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Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, February 1, 2001

Bishop Museum
director takes stock

WHEN W. Donald Duckworth looks back on 16 years as a "change agent" at the Bishop Museum, one of the leading museums in America, he is proudest of the construction of the Harold K.L. Castle exhibition hall, opened in 1990.

That could be topped by an even bigger addition -- a $35-40 million Science Learning Center featuring a new planetarium. Over $16 million already is committed. Problem is the site now is in doubt.

A model shows it fitted into the present museum campus in Kalihi, replacing most of the present entryway buildings. Governor Cayetano, however, proposed in his State of the State speech that it be built at Kakaako, makai of Ala Moana, where he visualizes attractions for residents and visitors alike.

Among them would be a world-class aquarium and the existing Children's Discovery Center. He also wants the area to be the new site of the University of Hawaii Medical School and the state Health Department.

Beyond this, there is talk of the Kamehameha Schools being interested in the present museum campus as a locale for its offices that now are downtown and for Hawaiian organizations like the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Alu Like.

However things turn out, Castle Hall and the Science Learning Center commitment fit Bishop Museum's new public educational emphasis. This is what the museum's directors sought in 1984 when they recruited Duckworth from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Castle Hall brought with it the potential and structural flexibility to handle major public exhibits without disturbing the adjacent historic Hawaii Hall and its famous whale skel-eton hanging from its ceiling.

The "on hold" Science Learning Center proposal would replace the 40-year-old planetarium with one that is much bigger and has IMAX capability. It additionally would have expansive gallery space, a half-acre science garden, a conference center and an upgraded restaurant. Vicky Cayetano, Hawaii's first lady, is fund-raising chairwoman.

In the Duckworth years, the museum has evoked reams of media controversy -- partly because of personnel difficulties. Its re-direction is validated, however, in a strong re-accreditation report by the American Association of Museums.

The report approves the new emphasis on education and exhibitions. It also finds the research and collections functions of the museum -- its previous No. 1 emphasis -- remain very strong. These are staffed by nine anthropologists and 17 life scientists.

The museum calls its Biological Survey with more than 4 million specimens "the world's larg-est source for information on Hawaii's biological diversity."

BEFORE Duckworth, the Bishop Museum was losing money on a budget of only about $3 million a year. It now is narrowly in the black at $14 million. It was made the official state museum in 1988. This has brought with it appropriations of varying size -- $700,000 this year, up from $350,000 the previous year.

In 1988, the museum staged its first smash dinosaur exhibit, drawing crowds who didn't care that dinosaurs aren't Hawaiian. Overall, 20 traveling exhibits and 18 Bishop Museum exhibits have drawn 3.5 million people.

A cooperative program with NASA has brought in more than $4.5 million in support since 1997. Federal funds have supported a Hawaiian culture and arts program for 12 years.

Duckworth turns 66 this year. A national search will be made for a successor.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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