Meet Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum President and CEO Melanie Ide.
JUST LIKE HER GREAT GRANDPARENTS WHO WORKED HAWAI‘I’S PLANTATIONS, MELANIE IDE IS WORKING TO DRAW SOMETHING SWEET FROM THE LAND. Her family’s crop was sugar, but as the newly appointed president and CEO of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Ide’s crop is culture—the customs, art, social institutions and intellectual achievements that form the flavors of nations.
She and her team are working to “identify, preserve and perpetuate the cultural and natural legacy” that make the museum “the primary resource for Hawai‘i and the rest of the Pacific.”
Ide, 57 years old, also wants to grow museum attendance from around 200,000 annually to at least one million—a goal she doesn’t think is insurmountable if she and her team are able to increase awareness of the museum’s treasures.
“We have the real material here. We have the authentic stories and treasures,” Ide says. “There’s no reason why we can’t grow attendance. In fact, I’m more concerned about when we become over- run. I come from New York where we get three to five million visitors annually in a place like this.”
Assuming leadership of the Bishop Museum is a natural fit for Ide, who has
been in love with architecture and museums since she was a child growing up in California’s Bay area. While she was raised in California, and spent the better part of her adult life in New York City, Ide’s family ties to Hawai‘i go back four generations on both sides. She spent summers at her maternal grandparent’s house in Kawailoa, the Wailua Sugar Mill plantation community.
She says her parents, Kazuyoshi Ide and Tokiko Nishida Ide, instilled in her a deep appreciation for Hawai‘i—both the place and its people.
While Ide’s 30-year career as an architect and then a specialist in museum design, planning and urban development has taken her around the globe, she says she was always connected Hawai‘i. That’s why in 2005, as principal of Ralph Appelbaum Associations (RAA), she jumped at the chance to add Bishop Museum to her impressive client list.
From 2005-2014, she lead the RAA team in restoring and reinterpreting Bishop Museum’s Hawaiian and Pacific Halls and executing the first phase of the museum’s master plan, which is slated to be completed shortly. She designed the exhibits’ conceptual framework to reflect a native point of view. Instead of showcasing the collections in chronological order, they
While Ide was raised in California and spent the better part of her adult life in New York City, her family ties to Hawai‘i go back four generations.
are separated by important host culture concepts like Hawaiian gods, legends and the beliefs that are at piko, or center, of the culture.
The decision to take that tack was both cutting-edge as well as intuitive. Perhaps that’s why, Ralph Appelbaum, founder of RAA, describes Ide as “a courageous leader that radiates an inner creative strength combined with a natural ability to nurture others.”
Ide says in terms of professional satis- faction, Bishop Museum ranks high on her list of signature projects, including work at the American Museum of Natural History, the United States Capitol Visitor Center and the National Museum of African American History & Culture.
“My appreciation for Hawai‘i deepened and I learned things that I hadn’t known before. I was drawn to the Bishop Museum, which has a long, long history. It’s 130 years old,” she says.
“Having worked in museums around the world, this is just the greatest museum,” Ide says.” We’re in the top 10 in the world for natural history and culture, the top 5 in the country, and we’re No. 1 in the Pacific. “
Ide says she kept up with Bishop Museum long after the bulk of her work at Bishop Museum was completed.
Ide says she decided to step in after realizing that conditions were worsening beyond what already had been about a decade of furloughs. Also, she feared that two of the museum’s assets, the Waipi‘o Valley lands and the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Kona, going to be sold. While the garden has been listed, for now, the Waipi‘o Valley lands will stay among the museum’s holdings.
“People think that museums are here and that they’ll always be here, but they
need support,” she says. “We’re not part of the Bishop Estate, but 9 out of 10 people think that we are, and that makes fund raising challenging.”
Heather Giugni, a member of Bishop Museum’s executive search committee, says the board believed that because of Ide’s previous work with the museum, that it would flourish under her leadership.
“Melanie is serious business. She is goal-oriented and driven. But her strength, in my opinion, is that she is a listener. She is patient, inquisitive, focused and clearly loves challenges,” Giugni says.
Ide brings a quiet yet powerful leadership style to the museum, she says.
For someone that spends so much time preserving the past, Ide’s definitely focused on the future.
“The purpose of the museum, the purpose of preserving the record is about forward movement. If we don’t preserve what we have in a particular collection it’s like erasing the hard drive,” Ide says.
Ide says the museum is incredibly important for the perpetuation of the Hawaiian and Pacific culture and the work that is being done behind the scenes is contributing to the understanding in Hawai‘i and elsewhere of how to live a sustainable future.
“Some of the biggest challenges of understanding ocean systems and climate change and habitat loss and ecosystems health and human health— that’s all a part of what we do here. We’re also trying to help cultivate sustainable tourism,” Ide says.
“Museums really aren’t about the past, they are about the future. Everything here is about how we move forward, it’s our job to make that accessible.”