Academy of Arts director resigns
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
Stephen Little, whose efforts to raise the profile of the Honolulu Academy of Arts include a breakthrough exhibit of Bhutanese art and the popular Art After Dark program, has resigned as director of the art museum.
The academy is undertaking a national search to find a replacement.
Little, who had held the position since 2003, said in a news release that he is leaving "to pursue new creative and professional opportunities." He was unavailable for further comment.
Little, an expert on Chinese and Japanese art with extensive experience as a curator, will remain with the academy as a consultant through spring 2011.
Like many other arts and culture organizations, the academy has laid off staff and streamlined operations over the past couple of years to deal with the economic crisis. However, Lynne Johnson, chair of the academy's board of directors, said Little's departure had nothing to do with budget issues.
During Little's tenure, the academy presented several high-profile exhibitions, including "The Dragon's Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan," the first exhibition anywhere to focus on the Vaj-rayana Buddhist culture of Bhutan.
Little also saw the academy through its re-accreditation by the American Association of Museums, changes in its financial reporting system, an upgrade of its disaster plan, and the start of an ambitious effort to digitize its collection for online access.
"When (Little) ... came in, we knew the art academy was a special place, but — even though I don't think it was officially a part of his agenda — he let the broader world know how special we are," Johnsons said.
Johnson pointed to the glowing reception the academy's traveling exhibitions and other collected works have enjoyed in stops throughout Europe as evidence of the museum's enhanced profile.
Johnson also credited the Art After Dark program, started under Little's leadership, with engaging younger audiences.
Little "brought an excellent background and a real sense of excellence," Johnson said. "We didn't do anything unless it was top grade."