The Honolulu Star Advertiser had recently reported that major changes are coming to the venerable Bishop Museum in Oahu, Hawaii. The museum’s President and CEO, Blair Collis, said that it would streamline its holdings and operations and work at becoming a better tourist attraction. This, naturally, has raised concerns for many museum professionals and stakeholders who believe that this change is a mistake. They feel that the Bishop Museum’s leaders are losing sight at the role museums play in society, and are making changes for pure economical models, rather than for cultural or educational ones.
The changes are part of a five-year plan designed to transform the Hawaii institution into a leaner operation and score additional revenue by retooling it into a destination museum.
“We’re trying to shake it up, there’s no doubt about that,” said Collis, “This is not 1889, nor is it 1989 anymore. We need to be a vibrant center.”
The Bishop Museum was founded in 1889 by Charles Reed Bishop in honor of his late wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last descendant of the royal Kamehameha family. It is the largest museum in Hawai’i and has the world’s largest collection of Polynesian cultural artifacts and natural history specimens. Today, the museum is now the premier natural and cultural history institution in the Pacific. One of Oahu’s most historical places, the museum holds millions of artifacts, documents and photos about Hawaii and other Polynesian cultures.
Some of the key moves in the Bishop Museum’s five-year financial restructuring plan:
* Turn its full-time scientific staff into casual hires responsible for finding their own research money.
* Comb through the collections to weed out redundant items or anything that doesn’t fit the museum’s purpose.
* Renovate historic Bishop Hall and make $3 million in infrastructure improvements.
Additionally, under the new plan, the museum will sell off its 12-acre Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook as well as 537 acres in Waipio Valley where tenants currently farm taro. Collis said the properties do not fit the museum’s long-term mission and are a drain on the bottom line. According to the five-year plan, the museum also will review its collections and weed out items that are redundant or do not fit the museum’s mission, and focus on Hawaii and Polynesia. For example, he said, the museum’s collections hold many donated items from Russia, South America, Australia and other places outside of Polynesia.”It’s time to move forward and clean house,” he said, adding that any items taken out of the collection generally will be offered to its original owner.”
Part of the five-year plan is the renovation of historic Bishop Hall, $3 million in infrastructure improvements and the installation of native landscaping in and around the museum grounds. Also, there are plans in the works to hold night programs, to make improvements to the institution’s digital resources and to stage new exhibits that will “leverage Bishop Museum’s scholarship and collections to tell Hawaii’s stories.”
“It’s a challenging time for everyone,” Collis said. “Ultimately, it’s the direction we need to take. It’s not always easy, change, but it’s important.”
If you plan to visit Honolulu, and I know, many of you do, take some away from the beach, and visit the Bishop Museum. You won’t be disappointed. It is one of the most extraordinary museums in the world.