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Contemporary Museum, Academy of Arts to merge

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The Honolulu Academy of Arts and The Contemporary Museum will merge operations, boards and fundraising efforts on July 1, the museums announced yesterday following months of discussions.

The 84-year-old Hono­lulu Academy of Arts and the 23-year-old Contemporary Museum will keep their individual names at least through June 30, when a combined board will consider how to best brand the combined operations, the museums said in a statement.

Both museums will remain open.

The Contemporary Museum on Makiki Heights Drive occupies the former home of the founder of the Hono­lulu Academy of Arts, Anna Rice Cooke, who moved to Makiki Heights after donating her Bere­ta­nia Street home in 1925 to establish the Academy, the museums said.

“We’re a small, boutique, niche museum — partly because of the location, partly because of our physical size,” said Allison Wong, The Contemporary Museum’s executive director, who will become deputy director for the combined operation.

Under the agreement, some of The Contemporary Museum’s collection and assets will be displayed in the Academy of Arts, where they will be exposed to a much wider audience, Wong said.

“Our collection has now grown to about 3,500 pieces, and we’ll be able to showcase contemporary artists in a historical setting at the Academy,” Wong said. “It’s about getting a larger audience engaged with contemporary artists.”

The Honolulu Academy of Arts has about 100 employees, while the Contemporary Museum recently reduced its staff from 40 full-time employees to 16, Wong said.

No staff members will be immediately laid off as a result of the merger, but some redundant positions might be identified later in the year, said Lesa Griffith, spokes­woman for the Hono­lulu Academy of Arts.

There will be no immediate cost savings related to the merger, she said, but fundraising efforts will be better focused.

“This is a long-term effort,” Griffith said. “This is setting ourselves up for the future.”

Ten members of The Contemporary Museum’s board will join the 34-member board of the Hono­lulu Academy of Arts to oversee the combined operations, Griffith said.

Beginning Tuesday, members of one museum will be able to visit the other at no additional cost, Griffith said.

Membership fees at The Contemporary Museum will be unchanged through May 2012, when they are expected to increase to coincide with memberships at the Hono­lulu Academy of Arts, Griffith said.

Individual memberships are $55 per year at the Hono­lulu Academy of Arts and $45 at The Contemporary Museum.

Stephan Jost takes over on Monday as the Hono­lulu Academy of Arts’ new director and will oversee the combined museums.

For the past five years, Jost had been director of Vermont’s Shelburne Museum, which — like the Hono­lulu Academy of Arts — is its state’s primary art museum.

“The boards of both museums have shown foresight in orchestrating the integration of the Hono­lulu Academy of Arts and The Contemporary Museum,” Jost said in a statement. “Other museums will merge in the next several years.

I want us to be the case study of how to do it right.”

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