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Bishop Museum president, CEO resigns

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / JUNE 13, 2013 Blair Collis, chief executive officer at the Bishop Museum

President and CEO of the Bishop Museum Blair Collis resigned today, ending a five-year run as leader of the state’s largest museum.

The museum’s board of directors appointed Honolulu attorney LindaLee Kuuleilani “Cissy” Farm as interim president and CEO and will launch a nationwide search to fill the position, the museum announced this afternoon.

Collis, whose last day will be May 6, could not be reached for comment. A news release does not say why he is resigning, other than quoting Collis saying he is pursuing new opportunities.

“It has been an honor to have served Bishop Museum over the last 13 years and particularly as president and CEO over the last five years. I am leaving to pursue new opportunities knowing the museum is in strong and capable hands. I wish the very best to the board of directors and staff of this amazing institution,” Collis said.

In the release, board Chairwoman Allison Holt Gendreau thanks Collis for his years of service and wishes him well in the future.

Farm is a partner at Goodsill Anderson Quinn & Stifel, where she concentrates on commercial litigation. She serves as a member of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation review committee, a federal panel that monitors and reviews repatriation activities, and is also on the Historic Hawaii Foundation board.

Farm graduated from Punahou School and the University of Hawaii Richardson School of Law. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Scripps College.

“The board is pleased that Cissy Farm has agreed to take on the interim role and we are confident that she will be able to effectively guide the museum during this transitional period,” Gendreau said.

Collis oversaw the museum during a period of shrinking federal dollars and financial instability linked to the 2008 economic downturn. The end of federal earmark spending, largely from former U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, reportedly resulted in the loss of a third of the museum’s income, about $3 million a year.

The Australia native came under fire in recent months following the January announcement of a five-year financial restructuring plan designed to streamline the museum’s operations and score new revenue.

The controversial plan called for raising $10 million by selling off unnecessary properties, including the 12-acre Amy B.H. Greenwell Garden in Kona and 537 acres in Waipio Valley where tenants currently farm taro.

The plan also called for turning the museum’s full-time scientific staff into casual hires responsible for finding their own research money and for combing through the collections to weed out redundant items or anything that doesn’t fit the museum’s mission.

Also part of the plan is the renovation of historic Bishop Hall and $3 million in infrastructure improvements, among other things.

Among those critical of Collis were former Bishop Museum archaeologist Patrick V. Kirch, former Bishop Museum researcher/curator Robert Cowie and Mark Blackburn, prominent Honolulu Polynesian art collector.

“This is great news,” Blackburn said of the leadership change. “He and the board have run the world’s premier institution devoted to the people and the cultures of the Pacific into the ground.”

Collis also received criticism for canceling a long-planned exhibit billed as the largest display of Hawaiian feather work in history. The show had been planned to appear in Honolulu from March 19 to May 23 following a run at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, but Collis said the cash-strapped museum couldn’t do it justice and would try to schedule it in the future.

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 home to a large collection of Hawaiian artifacts and royal family heirlooms, including millions of artifacts, documents and photographs about Hawaii and other Pacific island cultures.

Collis was appointed president and chief executive officer of Bishop Museum in 2011 after serving as senior vice president and chief operating officer for three years and filling other roles since joining the museum as director of Bishop Museum Press in 2003.

Collis previously served as president of the Hawaii Book Publishers Association and was founding chairman of the Hawaii Book and Music Festival.

Born and raised in Australia, Collis graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a international business degree in 1996.

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  • The key here is: “He and the board have run the world’s premier institution devoted to the people and the cultures of the Pacific into the ground.” The chair of the board should also step down along with many other board members who urged this dissolution of key assets.

    • I don’t know any of these people but I am sorry that the Museum is not the premiere research museum it was intended to be. I have read some of the archaeology of Pat Kirch (Berkeley) and he is superb. The best. UH “Studies” “professors” really fear him as he is so well researched and factual. I have to believe he is right about the mistakes of the museum leadership in recent years.

  • Museums can get into serious trouble sponsoring expensive shows. That wonderful Bhutan exhibit a few years ago at the Art Academy was part of the reason the Academy was forced to merge with the Contemporary Museum. Both institutions are now probably better off as a result, but it was a difficult situation. I don’t know enough about this guy to judge — he may have presented extreme measures hoping to work out a compromise in order to keep Bishop Museum in viable financial shape. You can bet that any qualified person looking at the job will take a close look at the finances of the institution.

  • How qualified was this guy to become in charge of Bishop Museum? Is this similar to how they put ex newscaster Gennaula, who looked good and knew how to smile as CEO of Aloha United Way and as a DOE Board of Education member who had no proven leadership experience?

      • She currently works at Iolani after her stint as CEO of Aloha United Way and as a member of the BOE. Most likely she will or already has sent her kids to Iolani, just as BOE chair Horner sent his two sons. Other than window dressing, what was her major accomplishments as DOE board member or as CEO of AUW? Rhetorical question, she probably was as effective as Collis was at the Bishop Museum.

        PS: Instead of finding another mainland or foreign carpet bagger to be in charge of the Museum, the way they put Dobelle, Greenwood, Hinshaw or Carbone in charge at UH, can they find someone locally with the education and great business knowledge and sense to make positive changes to the Museum without having to sell valuable land assets that is only short term fix and in the long run will gaurantee the museum will go bankrupt instead of using their extensive land assets for perpetual revenue.

        • good points. Hawaii Public Radio is saying the board made an improper loan to Collis? I know that is not permitted by the IRS. Clearly here is much more to this story than we know.

  • Whatever happens, I’d like to see Patrick V. Kirch back at the Bishop Museum in some capacity. He has the integrity and respect of many. I found it odd that the museum would do amusing exhibits, while the Oakland Museum had a Pacific Voyaging Exhibit through 2016, in anticipation of the Hokule’a worldwide voyage. What was up with that?

      • The board has been looking for deep pockets to fund its programs – like other great museums…

        But they really should stick to tourists. And rent out some of their artifacts for display at the hotels.

    • I have to echo your sentiment with regards to Dr. Kirch. He is a giant in pacific island archaeology. I recently found a mint copy of Feathered Gods and Fishhooks on a rare books site to replace one that I loaned out years ago. It was neat to re-read after the passage of time.

      • agree..He is a profound thinker and researcher and a local boy from Punahou. I love that he stands up to the clowns passing as “professors” in the Hawaiin “Studies” unit. They fear him. Deeply.

  • I attended a lot of recent exhibits. They’re less expensive than exhibits of rare artifacts.

    Recent ones are on nostalgia of Hawaii and would interest tourists except that I saw very few of them. I don’t know why there weren’t busloads of them visiting every day of the week.

    • With all the the tourists visiting, stuff should be flying out the door of the gift shop. Their prices seem to be a little better than Waikiki prices. The Hawaiian plate is great at the new food concession as well. I can see individual tourists lunching there as well.

      • Gee willikers! After having moved to the mainland four years ago I can sure attest to the fact, mainland tourists are paying their fair share of airfare and other costs to visit the shores of the 50th state. While still supporting their home institutions with the required stability, I know the visiting tourists will tend more toward family, friends and outdoor adventures and recreation. Expecting other state tourists to prop-up the Bishop Museum with the required donor scaffolding that would keep this grand institution strong and healthy, is probably one of the prime functions of a local community’s charitable or educational trust (dollars funded through the required annual educational donor visits of all k-8 island grade school children (both public and charters.) Costly, of course, yet without this determined dedication in no other way do all of the home-state citizenry, commonly retain and appreciate the beauty and historic mention of “home” ever- more.
        Let this type of donor scaffolding remain in the minds of these same citizen children forever after, during lifelong thoughts of home, as kids in school. As an example, I still remember my school field-trips to my home-state’s public museum and zoo, and their wonderful annual exhibits. I had my favorites as did other kids, my brother and sisters too. We always looked forward to the annual school field-trips that our parents were required to subsidize, an afternoon away from classes to tour the institution, a homework report, to write about an exhibit or some such something, that tied in with a classroom thematic of late. I developed an appreciation for this type of comparable enjoyment, whether at home or visiting other cities, my favorite is still the home-museum of my annual visiting-youth.
        Whether through GET or these direct subsidized-funding mechanisms, these types of institutions are most often supported by the home community scaffolding, a community that most benefits from their unique existence. Perhaps it is best to collect this type of added fee at the start of the school year, and make sure the child is in attendance no matter the island. The more distant, the more reason for the child’s visit!
        My father could have used a visit to a Honolulu museum back when he was in school in Makawao in the ’30s. Hell, he could’a used shoes, a desk, books while in school on Maui. But that was back wen and in those daze. Good ‘ting we have tendencies to think back to our youth with a positive lens, yea?

    • I suspect their financial condition is terrible. The loan taken out by Collis seems like a desparate attempt to make payroll.

      The board is wrong to throw him under the bus for a cash flow problem. They’re not going to improve their fundraising any better by hiring a more prestigious CEO.

      The museum since the Kamehameha Schools abandoned it, should turn to tourism for its main funding source. It’s staff shouldn’t shouldn’t worry about it becoming a “tourist trap”. That’s how the bills get paid.

  • Why does the author of this article continue to perpetuate a falsehood? Bernice Pauahi Bishop was not the last of the high-born Kamehamehas. The last high born Kamehameha was Albert Kūnuiakea, one of twin sons born out of wedlock to Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) and Jane Lahilahi Young in 1851. He lived until 1903. There are other descendants of Kamehameha I living today.

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