New museum head has the skills he needs
The selection of Dr. William Brown as the new head of the Bishop Museum signals and era of change and growth for the sometimes struggling institution.
Brown replaces W. Donald Duckworth, who led the museum for 16 years. During that time the Museum emerged from its Victorian reputation as a dusty repository of artifacts to a popular, attention-grabbing institution for learning, for entertainment and study.
But Duckworth's tenure was also marked by controversy over a shift away from in the pure research aspects of the institution and the constant struggle to make up for a decline in state financial support.
Brown brings an interesting mix of talents to the job. While he has museum experience, he also has a background in scientific and environmental research, as well as extensive experience in the business world.
And not coincidentally, Brown also has sturdy political credentials. He served as executive secretary of the U.S. Endangered Species Authority and as senior science adviser to former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit.
In short, Brown offers a mix of political, administrative and scientific talents that should help the Museum find its focus and mission. It is encouraging that Brown, who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Hawai'i, wants to re-energize ties between the Museum and the Native Hawaiian community.
The problem facing any administrator at the Bishop Museum is that of community expectations: We want it to be all things for all people. We want it to be a leading source of Pacific archeology and scientific study; we want it to be the premier repository of cultural, environmental, natural and human knowledge in the Pacific; we want it to be a popular and growing source of scientific education for the community; and we want it to be constantly changing and entertaining.
That is a massive order for any one institution to fill. Brown has the credentials to make the effort in each of these areas. He deserves our support.