Cultural workers are demanding the resignation of the head of the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields after the institution advertized that it was looking for a new director who would work to attract a more diverse audience while maintaining its “traditional, core, white art audience.”
After coming under fire for the job posting, the Illinois institution has edited and apologized for the wording of the employment listing. But an open letter signed by nearly 500 cultural workers and members of the community is further demanding the resignation of its director and chief executive Charles L. Venable.
The institution has been looking for a new director since January as part of a leadership shuffle that will see Venable take on the role of president of Newfields, the museum’s wider campus.
Venable told the that the choice to use “white” in the job listing had been intentional. “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,” he said. “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.” He stressed that the job application was “a six-page job description, not a single bullet point.”
The signatories of the open letter, which include cultural workers, community members, former employees, and several anonymous staff members, see it differently. “We will not stand for performative measures, social media apologies, disingenuous recants of statements, virtue signaling, or blame shifting to third party vendors,” it said. They ask for Venable’s “immediate removal,” as well as inclusive representation on the board of trustees, among other demands for accountability and transparency from funders and the city of Indianapolis. It has gained 437 signatures by the time of writing.
Two guest curators for the museum’s upcoming exhibition “DRIP: Indy’s #BlackLivesMatter Street Mural,” which was scheduled to open in April, have also decided to step down following the controversy.
“Our exhibition cannot be produced in this context and this environment,” said Malina Simone Jeffers and Alan Bacon, who are co-founders of GANGGANG, an Indianapolis art platform that works to elevate artists of color. They told the that they have asked Newfields to apologize to all artists involved in the show and to allow them an expanded opportunity to show other works with appropriate compensation. In addition, the two asked for “an intentional strategy from Newfields to display more works from more Black artists in perpetuity.”
The news comes as museums in the US and abroad are facing urgent calls to diversify their staff, exhibition programs, and boards. The Indianapolis museum hired an associate curator of American art in July 2018 to help diversify the museum’s galleries, but curator Kelli Morgan quit last summer, citing a “toxic” workplace.