Letter calling for removal of Newfields leader draws 1,200 signatures


More than 1,200 people have signed an online letter calling for the removal of Newfields President Charles Venable in the wake of a controversial job listing in which the Indianapolis art museum and nature center described a need to diversify its patrons while “maintaining the museum’s traditional, core, white art audience.”

After the job posting for a new director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which is part of the Newfields complex, ignited a social media firestorm on Friday, Newfields issued a statement Saturday expressing “deep regret” for the language. The wording in the posting has since been updated to remove the use of “white.”

But the apology has not slowed the outrage. As of early Tuesday morning, 1,205 people had signed a letter calling for Venable’s immediate removal and for several other changes at the cultural institution. Culture and arts workers, community members, former employees and anonymous staff members were among those signing the letter.

In addition to demanding Venable’s ouster, the letter called for Newfields to:

– change the board of trustees makeup to include more diverse representation;
– overhaul its admission policy to include more free or reduced-fee days;
– expand curatorial representations of exhibitions and programming to include more diverse offerings;
– make staff and volunteers participate in “anti-racist” training;
– form a community accountability board.

The letter also calls for an immediate hold on funding to the museum from Lilly Endowment and other funders to be put on hold until changes are made at the director and board level.

Danicia Malone, director of programs and facilities for the Black Cultural Center at Purdue University, started the letter and was the first to sign it. She said artists and cultural leaders must call out “egregious examples of racism and bigotry before they do more harm.”

The Newfields board of directors met Monday to discuss the situation, but members declined to answer questions about the meeting.

Newfields officials also declined to discuss whether changes were in the works.

“When I know more, I’ll follow up,” Newfields spokeswoman Mattie Wethington said.

The Central Indiana Community Foundation and its affiliates—The Indianapolis Foundation, Hamilton County Community Foundation and Women’s Fund of Central Indiana—issued a statement Monday urging the “Newfields’ board of trustees to take this moment of racial reckoning as an opportunity to urgently commit to diversify its organization and leadership in an authentic way where People of Color and people of other under-appreciated groups are represented and have real power to make change.”

The controversial wording was a bullet point in a six-page job description that also said the museum was working to attract a more diverse audience.

Venable said the decision to use “white” had been intentional to show the museum wouldn’t abandon its existing audience as it works for more diversity.

“I think the fact you can read that one sentence and now reading it as a single sentence or a clause, I certainly can understand and regret that it could be taken that way,” he told The Indianapolis Star. “It certainly was not the intent at all.”

Still, Malina Simone Jeffers and Alan Bacon, guest curators for an upcoming exhibit called, “DRIP: Indy’s #BlackLivesMatter Street Mural,” said Saturday that they would drop out over the posting and asked the museum to apologize to other Black artists. They run GANGGANG, an Indianapolis-based art incubator for artists of color.

Another critic was Kelli Morgan, a Black former associate curator who was hired to diversify galleries but resigned over the summer citing a toxic and discriminatory work environment. She said the wording illustrates an incorrect sentiment that raising up art from African or Indigenous artists would somehow exclude white people and that words like “traditional” and “core” were also stand-ins for white.

“The entire job description is chock full of diversity language, but it’s completely disconnected from what that language actually means because if you were invested, if you care, right, if you were knowledgeable about all this DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) language that you’ve got up and through this job description, that sentence would have never been there,” Morgan said. “You can’t do both.”

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24 thoughts on “Letter calling for removal of Newfields leader draws 1,200 signatures

  1. The reality is there are a lot of people who are disenchanted with Venable for the direction the IMA has gone in over his tenure, and this screeching over diversity is just a beard for an attack on him. Whether one agrees with the strategic choices he has made or not (criticism of that is part of the deal), a job post that states the plain fact of which group is the IMA’s prime source of visitors and money while desiring to broaden that should not be controversial. The museum and its board should not cave to the mob.

    1. I’m an enemy of cancel culture but the fact is, it was utterly stupid for IMA to even consider language like this to begin with. It sounds like something written by a lawyer or a pretentious bureaucrat who thinks every ‘i’ and ‘t’ have to be explained in painful detail. Of course Newfields is trying to diversify its audience. Of course it’s going to try to retain its current majority audience while attracting new guests. Why even consider the offending language necessary for the job description? Complain all you want about the ‘cancel culture’ but common sense should have prevented inclusion of this language to begin with, and anyone who came in touch with this job description was out of touch.

  2. Cancel culture mob should not win this one! People make mistakes, organizations make mistakes, etc. Violent minority criminals make mistakes and they become glorified, have murals painted of them, they become heroes. The hypocrisy must end!

    1. Way to draw stereotypes, Michael Q. You just proved the point about insensitive language and lack of understanding. Wow. Stop talking.

  3. Three words—core white audience—amazing the power of language. Three little words and all of this drama. Imho, he should not be fired, a mistake was made. Newfield’s should be allowed to learn and grow from this mistake. People are mad, and rightfully so, but this can be fixed—the people in charge and the people who want change just need to work together to fix it.

    1. Since the “Q” might be the first initial of Michael Q’s last name, Grant S’s post should be deleted and he be reprimanded. Inexcusable.

    2. Not trying to cancel you, Grant S….just hold you accountable for a potential insult to a man’s name. Post as you wish, but don’t equate a man’s surname initial with a radical group, the tenets of which he may not subscribe. (Does the “S” initial of your last name stand for Socialist?”)

    1. EH? And what cult would that be, GM? I know virtually nothing of Qanon other than it being an extremist right-wing group (I think…).

  4. Hey Granty-boy (that’s about as much respect as you deserve). I employ hundreds of minorities in our businesses. I have several friends from all walks of life, races, religions, etc. I even dated three black women in my past before marrying my white wife (EEK!). I have plenty of black friends who are also sickened with where the world has come so quickly with this division and cancel culture. Look in the mirror at your own racism, because it isn’t here.

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