The Art Newspaper – Wrong about The Bishop Museum


An open letter to The Art Newspaper( 29 July) plus correspondence (5 August 2016)

Over many years I have accessed the Art Newspaper and when appropriate have either passed on links or have posted articles online that have links back to the Art Newspaper.

I have had the highest regard, as do my colleagues, for the articles published by the online newspaper. Till recently.

On seeing an article about the Bishop Museum in Honolulu – titled Turmoil at Honolulu’s Bishop Museum – Fears abound for the collection-rich, cash-poor Hawaiian institution – I became concerned and we contacted people we know in Honolulu, mainly to see if staff at the museum was OK and were surviving what was portrayed as very difficult circumstances.

It was the responses we received that really stunned us. More so than the original article that in itself was pretty amazing. We have learnt that the article contains serious misleading and incorrect information.

While the article mentions restrictions to access the collections, we have learnt that in fact access has been restricted for reasons that have been publicised –with the goal of making them more accessible to researchers and members of the public who cannot afford to travel to Honolulu for research.

According to information easily available – the museum’s collections can, in fact, be accessed by appointment. So while the library and archives are technically “closed” for digitisation and reorganisation, the museum has limited research slots–they just book up well in advance.

Other inferences about how the staff members are now employed are also misleading. The information about particular items being handed back etc, by being mixed in with other misleading information has created some inference that the museum has not handled this situation correctly. Such inferences it seems are totally misplaced and are in danger of doing damage to the museum and the staff that pride themselves in dealing with sensitive cultural objects.

Finally the article, while spending so much energy in criticising the museum, failed to note a significant fact about the current management of the museum.

The museum was originally founded in 1889 by Charles Reed Bishop in honour of his late wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last descendant of the royal Kamehameha family. The full title of the museum is Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum.

The point that the newspaper missed was that the interim CEO, LindaLee K. (Cissy) Farm, is the first native Hawaiian to occupy that position – and she is a woman.

It would have been a polite and intelligent thing for the article to have picked up on this event and made it a point of celebration.

Our sympathies go out to the staff who are under stress not by things happening from within the museum, but from having to deal with the number of people who were contacting the museum to see what was happening to their colleagues and beloved museum.

It seems that the article by The Art Newspaper was informed by sources not from the museum but by others whose motives are unknown – and who may have supplied misleading information. The conclusion to be drawn is that he article was not fact checked before publishing.

This now creates a doubt about all future such articles from The Art Newspaper. This is a shame and disturbing.

Till now The Art Newspaper has been highly regarded – it will be interesting to see how they respond to this open letter – interesting to see how they make good the damage they may have done to the staff at the museum.


useful links:

The Arts Newspaper   – The Art Daily –  The Arts Journal  –  ArtNews

and there’s other things happening in Hawai’i – click here

Paul Costigan, 29th July 2016


Response received 5th August

Dear Mr Costigan, as soon as I received your email and link to the post: open letter “The Art Newspaper – Wrong about the Bishop Museum”, I re-read the story we ran about the financial troubles and limited access to the collection of the Honolulu museum in our July/August issue. 

Having done so, and checked with sources, I do not accept that it “contains serious, misleading and incorrect information”, as you claim. 

Access to artefacts in the collection for researchers is currently limited, something that you acknowledge, albeit attributing it to an digitisation project.  

Moreover, the museum was given the chance to respond to our questions and Mr Blau’s concerns, and a spokesman did so, citing the size and diversity of the collection, as we reported. 

Regarding the museum’s leadership and finances, the circumstances surrounding the departure of its former director and chief executive, Blair Collis, have been widely reported as have the longstanding financial problems of the museum.

In the context of the story we did not feel the background of the interim chief executive was relevant. 

There is always more that can be said about a great institution, such as the Bishop Museum, such as the recent loan of artefacts to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art or refurbishment of its great hall around eight years ago. We look forward to reporting good news in future and, of course, wish its staff and trustees well. But as you know, The Art Newspaper has long covered museums that are facing challenging times, reporting in a balanced and accurate way why it matters. 

Yours sincerely,  Javier Pes, Editor


Our comment on the above  –  8th August

It is good that the newspaper responded – but – We do not accept the response from the Art Newspaper was adequate – they have avoided the key issues – they have not addressed the queries raised.

One has to look no further than the heading of the article: ‘Turmoil at Honolulu’s Bishop Museum – Fears abound for the collection-rich, cash-poor Hawaiian institution’. That heading set the tone and the context of reading the article.

The issue around the departure of the former director has been mixed in with other versions of the reality – to become an article that misrepresents the current workings and goings-on within the museum.

The reality is that the director has indeed left under a cloud – nothing unusual for museums. However the problem with the article is that it links that to other versions of other matters – which is where the misleading statements creep in.

In short – there is no turmoil – the change of director happened and the world moved on. There is no turmoil except in the minds of those who influenced the article.

The collection referred to is being digitised and is not as accessible as before – for the moment – but give it time and things will return to the normal – that’s what happens when such a task is undertaken…..

People had been warned of this and needed to make their request with ample time for the responses. This is how most museums operate – that they have cut off dates for requests – and if you do not allow for this one should not then turn around and inform others that the collection has become inaccessible. Not true – and a twisting of the reality of the situation within the Bishop museum.

And a comment on the statement “In the context of the story we did not feel the background of the interim chief executive was relevant. ”

Our first reaction was oh dear !! – another european arts person who has not understood the significance of an Hawai’ian being CEO at this museum.

The story would have been more balance had the writer pointed out the disruption (CEO leaving etc) was followed through with positive calming actions – in that the museum dealt with this through the appointment (interim) of a woman who is a local.

It is very relevant. What the writer missed – was that this action has a huge relevance to the museum, to Hawai’i and to anyone with an understanding of the politics of that appointment. Relevant? Definitely Yes!

More seriously the response has failed to address the hurt caused by the article to the staff of the museum.

The article has not addressed the issue that their ‘Murdoch’ style headline and the ‘News of the World’ attempt at scandal raising within the piece remains the core of the problem.

Please note again – there is no turmoil!

As we said before – The Art Newspaper articles may now have to be read with caution.


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