along with her father as he worked on nature preserves.  And now, she is protecting many of those special places of Hawaii. Ulalia Woodside, next, on Long Story Short.


One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.


Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Ulalia Woodside has dedicated her career to managing and protecting the lands and other natural resources of Hawaii. She’s also a kumu hula with a deep connection to the Hawaiian culture.  In 2016, Woodside became the executive director of the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, overseeing forty thousand acres of preservation areas, not only Hawaii, but as far away as Palmyra Atoll, which is a thousand miles south of the Hawaiian Islands.  Her love of the land and her culture came to her early and easily, taught by example by her parents.  Her mother, Leiana Woodside, was a kumu hula and curator at the Queen Emma Summer Palace, and her father, David Woodside, was a wildlife biologist and naturalist.


I was very fortunate to be born and raised in Waimānalo.  I think I had a unique upbringing.  My parents had me a little later in life.  My mother was forty-four when she had me, my father was forty-six.  Now, that’s nothing, but back in the day, that was considered late.  You know, my mother was born and raised in a Hawaiian lifeway.  Her mother, and her mother before her, they had this vision of what it means to be a Hawaiian woman.  And in our family, my grandmother embodied that.  She embodied what it meant to be a Hawaiian woman, or this image of Haumea, the goddess, the deity, that energy that is the life source of creation and of birth.  That Haumea takes many forms.


What was your grandmother’s name?


My grandmother was Ida Pakulani Kaaihue Kaianui.  And you know, she was born in 1888, and she passed away in, I think it’s 1974 or 1976.


So, born during the days of the monarchy, and died after all the cultural unrest of America.


And statehood; right.


And after Hawaii’s statehood; yes.


Yes; until statehood.  So, you’re exactly right.  And because my mother is the youngest daughter of fifteen children—she’s number thirteen, and my mother has me at forty-four, what this means is, I have this really short linkage back to 1888, in a way; right?  And so, our family traditions really compact in these two generations, is the way that I was raised.  And I think that’s quite unique.  It made it challenging going to school at times.  You know, your parents are listening to Frank Sinatra, and your friends’ parents are listening to, you know, the Beatles or, you know, Neil Diamond, or something a little bit more contemporary, and we didn’t have a television when I grew up.  My mother wanted to have a yard that had Hawaiian plants in it.  She wanted a loi, so right there on the beach in Waimanalo, my father created a loi for her.  So, I grew up working in the loi there in Waimānalo.  We went fishing.  My father and I would lay net back in the days when, you know, you still could lay net. In my community, there weren’t a lot of children my age, so I went to work with my parents, I went to board meetings with my parents.  I went to Audubon Society Christmas bird counts with my father from a young age. I guess it’s a shift in how we raise our families nowadays.  My parents didn’t spend their days taking me to my activities, except hula.  You know, my upbringing was going with my mother as she would develop hula productions for State Foundation Culture and the Arts, or for the Aloha Week Festival.  And she would really have the leaders and the influencers of kumu hula, and they’d design these productions together.  My father would help with the staging and the plants.  And you know, those were the things that I needed to participate in.


Now, hula is very intensive, and if you’re passionate about it, you can’t have enough of it.  But there are some kids who say: Oh, no, do I have to go today again? What was your situation?


You know, I started dancing hula before I could remember.  I have pictures of me, very young, dancing hula.  And it was non-negotiable.


Nobody asked; right?


Nobody asked.


You just did it. 


And there was never gonna be a time when hula was not gonna be a part of my life. So, that connection with hula, that responsibility to hula, was there from the beginning, and will be there ‘til the end.  But it was not something that I could in any way step away from by choice.


But did you want to?


You want to, and then there was a lot of crying involved with hula.


Do I have to do that again, you mean?


And in that way, you know, when your grandmother—my grandmother was a kumu hula, my mother and two of her sisters were kumu hula, there’s an expectation of how you will perform.  And there’s an expectation of excellence, there’s an expectation that you will grasp quickly the dance or the chant that you need to learn.  And that wasn’t always the case, and sometimes I didn’t want to practice.  Sometimes I wanted to play, sometimes my feet didn’t do what they were supposed to do. But there are so many things that hula teaches you, and it’s something that has existed in my life.  You learn that you can do almost anything.  You can do things you might not want to do, and you can do them well.


Now, was your dad Hawaiian as well?


My father wasn’t Hawaiian.  But he was born and raised in Kapa‘au, Kohala on Hawai‘i Island, and his father came to Hawai‘i to be a part of the Kohala Mill system that they had.  So they had long roots here in Hawai‘i, but he wasn’t Hawaiian.  This was his homeland; it was the only homeland he knew. He loved this place, and he loved the values and the way of life these islands had created.  So, the forest and those plants created a relationship that we have with them, created this aloha ‘āina, this concept of mālama‘āina, this responsibility to place.  And he embraced that, and that was his career.  My father had spent the majority of his career and his life in remote places caring for Hawai‘i, caring for the natural resources, the forests, the birds.  And so, when they came together, they brought their two worlds together.


He let you tag along in his work, which was fascinating and beautiful, out in the outdoors and with the discipline of understanding the environment.  What was that like?  Where’d you go?  What’d you do?


I distinctly remember we went out to Mānana, Rabbit Island, right off of Waimānalo and there were rabbits on that island. And one of the things that my father did was spend a lot of time in remote places.  He went to Jarvis Atoll and Rose Atoll, he went up to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, Tern Island, Nihoa, Necker, Mokumanamana, and he’d spend long time there.  And one of the things that he would do when he would go to places is he would eradicate small mammalian predators, or he’d eradicate things that were disrupting the natural system there; sometimes cats.  And on Rabbit Island, it was rabbits.  And so, it had been years when rabbits weren’t supposed to be on Mānana anymore, but we’d go there, and there’s a rabbit on the island.  And I remember my father getting the gun out.  And we were with a number of other of his adult wildlife friends, and they’re doing their thing.  We’re on a bird count, and we’re studying.  And I am jumping up and down: Run, rabbit, run, get away, get away, get away!


And you know, it … it was dispatched. My father dispatched that rabbit.  And then we cleaned it, he and I cleaned it, and then we ate it that night.  But I got to do these really interesting things with him.  And going to Mānana was one of those really transformational days. You have an ‘ewa‘ewa chick, sooty tern chick, just a puffball of fuzz in your hand.  Rob Shallenberger used to work with my father at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and he’s also a great photographer. And he took this picture of me, and you can just see in my face how excited I am to have this little puffball in my hand.


As a child, Ulalia Woodside yearned to be like her father, working in the field and watching out for nature.  And that’s the path she started on as a young adult. But she steered in new directions, finding other ways to help the lands and reefs of Hawaii.


My very first job was a place where my father worked for a number of years, the Department of Land and Natural Resources.  The Land Division needed student help, a student helper position, so right out of high school, I think two months or so after I graduated, I started working for the Department of Land and Natural Resources.  And it was a tremendous experience.  I worked there all through my undergraduate years, until I got my bachelor’s degree.  And I learned about land tenure in Hawai‘i, I learned about state leases, I learned about shoreline issues, I learned about long tenured families that have long deeds that go back to Kamehameha V.


Were you doing paperwork, or were you out in the field?


It evolved.  So, when was a student helper, I mostly made copies.  I also was a clerk typist for a period of time, and at that time, I got to see the leasing documents come through.


So, you were reading the documents as well as processing.


Right. You know, file them and understand them, different islands, the different issues that are going on.  And after I graduated from college with my bachelor’s degree, I worked there for a little bit of time as a land agent.


What does a land agent do?


So, at that time, I was helping process shoreline certifications.  So, people who would like to build or develop on coastal properties, you frequently need to identify where the shoreline is, because there are specific regulations about setback.  It really taught me a lot about, you know, how things happen.  It was an incredible growth period for me.


All while you’re going to college and learning.


All while I’m going to college.


What were you studying in college?


In college, I was studying political science.  And then, I also got a second degree in Hawaiian studies, and I got a certificate in Hawaiian language.  And so, at the time, with the political science, I was thinking of going to law school at the time.  And had some other friends that were in political science, and they were moving on to law school, but I was working, you know, with the state.


So far, you’re following a similar path to your father, but you’re taking it in a different direction, ‘cause you’re interested in the decision-making and the issues involving regulation.


At that time, I was, you know, I really was interested in that.  And shortly after I finished high school, the State of Hawai‘i workforce went through a really large reduction in force.  And so, I had only been now in my permanent land agent position, was the bottom of the rung position for just a couple of years.  Not even two years, I think.  And so, there was somebody else with greater seniority than I did, and so with that reduction in force …


You got bumped.


I got bumped.  I got bumped out of that position.  And you know, if that hadn’t happened, I do think about, would I still be working at the Department of Land and Natural Resources today if that hadn’t happened?


After losing her position with the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Ulalia Woodside entered graduate school at the University of Hawaii to study urban and regional planning.  From there, she took a new job in the private sector, where her interests expanded beyond land management and conservation and into cultural preservation.


And then, I went to a private planning and engineering firm that worked with the Department of Transportation to repair highways or build big highways, and you know, DOT Airports, and you know, had to go out to the community of Keaukaha and talk about the runway that’s next door, to speak to people who want to build industrial parks in areas, and large resort developments, and golf courses.  And so, seeing that side of the equation gave me another level of understanding of our lands here, how decisions are made, why we see that building where we see it. And it was a hard time.  When was working there, the requirement for a cultural impact assessment became law.  And prior to that, it wasn’t a requirement.  Being able to be a part on that front edge of trying to put this into place, and going out and speaking to people of place, and gathering their stories, and then coming back and finding ways in which by incorporating what is about this place actually creates a project.


Why was it a hard phase?


It was a hard time because at times, you know, you’d sit across from somebody that had a piece of property, and you know, in the environmental review process, you do a biological assessment, you do an archaeological assessment.  You see all of these, all of these treasures that they have on their property.  And I remember sitting there, and I remember the gentleman looking at me and he said: I just want to cut it up and sell it.  And I, you know, was jazzed.  We had found, you know, this ‘ilima on the property, and this.  And it made me think about the other skills that we might need in those conversations. And it also made me think about how the energy within our community helps to shape the change of something. And what I mean by that is, that awareness of what you have on your property of natural resources and cultural resources, that’s also known by the community.  And that community can inspire a developer or a landowner to create something that is even better than what they may have had in mind in integrating and incorporating that unique plant that you found, or that portion of a trail that happens to come through their property.  And that really, really got me inspired.


In 2002, Ulalia Woodside joined Kamehameha Schools to work on āina-based educational programs, which ultimately changed how Kamehameha Schools and other Hawaii landowners managed their natural resources, including lands.


I was very fortunate at that time, as I was going through that work and starting to get itchy, to be able to be proactive.  And at that time, the Kamehameha Schools had gone through a redevelopment of their strategic plan in 2000, and their land division that managed their agriculture and conservation lands was revisiting how they manage those lands in line now with the new strategic plan that really saw those lands not as separate from the mission.


Not commodities, but part of who Kamehameha Schools is.


And also, a platform through which the mission could be achieved.


I see; with people.


With people, and with education.  I was very fortunate to be invited there by Neil Hannahs.  Enjoyed working with him for … almost fifteen years.  There was a kīpuka, there was this stronghold on Kaua‘i, and one of the first projects I got to work with was out in Waipā, Kaua‘i on the north shore of Kaua‘i with the Sproat family and the Mahuiki family at that time, and the Hawaiian farmers of Hanalei.  And they recognized the value in their ahupua‘a, and it had been used for, you know, ranching over the years.  But that community remembered the taro traditions, and they still raised kalo, and that’s what they felt was the abundance and the wealth of Waipā.  But they were talking to Kamehameha Schools, I think, in the 80s or so, and you know, it was at a time when Kamehameha Schools was actually considering putting in a development.


I remember that.


And they had to find a way to develop a use that would be productive on the lands, would recognize Kamehameha Schools’ needs, but also leave room for being proactive about the growing the community and also where we could be.  So, one of those great lessons, you know, I learned of my time there is, when you work for a perpetual organization that at that time had been around for a hundred and fifty years, you know, your spot is about this big on that spectrum.  You know, what are you gonna do in that spot on that spectrum, and are you gonna do some things that make it harder for those that come down the spectrum, or is what you’re doing keeping the door open, setting the table?  Is it creating an opportunity for those that are going to come after it?  And that’s what the Hawaiian farmers of Hanalei and those families did, is they found a way to be productive users of the land, create capacity within their community, and start to pilot and showcase what a thriving ahupua‘a looks like, with students and learning happening there, which then set the table for us to take that to a whole different place.


So, those were very important years for Kamehameha, and those decisions that were made.




In 2016, Ulalia Woodside was selected to be the executive director of the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii. Big job, overseeing the protection of nature preserves across the ridges and reefs of Hawaii, and in many of the same areas that her father helped to protect.


In working at Kamehmeha Schools, being able to think about this return on investment, and the changes that we were making to create this abundance in place, we had worked alongside the Nature Conservancy as partners across the table with the Hawai‘i Conservation Alliance, working together in developing management strategies. We frequently visited each other’s property to see how species were being managed, how they were thriving, to learn those lessons from each other.  And so, when there was the opportunity to join the Nature Conservancy, I valued the work that had been done there.  And also, you know, working at Kamehameha Schools, even when you work for the State, you’re carrying on a legacy.  And I really thought about the legacy of the Conservancy in Hawai‘i since 1980, and the change that they had brought to Hawai‘i, the idea, the concept that there are certain lands that are so special that we should set them aside, and we should protect those lands so that what’s unique about them gets preserved.  Now, at the Nature Conservancy, one of the places that we manage is Palmyra Atoll, a thousand miles south of Hawai‘i. I knew my father went to all of these atolls, but I came to learn that he was a part of the group that went out to Palmyra and identified the biological importance of that place, and integrity of that place, and was part of the effort to protect it, and to see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognize that place as an important place that needs to be protected, and to help to encourage and work with the Nature Conservancy in order to set that place apart so that those rare species, those coconut crabs, the largest breeding colony of red-footed boobies in the world, that that continues to exist, a reef like no other.


It just seems like everything you’ve been through took you to this place, this job that you hold now.  Do you feel like that?


I think life finds its way.  And I do feel like I have stayed a course.  I have followed in the footsteps of my parents.  But I have evolved along the way.  I have been that Haumea and that shapeshifter that has moved along the way. I try to find places where I can be relevant, where I can help improve the condition of our world that we live in, that I can make connections between people and nature so that we might be inspired to have a home that is thriving along with us.  And I’ve been very, very fortunate to find people to spend time with and to find employers and places where I can work towards that mission, work towards that mission of ensuring that we have Island Earth, our earthly home, our earth home and our island home, our Pacific home thrives in that way.


Not an easy job.  And it takes constant management.


It’s not an easy job.  It takes constant management.  But if we come back to hula … it is about the collective, and it is about recognizing that together, we produce something that is amazing.


Ulalia Woodside says she’ll continue to use valuable insights from her hula experience to bring together different people and organizations, and preserve and protect the natural resources of Hawaii and beyond.  Mahalo to Ulalia Woodside of Waimanalo, Oahu.  And thank you, for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawaii.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.


For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit


So, between regular school and summer school, I would go with him to work.  And he was managing Ki‘i Refuge.  Now it’s known as James Campbell Refuge out in Kahuku.  California grass would grow very, very quickly, so driving the tractor and mowing the berms, and keeping the grass down was one of my responsibilities.



The Great War, Part 2 of 3


In conjunction with the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into the war on April 6, 1917, this three-part, six-hour documentary tells the rich and complex story of World War I through the voices of nurses, journalists, aviators and the American troops who came to be known as “doughboys.” The series explores the experiences of African American and Latino soldiers, suffragists, Native American code talkers and others whose participation in the war to “make the world safe for democracy” has been largely forgotten.


Part 2 of 3
Follow America’s entry into the war as patriotism sweeps the nation, stifling free speech and dissent. A diverse group of men becomes the country’s first mass-conscripted army, while women continue to demand the vote.



Puerto Rico – Arroz con Gandules


Part foodie, part travelogue, part genealogy, Family Ingredients follows acclaimed Hawai‘i restaurateur and sustainability hero Ed Kenney, as he meets with different individuals in the Islands, and follows each person’s cherished food memory to its origin around the globe. He takes off to explore Okinawa, Tahiti, California, Japan, Puerto Rico and the Hawaiian Islands, showcasing how cuisine can profoundly unite cultures, communities and families.


Puerto Rico – Arroz con Gandules
Puerto Rican pride thrives in Hawaiʻi. Ed Kenney meets up with entertainer Tiara Hernandez, whose family grew up in Waikiki showrooms. They follow a culinary path to a country she’s never seen to learn more about her heritage.



Marilyn Cristofori


For 24 years, Marilyn Cristofori headed the Hawai‘i Arts Alliance, a statewide nonprofit that champions the arts through advocacy and education. Upon Cristofori’s retirement, the very nonprofit she headed selected her as its 2017 Alfred Preis Honoree for her lifetime support and leadership in the arts. In this conversation, she recounts her experiences as a dancer, a university educator and a nonprofit leader.


This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, July 8, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.


Marilyn Cristofori Audio


Download the Transcript




Once upon a time, arts was considered a basic part of life.




A formal piece of education.


And it still is. Because what we do at the Arts Alliance is … the big picture. But if you want to be a ballet dancer, you’ve got to get your body to a ballet studio and stand at the ballet barre, and learn … that particular discipline. If you want to be an opera singer, you’re not gonna do it … in a school classroom.




I mean, you can be exposed to it, you can learn about it, you can … the history and the composers, and so on, and so forth. But if you want to be a performer or a creator of that discipline … gotta go there. There is no other choice.


Marilyn Cristofori headed the Hawai‘i Arts Alliance for twenty-four years. Upon her retirement, she was selected as the 2017 Alfred Preis Honoree. That was a prestigious acknowledgement of her lifetime support and leadership in the arts. She joins fellow Preis Honorees next, on Long Story Short.


One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing

people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.


Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Marilyn Cristofori always knew she’d have at least two careers, because she started out as a dancer, a calling prone to injuries and other physical wear and tear. Next, Cristofori became a university dance teacher. And then, she enjoyed a long third career heading a nonprofit organization advocating for arts. Upon retirement, she was named 2017’s Preis Honoree for her arts achievements by the very organization she headed, Hawai‘i Arts Alliance. She joined a long line of distinguished honorees, many of whom she helped to select. We’ll revisit some of these arts champions during the half hour, and get to know Marilyn Cristofori. As a child, she spent summers and many other times away from her family home in Sacramento because her mother was often ill. Young Marilyn would stay with her grandmother in the Bay Area.


I loved my grandmother. It made me identify with the things that were part of that life. And I loved it. San Francisco.




Italian. She loved the opera, I loved the opera. I can’t sing, but she loved the opera; she always played opera in the house.


And you were the only child in the house?


The only; yeah. She had three children, my mother being one of them, but they were all grown up. I was the only young child. My grandmother did not intend to raise another child; that was one of those … it happened.


And you felt at home at school, and at your grandmother’s house?


I felt very at home at my grandmother’s house, and I adjusted to my other home.


Was your grandmother your most formative influence, then, as a child?


I consider her that; m-hm. Yeah.


Did she give you any explicit advice about the future?


Oh, god. She was … a woman of her era. And I think the year she got married, the women’s vote was finally put in, and she was determined I was gonna get an education.


Did she know how she would pay for it, or anyone would pay for it?


Oh, no. I just had to get good grades and earn a scholarship.


So, you knew that from an early age?




That you were gonna go to college through a scholarship, and you were gonna make the grade to do it.




Did you know what you wanted to do?


When I was raised, Leslie, there was the idea that as a woman, you did nursing or teaching, or mothering, or sometimes a secretary, and occasionally you might have another profession. But those were the main ones. So, I thought I was gonna be a teacher.


M-hm. And you did get a BA in education.


I did.


From a very good college.


I did.


You got into Stanford.




On scholarship?






At that point in time, it was kind of fun, because women were still new to Stanford, so the ratio was about four to one. So, it was a great experience.


Lots of men. And did—


And I was young, so …


Did you feel younger than eighteen?


I was twenty when I graduated.


Oh; how did you get into college so early?


Well, when I was much younger, and all that shuffling back and forth to my grandmother’s and so on, they skipped me a full grade in school.


Wow. So, you graduated from Stanford University at age twenty.




As a … teacher.


Teacher. Yeah. And then, we had an opportunity to take a trip to Europe. And … I thought, that would be fun.


We, meaning you and …


And some … Stanford colleagues.




And a professor was doing the trip, and it was like a big deal. We had to go to New York and change planes, and fly over Iceland, and go to London. That was my first time out of California.


And you actually—


I didn’t come back for five and a half years.


Is that right?


I discovered dancing, which I had been doing all my life, but I didn’t know that I really wanted to do it.


What kind of dancing were you doing?


I was doing ballet at that time. So, then, I wanted to be a dancer, but I had gotten a full scholarship to what was then Radcliff at Harvard Business School. Why did I apply to Harvard Business School? Because the guy that I had a crush on applied to Harvard Business School. I thought it would be fun to go. And I went to Europe, and I decided I really didn’t want to go, and I knew that I could always go to business school, but I couldn’t always dance. So, I stayed in Europe.


And where did you dance?


I danced in Rome, and I danced in London, mainly. Those were the two.


And what was it about your experience in Europe that caused—you left the boyfriend behind too; right?


Yeah. But another one came along.


And is that part of the reason for staying in Europe, or was it—




–sheer dance, or a combination?


Well, part of it. Because he decided to go to London School of Economics, so we got married. I was working in a contemporary company. And I went to ballet classes, and I went to the Royal Ballet. I was not working as a professional ballet dancer in London. I experienced a lot of it, and that was what I knew. So, when I came back to San Francisco, I then was with San Francisco Ballet, San Francisco Opera Ballet, Pacific Ballet, and Lathrop Contemporary Company. So then, I worked as a professional dancer. And because I was still young enough, since I had graduated so young, I was able to do it, and have … a fairly decent career.


What other types of dancing did you do?


Then, I did contemporary.


Which was freeform …


Well, modern dance. And that’s why I got involved until I … I needed to get a job, and became a professor and academic, and you’re supposed to write a book. And what did I do instead? I didn’t want to write a book; I made … documentaries for PBS about famous dancers. And so, I got very involved with that part of things.


And you felt passionate about a number of things, it sounds like.


Yeah; yeah. Well, I loved dancing. That’s definitely my first love. But every dancer needs at least two careers.


And you know that, going in.


Well, because you can’t dance beyond a certain age … adequately. I got to be a professor, I got to teach. And then, I went to business … eventually.


Because that’s what you were going to do years before. You know, it’s not a natural jump, it doesn’t sound like, to go from dancing to professor of dance, to an MBA at University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.


At least in my day, it was more natural to go from a professional dance career, or to parallel with teaching, and to move into academia.


You were a professor, and then, you left California and came here. Why?


Because I married … Gregg Lizenbery, my husband, and he got offered the position to be director of dance at UH Mānoa. So, I had taken an early retirement, and then it just so happened he got offered that position. And then, we moved here. That was almost three decades ago. I did not look for my career with the Arts Alliance. But after we moved here, we realized that the cost of living was a little bit different than we were used to.




And so, I had thought: Oh, I’m retired, I’ll just … but that didn’t work. So, I needed to find a position. That’s what I did. So, for a while, I worked part-time for the Arts Alliance, and part-time for Early Childhood, and made them partners. And then, when I was into the position at Arts Alliance, I realized that I would hit a ceiling if I didn’t get a new skillset. Which is why I went to business school.


After receiving her executive master of business degree from the Shidler College of Business at the University of Hawai‘i, Marilyn Cristofori felt she had all the tools necessary to grow the Hawai‘i Arts Alliance.


How do you get funding for the arts?


Oh … so many ways. One of the biggest, biggest … important things that people don’t always get. I find when I say to somebody “arts”, the shade comes down, and what they see is a painting on a wall in a museum.




Or they remember, because there used to be arts in the school curriculum, when they were in school as a child; they had a music class and they had a drawing class, and they had maybe sometimes a dance class, and they could be in their … high school production, theater production. And they remember those things, and they don’t know that it’s not there anymore.




So, you have to tell them … No, it’s not been there for quite a while.


Do public schools have virtually no arts classes? Is that what you’re saying?


Not exactly. It’s heading upwards, but mostly, one of the things the Arts Alliance does now, partners with the State arts agency to run what we call Artists in the Schools.




And that’s … funded by public monies for public schools.


But how do you argue the case when lawmakers or charitable organizations are saying: Look, I mean, we need to support the basics; reading, writing, and arithmetic, and computer technology. We can’t do art; that’s something you’ve gotta get on your own.


One of the biggest convincing arguments has to do with brain research. And they’ve done a lot of research to find out—one of my favorite studies was done, a longevity study. And they followed kids in high school who were either in like boy scouts or girl scouts, or some other community service organization, and where there school arts event in some way, whether it was after school or in school, or if they were in sports. And then, they followed them for … ten years, and how did they do ten years later, by which time they were usually married with some kids, and in a career of some kind. The ones that were happiest, most successful, had come from the arts. So, then they looked further back into that, and they examined what happens when you have those … experiences as a child.




That it shapes your brain differently. You have those connections, neuropathways. And if they aren’t formed by a certain age, usually puberty, they kind of wither and die on the vine.


It’s a key to happiness.


A key to happiness and success in life. So, that’s why back in ancient days now … arts were considered to part of the curriculum. So, the big deal is to get it during the formative years. So, right now, the way our Hawaii school system is built, by the time … children go into high school … there are art teachers, and music teachers, and band, and there are options, after school performing arts centers, all of which work very, very well. But a lot of the times, the kids that want to do those things didn’t have them when they were young, and so, they don’t have competitive skills to be involved. We teach about the arts and how the arts can enrich an experience and change your life.


How big is the Hawai‘i Arts Alliance? How many staffers?


Well, we’re all the way up to seven.


Seven staffers; and what’s your budget?


I took over in ’94.


’94; okay.


Yeah. So … it was thirty thousand. And I said: That won’t do. And then, we got up to … it’s varied, depending on what comes … from national, mostly. Not two million; just under two million. But that was a good jump. It needs to now double again. I feel really good about … we have a base that’s established in the education part. And there’s something to work with, and expand, and go to, and staying with education is essential.


You mentioned three careers, and it’s a very long work record. I don’t know what seventy-seven looks like, but to me, you don’t look like you’re seventy-seven years old.


I really am. And a half.


Do you feel it?


Starting to happen.


Marilyn Cristofori was the thirty-seventh recipient of the Alfred Preis Honors for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts. In the past, we’ve featured other Preis Honorees on Long Story Short. We look back now at three recent recipients, and their contributions.


Sarah Richards was the 2015 Preis Honoree. As president of the Hawai‘i Theatre Center for a quarter of a century, she spearheaded an historic restoration, transforming the once dilapidated theater into a national award-winning performance center. A former college dean of students, Sarah Richards switched careers and actually succeeded the legendary architect Alfred Preis himself as chief of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.


You succeeded a man who has got a lot of aura around him in history.




Alfred Preis.




As head of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.




In 1980?


1980; m-hm.


What was he like? Did you know him before you took over?


I got to know him. He was a wonderful man. He was a Prussian architect. And so, he was very Prussian in character, in modus operandi. And he was the one who really initiated the Art in Public Places program, really, on a European model. He was a lovely man, with a great vision.


And when it was time for him to step down, the foundation looked for somebody who was a good administrator, and who could handle the strong voices in the arts community.




And they selected you to do that.


They did; they did.


What kind of strong voices?


Oh, well, the arts, as you know, because the State Foundation dealt with all the arts, whether it was visual arts, performing arts, literary arts. And so, there was a lot of variety of art groups we were dealing with. And of course, since we were the granting agency, we had a lot of very personal contacts with how much money grants were gonna be given to what groups.


Right; and projects are like babies.


Oh, yes; oh, yes.


You give money to one, and it’s my baby.


That’s right.


You know, it seems like a dream job to have all this money that you can give to wonderful art projects. But you probably are under criticism, no matter what you do.


Oh, yes. Giving away money is not just a piece of cake. You need to be clear on what your mission is, what you want to accomplish, and then also who makes decisions and who are qualified to make decisions. It wasn’t just sort of, Here’s some money. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or in the eye of the creator. But there are certain standards that the art community has, and that’s why you ask a group of knowledgeable people to review and make a judgment. We were proud we were number one in the nation in per capita state support. So, we did a fair amount of lobbying the State Legislature, and also getting money from the federal government.


You’re a very determined person, aren’t you?


I am determined.


You’re very goal-oriented.


I was very goal-oriented; yes, I was. Yes.


And you’re a missioned person.




Here’s 2016 Preis Honoree, Michael Titterton, former president and general manager of Hawaii Public Radio. Under his leadership, HPR expanded its broadcast reach across the State.


You got your master’s degree in public speaking and rhetoric.


Rhetoric; yes.


Why did you choose that?


Bear in mind, this is the very, very early 70s. It’s 1971, actually. And … coming into ’72, and I knew the U.S. was … I mean, this was … social mobility was here, and that’s what I was really after. I didn’t know it at that time, ‘cause I didn’t know the words. But social mobility. And meritocracy. You know, if you work hard, you can get places. And that’s really what everybody dreams about, when they dream about America, when they’re not from here. If I was going to understand this place, the quickest way to do it might be to study the media, because that seemed to be the bottleneck through which everything passed. And it was a very busy bottleneck at that point. Watergate, for example, Vietnam War, all the unrest on college campuses. Glorious time. And all of it was being fed through a media, which was under suspicion, as much of it is now. And so, I specialized in that.


And you’d already had experienced storytelling, because you had stories to tell along the way.


Well, everybody does. Yeah. Just because of the basic courses that I had to then take as part of being in the rhetoric program, I began to learn something about the mechanics of storytelling, if you like, the idea of a narrative arc. And I was very quickly drafted into teaching public speaking. So yeah, that was … I hadn’t really thought about it, actually, as being part of the whole storytelling business, but I seem to keep coming back to that. But that’s what it is, that’s what life is; it’s the stories we get to tell.


And sometimes, you do things without having a name for it; right? And then, you find out—


Oh, yes; most of the time, actually.


Your real self keeps popping up in the form of what you do.


Yes; that is true. That is true. But storytelling … I guess that’s a lot of the attraction that I have, or that radio has for me, because it’s a storytelling medium, and storytelling is … there’s very few human behaviors that that go back further than storytelling. It’s the quintessential social act. It’s a wonderful vehicle for healing, for illumination, for understanding, for being civilized.


And radio has that intimate quality.


Mm. It’s a one-to-one medium, and it’s frighteningly intimate. And the best radio is indistinguishable from pillow talk. It’s that intimate. And that’s what I love about it. I mean, what’s not to love?


Henry Akina, who retired from the Hawaii Opera Theater, was the 2014 Preis Honoree. Born and raised in Honolulu, Henry Akina spent much of his adult life directing opera in prestigious opera houses around the world. He even founded an opera company in Berlin, before moving back home to Hawai‘i. Under the guidance of its first ever Hawai‘i-born artistic director, the Hawaii Opera Theater became known for vibrant, creative productions, sometimes incorporating modern updates and collaborations with top international artists.


I love that approach, in a sense modernizing with Harajuku costumes.


You’re referring to The Mikado, then.


Yeah, Mikado.


Right; yeah.


And you feel free to do that. You don’t take the same opera and present it again. You add new touches. You’ve had Anne Namba’s designs, you’ve had Dean Shibuya change things up.


We have a resident designer at HOT, Peter Dean Beck, who’s resident in New York, but who’s nonetheless been seminal for design here.


How do audiences feel about those changes?


I’m not sure. You know, people say nice things to me, so I’m assuming that they’re honest about those things. But I think that the audiences in Hawaii respond well to good stories, and we try and make good stories wherever we are, from wherever we are.


Do you look for ways to take a classic story and localize it or modernize it?


Well, modernize it, perhaps. Localize it, not so much. But modernize it, perhaps. And in the case of Mikado, for instance, we knew that we couldn’t go backwards; we had to go forwards. And we had to look at the Japan of today, which was a lot different than the first time we did Mikado, which was ten years ago.


So, in ten years, it changed.


In ten years, life has changed. Yeah.


Did audiences know Harajuku girls? Because that was the play.


I think that we tried to let the audience know that we were doing the style. But you’ll have to ask Anne about the Harajuku things, because it was based on one of Anne’s trips to Japan. But I think that in contemporary life, we would be someplace else in ten years.


Right. I think she reimagined those characters as hip shoppers out for retail therapy.


She did; she did. And using cell phones every five minutes. Right. And using an iPad; things like that. So, whatever we’re using in ten years will be reflected in the staging.


You’ve already been announced, I believe, as the 2014 Preis Honoree in Arts, which is a tremendous honor, probably the largest honor we have in Hawai‘i in arts.


Well, I knew Alfred Preis, and I think that that’s … I was saying that, you know, people who know me well don’t expect this honor. And I didn’t expect it, either.


Why? Why didn’t you expect it? I wasn’t surprised to hear that you were named.


Well, I was, in a weird way. And I went to a board member, Jean Rolles, who had been honored herself. And she said: You will do it for this organization. And since then, I have decided that I will do it for the organization.


Congratulations to 2017 Preis Honoree Marilyn Cristofori of Hawai‘i Kai. And mahalo to all of the recipients of this award over the years for the work you’ve done to advance the arts and keep them vibrant in Hawai‘i. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.


The key thing, whatever you’re doing … is to support creativity in our society as a whole. Keep your passion about creativity, and moving forward with what is right … what is just, and what helps everybody. ‘Cause if we don’t preserve our creativity … the rest of it doesn’t matter.


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I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to contribute so far to education. We’ve been able to create and move forward significantly with Arts First and get admirable, high quality arts back in the schools, particularly elementary schools. So, I’m really feeling good about that.



The Great War, Part 3 of 3


In conjunction with the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into the war on April 6, 1917, this three-part, six-hour documentary tells the rich and complex story of World War I through the voices of nurses, journalists, aviators and the American troops who came to be known as “doughboys.” The series explores the experiences of African American and Latino soldiers, suffragists, Native American code talkers and others whose participation in the war to “make the world safe for democracy” has been largely forgotten.


Part 3 of 3
Discover how the violent and bloody conflict transformed the nation forever, as America steps onto the world stage for the first time. But while many heralded the peace, others worried about democracy at home.



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