As a lifelong resident of Indianapolis, I have watched the city evolve and reinvent itself several times.
Cities reflect their residents, and the Circle City has always been poised and determined to thrive in the face of challenge. We are resilient and rise to moments of change with the conviction that what awaits on the other side is a city we will be even prouder to call home. We hold our leaders and institutions to a high standard, looking to them as a reflection of our communities.
The recent controversy around Newfields, one of Indianapolis’ most treasured cultural institutions, exemplifies just how deeply we care. It is a true sign of progress that the public dialogue around its leadership and the level of community engagement acknowledges Newfields’ recent momentum and our concerns that the momentum continues.
However, the dialogue also reveals a lack of support for the institution itself. It disregards Newfields’ staff, donors, institutional funders and volunteers—including trustees, governors and docents—who finance and humbly do the work of setting a leader’s ideas in motion. We simply seem to have lost sight of the fact that progress is never the work of just one person or even a few people.
As an institution, Newfields exists to preserve and share works of art and nature. Its collections, both indoors and out, represent centuries of history and the human experience. They have the exceptional ability to bring people together to contemplate the past, present and future. Art, in particular, encourages empathy as it demands we look at the world through another person’s eyes and experience.
Hundreds of people come to work every day and still hundreds more volunteer to nurture and care for Newfields’ art, gardens and grounds. Most, if not all, share the same high expectations and concerns about Newfields’ role in the community. From expanding Newfields’ programs and services and changing how it collects, exhibits and interprets art to evolving its hiring practices and internal culture, Newfields’ staff and volunteers are and will continue to be a driving force of progress and change.
Newfields’ value to Indianapolis is immeasurable. Its campus and walls hold the artifacts of our shared humanity, and the space and inspiration for understanding, debate and collaboration. As an institution, it deserves our respect, and its staff, volunteers, donors and institutional funders deserve our gratitude. Our museums, like our city, are a reflection of us. They evolve and reinvent themselves with determination and persistence.
Today, let us be reminded of the incredible power of art and nature to empower and inspire with knowledge, to facilitate a sense of individual and collective identity, and to create a more enlightened and empathetic society. The outlines of the path forward we seek with Newfields can easily be found within its walls.
Newfields is ours. We have an obligation to ourselves and future generations to engage with Newfields in a manner that preserves and protects its very existence.•
Johnson is a partner and executive committee member at Taft.