February 28, 2024

INDIANAPOLIS – Charles L. Venable, president of Newfields, the 150-acre campus that houses the Indianapolis Museum of Art, has resigned after editing a tough job ad and then apologizing for a tough job ad on a recruiting page.

“We are ashamed of the Newfields leadership and of ourselves,” the museum’s board of trustees and board of governors said in a statement on its website Wednesday saying they accepted Venable’s resignation. “We have ignored, excluded and disappointed members of our community and our employees. We commit to do better. “

“We thank him for his service and we agree that his resignation is necessary for Newfields to become the cultural institution our community needs and deserves,” the statement said.

The 60-year-old Venable has been director and managing director of the museum since 2012. Earlier this year he assumed the newly created position of President of Newfields. Jerry Wise, the museum’s chief financial officer, will serve as interim president of Newfields.

The job advertisement, which has been posted on the website of the search company m / Oppenheim since January but only became known last Friday, said the museum was looking for a director who would not only work to attract a more diverse audience, but also to “ Maintaining Tradition “core, white art audience. “

A group of 85 Newfields employees and members of the Board of Governors released a public letter Tuesday calling for Venable to resign. More than 1,900 artists, local art guides and former museum staff also issued an open letter over the weekend requesting its removal. They asked the museum’s top funders to suspend financial support until reforms, including a more diverse board and curatorial staff, could be implemented.

Newfields said Wednesday that it would conduct an independent review of the museum’s leadership, culture, and boards of trustees and governors, adding additional free or discounted days to make the museum more accessible to the community. Other reforms include the formation of a city-wide community advisory committee, expanding the program to represent people with marginalized identities, and providing anti-racist training for staff, board members and volunteers.

Venable said in an interview on Saturday that the decision to use “white” in the job listing was deliberate, stating that this should indicate that the museum would not abandon its existing audience if it wanted more diversity, fairness and inclusion. The museum then revised the description linked in the listing, which now states that it wants to “welcome and embrace a more diverse audience” while maintaining the museum’s “traditional core art audience”.

Venable said drafts of the description were written and edited by both the museum and the search company.

The effects of the original listing were quick. The two guest curators for the museum’s upcoming exhibition, “DRIP: Indy’s #BlackLivesMatter Street Mural”, in April, said in a statement on Saturday evening that they would not be able to continue organizing the exhibition unless the museum apologized to the 18 artists involved and agree “Show more work by black artists on a permanent basis.” A member of the board of trustees resigned on Monday.

The incident was the latest controversy for Newfields, accused of excluding residents of the neighborhood with a large black population, and criticism of trumpeting the work of black artists without giving them substantial support during Venable’s much-discussed tenure. (The members of the board of governors and the museum’s board of trustees are predominantly white.)

Kelli Morgan, a former associate curator hired in 2018 to diversify the museum’s galleries, resigned in July, describing the museum’s culture as “toxic” and “discriminatory” in a letter to Venable, board members, artists and others “The local news media.

Morgan, who is Black, said in an interview on Saturday that while the museum began training its leaders in diversity, justice, and inclusion, it was disappointed that it still had insensitive language in the job description.

“It is clear that there is no investment or attention to what is learned or communicated in the training,” she said. “Because if it were, a job advertisement would not have been written like this, let alone for a museum director.”

Venable, a former assistant director of the Dallas Museum of Art and the Cleveland Museum of Art, had a controversial tenure at the helm of the Indianapolis Museum for nearly nine years. He has been criticized for introducing more popular experiences on campus, including an artist-designed mini golf course. His commitment to cost cutting led him to cut staff by around 11 percent and charge an entrance fee to the museum. Although Venable has a Ph.D. In American Studies at Boston University, it was his departure from traditional art experiences that made him unpopular in the community. He’s also messed things up with his curators giving each artwork in the museum a letter grade to shrink the collection and not pay for more storage space.

His departure comes at a time when other institutions are grappling with a reckoning of the race, including how to diversify white-majority staff, boards, and collections.

Last year, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art faced what employees called structural inequalities. Gary Garrels, formerly its chief curator, resigned in July out of anger among employees after using the term “reverse discrimination” in a Zoom appeal to all employees.

Venable said at the time of Morgan’s resignation that the museum had taken steps to become more diverse, but that it would take time. But now it will do so with a new voice at the helm.

“We undertake to make the necessary changes to ensure that we can regain your trust and respect,” the museum’s board of directors said in the statement on Wednesday. “We commit to being held accountable as we hold the institution accountable to ensure that Newfields is diverse, equitable, accessible and inclusive.”

The board said a detailed action plan with specific deadlines would follow within the next 30 days.

While members of the Indianapolis Black Art Community view Venable’s resignation as the beginning, they understand that this cannot be the end of the conversation.

“The CEO is just the head, and then there will be another head when he’s gone,” Josiah McCruiston, a local musician, told The Indianapolis Recorder, the city’s black newspaper, on Monday. “You have to deal with the basic situation before you can start picking the fruit.”

Robin Pogrebin contributed to the coverage.