Lawmakers to scrutinize troubled arts agency

Published On: Dec 13 2013 05:17:00 PM HST

It costs nothing to walk into the State Museum located at the old Hemmeter building.

But it attracts only 74 people a month.

Lawmakers are questioning why taxpayers should keep shelling out a half a million dollars for a museum hardly anyone goes to.

One percent of all government construction money is set aside for public art.

"I think we can do better than that. We need to have more dynamic displays we need to change things up, we need advertise, to partner with Iolani Palace, Honolulu Museum, Bishop Museum. None of that is happening. Why?” said Senator Glenn Wakai.

Wakai said if those entities charge admission and can draw thousands more than  a free museum can, something is wrong with the picture.  

Wakai was astounded to learn that the Foundation has 5,000 pieces of art in its collection but more than a third of it sitting hidden away in storage.

"We are kind of hoarding, and hoarding, and building, and building the collection. If people do not want to look at this artwork, then we should look at opportunities to lease this stuff out," said Wakai.

Wakai says if it's the people's art, then the public should have better access.

The head of the troubled agency has thrown up her hands at what she says is resistance from her staff to try and do that.

 "Right from day one they have made it clear they will not take orders.

I have operated under a very hostile environment," said Laird Smith.

Laird Smith had been working with the state's IT staff to create a high resolution website with to make what's in the collection available to all.

To her surprise, the staff had created one of their own with low-resolution images that operates offline.

“They did it about four months ago, unbeknownst to me. And we are working a new website with information technology where you can click, look at the image and get information,  but contrary to that, staff had persisted with doing their own thing without telling me as director," said Laird Smith.

 aird Smith told KITV that errors with a recent exhibit that labeled a man as a woman wearing items incorrectly described could and should have been flagged and corrected before they became embarrassing.

All part of a trail of a troubled agency that’s soon to come under a magnifying glass.


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