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Indiana Museum Head Resigns After Backlash To Job Post About Maintaining 'Core, White Art Audience'

Indiana Museum Head Resigns After Backlash To Job Post About Maintaining 'Core, White Art Audience'
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The head of The Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields stepped down on Wednesday after posting a job listing seeking a new museum director who could attract a diverse and inclusive crowd, yet maintain a "traditional, core, White art audience."

Located about three miles north of downtown Indianapolis, Indiana, the encyclopedic art museum is part of the 152-acre Newfields campus that also houses Lilly House, The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres, The Gardens at Newfields and the Beer Garden.

The resignation of Newfields's former museum director and chief executive, Charles L. Venable, came after receiving backlash for his intentional choice of wording in the controversial job post.

"I deeply regret that the choice of language clearly has not worked out to mirror our overall intention of building our core art audience by welcoming more people in the door," Venable told TheNew York Times.

The job listing read:

"Maximize unique programmatic opportunities, working closely with the curatorial education and public programs divisions to animate the permanent collection galleries in innovative ways that attract a broader and more diverse audience while maintaining the Museum's traditional, core, White art audience; work in concert with the Director of The Garden and Park to ensure the creation and coordination of engaging art and nature programming in the Museum, Garden and Park."


Venable—who was hired in 2012—added:

"We were trying to be transparent about the fact that anybody who is going to apply for this job really needs to be committed to D.E.I. efforts in all parts of the museum."

The organization posted the following letter of apology from the board of trustees and board of governors on the Newfields website.

"We are sorry. We have made mistakes. We have let you down."
"We are ashamed of Newfields' leadership and of ourselves. We have ignored, excluded, and disappointed members of our community and staff. We pledge to do better."

The organization accepted Venable's resignation as President of Newfields and agreed it was "necessary for Newfields to become the cultural institution our community needs and deserves."

The board plans on launching an independent committee to:

"Conduct a thorough review of Newfields' leadership, culture and our own Board of Trustees and Board of Governors, with the goal of inclusively representing our community and its full diversity."

The boards also hope to "increase access" to the museum by adding more free or reduced-fee admission days to make the museum "accessible to all members of our community."

Malina Simone Jeffers and Alan Bacon—the guest curators for the museum's "DRIP: Indy's #BlackLivesMatter Street Mural" exhibition—announced they could not remain as guest curators.

Simone Jeffers and Bacon are the co-founders of GANGGANG—a cultural development firm based in Indianapolis that elevates artists of color.

Following the Newfields contentious job posting, Simone Jeffers and Bacon said their exhibition could not be produced "in this context and this environment."

"We have asked Newfields to revisit this exhibition to include an apology to all artists involved, the opportunity for the 18 visual artists to show their other, personal works with appropriate compensation, and an intentional strategy from Newfields to display more works from more Black artists in perpetuity."
"Until then, GANGGANG will not continue as guest curators for this exhibition."

The New York Times did note representation from artists of color was sorely lacking in spaces like museums, which is a problem Kelli Morgan, Newfields' former associate museum curator, is all too familiar with.

Morgan—who is a Black woman—stepped down in July after expressing concerns about a "toxic" and "discriminatory" culture at the museum.

When the news outlet reached out to inquire about her experience at the museum, Morgan said:

"Clearly there's no investment or attention being paid to what's being learned or communicated in the training."
"Because if there were, there's no way a job posting would've been written like that, let alone for a museum director."

Morgan added the Newfields incident was an indication of a larger problem in museum culture.

"Until the museum world is Black and white and red and purple, and until we deal collectively with the responsibility for discrimination, things like this will continue to happen."

According to the letter of apology on the website, board members, staff, and volunteers at Newfields will participate in "ongoing anti-racist training using a developmental approach and assessment."

Newfields will issue detailed action plans, with specific deadlines, for each of the commitments they outlined in the letter within the next 30 days.