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.