HoMA welcomes scholars-in-residence Ma Ry Kim and Dr. Kazuma Nakagawa

The Honolulu Museum of Art is embarking on a new partnership with the O‘ahu-based Brain Health Applied Research Institute (B+HARI) for a pilot program that promotes brain health in an art-making setting. B+HARI is a pioneering organization dedicated to advancing brain health through innovative research and practical lifestyle adjustments. The partnership will generate new insights and initiatives to bridge the worlds of art, science and wellness.

B+HARI’s visionary co-founders—internationally renowned architect Ma Ry Kim, who grew up in Hawai‘i, and groundbreaking neurologist Dr. Kazuma Nakagawa, who heads the Queen’s Medical Center’s Neuroscience Institute—will serve as HoMA’s 2024 Scholars-in-Residence. In this honorary capacity, the duo is working with the museum’s Robert Allerton Art Library and Learning and Engagement staff to conduct research and develop a pilot program that integrates strategies to promote brain health in an art-making setting.

“Through collaboration with B+HARI, we will explore innovative ways to harness the power of art to improve the lives of individuals and the health of our communities,” says Halona Norton-Westbrook, HoMA’s director and CEO.

There is increasing evidence in rehabilitation medicine and the field of neuroscience that making and experiencing art enhances brain function by impacting wave patterns, emotions and the nervous system. Art has also been found to raise serotonin levels.

“Many people have neurological conditions, such as dementia, stroke, traumatic brain injury and brain tumors, that affect brain function. And it is commonly thought that once the brain is damaged, that’s it,” says Nakagawa. “But we’re learning there are many things we can do to reconnect the brain. We have so many opportunities for non-medical treatments such as art, design and music to contribute to brain health.”

Nakagawa points to the widely accepted six pillars to support a healthy body and mind—nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress management, avoidance of risky substances and social connection. “The last three are easy to tell people to address,” he says, “but how do they actually achieve them? I feel art is a great way to hit those components. We can bring the practice of art into the scientific world as a major intervention.”

He envisions a future when internists tell patients to exercise, get enough sleep and make art daily as part of a healthy regimen.

B+HARI’s core mission is to enhance brain health by translating cutting-edge scientific research into actions and exercises that can be integrated into daily life, ensuring that brain health is accessible to all. The organization looks at insights from fields such as neuroscience, aging and longevity studies, indigenous cultural practices and microbiome and gut health to craft solutions to problems caused by brain disease and trauma.

“Even with all the incredible science in the world, the real test for B+HARI is how it directly impacts the person in the street,” says Kim. “This is why our work with organizations such as HoMA matters. Together we are working to bridge the critical gap between the research and the person.”

B+HARI recently accepted an invitation from Dr. Jonathan Rosand of Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital to join the Global Brain Care Coalition. B+HARI will join Harvard, Yale, the University of Alabama, the University of Toronto, the University of Hamburg, the Chinese University of Hong Kong and other national and international academic institutes with an aspirational goal to improve brain health globally. B+HARI will turn the coalition’s scientific expertise into an applied actionable lifestyle change that is enjoyable.

Meanwhile, B+HARI is developing an O‘ahu brain care campus, where HoMA will have a presence. The goal, says Kim, who specializes in biophilic architecture, is to design a place where “by the mere act of coming, the brain would start to develop neuroplasticity, start to rehabilitate itself.”

The Honolulu Museum of Art has been a leader in art education for almost 100 years, offering innovative ways of learning about, understanding and making art. By partnering with B+HARI, HoMA has the opportunity to put research into practice, leading the way for a new frontier of transformative, evidence-based arts and science collaborations.

Three things happened to Kim that connected her with Nakagawa, head of Queen’s Neuroscience Institute. First, her youngest child was born healthy after the umbilical cord was detached at 20 weeks, defying medical expectations. One doctor told her she should find a neurologist to try to understand what had happened. For 10 years she did that, and someone introduced her to Dr. Nakagawa, who was the first neurologist who was fascinated by her experience and wanted to learn more. Then her aunt who had Alzheimer’s was moved to a Buddhist monastery to die with dignity. But something happened in that environment—after four months the aunt went home with cognitive improvement. Kim decided that the world needs a health care campus that by design helped brain health, but realized she needed a neurologist to be on board. Again someone connected her with Dr. Nakagawa. Finally, Kim’s father had a stroke, and he entered a new stroke rehabilitation program at Castle Hospital—where he was Dr. Nakagawa’s first patient. He saved Kim’s father’s life.

Kim in turn became connected with the museum when her firm I-ON Group was tapped to build the ceiling grid for the installation Rebecca Louise Law: Awakening. She and Nakagawa talked about new research connecting art, nature and brain health at the museum in May 2023 as part of the event Live: Museum Confidential Podcast.