Saturday, February 27, 1999

Bishop Museum
loses funding,
cuts staffers

Exhibits and programs will
remain open, but many services
will be curtailed or eliminated

By Mary Adamski


Twenty Bishop Museum employees lost their jobs, and 12 had their hours reduced in the second year of cutbacks blamed on shrinking contributions and a severe cut in the museum's state subsidy.

The cuts, announced yesterday and effective immediately, brought the museum staff down to about 200 people.

The reduction will affect people who use the museum as an information resource. Researchers and scholars will no longer be allowed access to the museum's cultural and natural history collections, said Pat Duarte, executive vice president and chief operating officer. Fees will be charged for use of the archives and library, except for members of the museum auxiliary.

Fewer workers will make it "more difficult to accept calls," he said. "When it requires a scientist to do research to answer the question, we won't be able to do that unless they want us to investigate something on a contract basis. We will have to curtail whatever is not supported by grants.

"The care of the collections will continue. Nothing will jeopardize the collections."

The museum's exhibits and programs will continue to be open to the public, and all contractual and grant-related obligations will be fulfilled, according to the museum's announcement.

Duarte said about half the staff reductions were people who work on specific programs, and the other half were in support jobs, such as maintenance personnel. The Hawaii Maritime Center, a museum subsidiary, also is affected by the cuts.

Curtailment of services will last at least through the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

"We hope it will be temporary," Duarte said. However, workers were told not to wait for rehiring. "The greatest difficulty in addressing our current challenge is having to let go so many loyal and dedicated employees. This was a very difficult decision for the museum."

Museum President Donald Duckworth was not available for comment. He is in Texas on a business trip, according to a spokeswoman.

The museum's annual budget is about $11 million per year, of which about 33 percent is generated from entrance fees and other earned income. Some 43 percent comes from grants, mostly from the federal government and foundations. The state subsidy and support contributions account for 20 percent, Duarte said.

At the peak of state support, the museum received $2.4 million. Last year, the amount was less than $400,000. "Our request for this year was $1.7 million," Duarte said.

State support is vital, he said, because "what we sell costs more than we receive revenue for." When state money dried up because of the stalled economy, it affected the amounts of research grants since most grants require matching funds, he said.

A total of 23 positions were cut, including three vacancies which will not be filled.

Last year, 11 people were laid off, and nine vacant positions were eliminated.

In 1995, 25 positions were eliminated, and in 1996 officials discontinued its Family Sunday program, which offered free admission to residents on the first Sunday of each month.

Duarte said the staff is down about 60 positions from its peak, although he added "it's a little unfair" to make the comparison because the museum at the time was under a state contract to do archeological surveys along the H-3 freeway route and field workers inflated the numbers.

Duarte declined to list the exact positions cut, saying not everyone had been notified.

No executive or management positions were cut, he said.

"We are still positive about the future," he said. "We need to have a nucleus to build the museum and go forward. We need those people in place."

Contrary to popular belief, the Bishop Museum is not subsidized by the Bishop Estate. It was founded in 1889 by Charles Reed Bishop, husband of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, as a tribute to her and the Kamehameha family.

The museum was designated by the 1988 Legislature as the State Museum of Natural and Cultural History.

Star-Bulletin writer Burl Burlingame also contributed to this report.

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