September 24, 2023

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Museum of Art in Newfields released a job ad apologizing for what it was looking for a director who not only works to attract a more diverse audience, but also to maintain its “traditional core white art audience.”

The museum’s director and executive director, Charles L. Venable, said in an interview on Saturday that the decision to use “white” was intentional and stated that it was intended to indicate that the museum was not part of its existing audience Leaving his museum would encourage diversity, equity and inclusion.

“I deeply regret that the choice of language clearly did not help reflect our general intent to build our core art audience by welcoming more people in the door,” he said. “We have tried to be transparent about that anyone who is going to apply for this job really needs to be committed to DEI efforts in all parts of the museum.”

The museum then revised the description of the item in the listing, which now reads “traditional core art audience”.

Venable said it was unfortunate that what he described as “the museum’s key commitment to inclusion” has been overshadowed by the choice of words.

“This is a six-page job description, not a single bullet point,” he said. “We talk a lot about our commitment to diversity in a variety of ways, from collections to programming to hiring.”

But he added, “I can safely say that if we wrote this again, with all the feedback we got, we wouldn’t write it that way.”

The incident comes at a time when the museum’s working culture and support for artwork created by non-white artists has come under fire – and amid a national settlement at institutions on how to reform work environments that are in the past excluded artists and employees from color.

Kelli Morgan, 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 local media.

Morgan, who served as the museum’s associate curator of American art, drew the museum’s attention to a lack of training in combating racism and implicit bias, a “racial abuse” of a board member that made her cry, and an Instagram post included the work of a black artist in a Racial Justice Declaration without consulting him after the museum failed to materially support an exhibition he created.

Venable said at the time that he regretted Morgan’s decision and that the museum had taken steps to become more diverse, but that it would take time.

Morgan, who now works as an independent curator and consultant in Atlanta, said in an interview on Saturday that she was disappointed that despite the fact that the museum has begun training leaders in diversity, justice, and inclusion, the museum is still speaking the language have recorded.

“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 said the description was released in January when the museum began its search to fill the position of director. Under the museum’s new governance structure, Venable will serve as President of Newfields, the museum’s 150 acre campus, and a second person will direct the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Venable, who has run the museum since 2012, has been criticized for serving a popular audience with programs such as an artist-designed mini golf course at the expense of investing in traditional art experiences. He also introduced an enrollment fee of $ 18 at the formerly independent facility in 2015.

The museum will be opening an exhibit in April on Indianapolis’ # BlackLivesMatter Street mural created last summer. Morgan said, however, that a critical understanding and commitment to diversity in the country’s art institutions is still a long way off.

“Newfields is a very visible, very bad symptom of a much larger cancer,” she added. “Until the museum world is black and white and red and purple and we deal with responsibility for discrimination together, things like this will continue to happen.”