Newfields says it regrets describing its ‘core’ audience as white in job description

Indianapolis art and nature center Newfields issued a statement Saturday in which it expressed “deep regret” for a job posting in which it described a need to diversify its patrons while “maintaining the museum’s traditional, core, white art audience.”

The museum said the description—part of a post seeking a new director for the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which is part of the complex—comes out of an effort by Newfields to be “truly inclusive.”

However, it said the wording was “divisive rather than inclusive.” It has since updated the wording in the ad.

The museum posted its statement Saturday, after criticism of the job description exploded on social media.

The Arts Council of Indianapolis was among the critics, posting on Twitter that the group was “deeply disappointed and concerned by Newfields’ original job description.”

“The declaration of interest in maintaining their ‘traditional core, white art audience’ served to undermine their stated value of inclusivity and desire to ‘attract a broader and more diverse audience’ made in other parts of the description,” the council said. “Unfortunately we know this is not an isolated situation among our arts institutions locally or nationally.”

The position—the Melvin & Bren Simon director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art— was created as part of a reorganization of Newfields’ executive structure. The revamp moved Charles Venable, who has led the IMA and Newfields since arriving in 2012, into a newly established position called president of Newfields, with authority to appoint the new art museum director.

A Newfields spokeswoman referred IBJ’s questions to the organization’s statement. “We have nothing more at this time,” Mattie Wethington said an email.

But Venable told The New York Times that the use of the word “white” was intentional to indicate that the museum intended to continue to serve its existing audience, while also “building our core art audience by welcoming more people in the door.”

“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 [diversity, equity and inclusion] efforts in all parts of the museum,” Venable told The Times.

When Newfields announced the leadership restructuring on Feb. 3, it said the IMA director would “manage the day-to-day operations of one of the oldest and largest art museums in the country, including its exhibitions, public programs, art acquisitions and community outreach.”

Newfields hired mOppenheim, an executive search firm specializing in not-for-profit organizations, to help it find the art museum’s new director. The job description is posted on the mOppenheim website.

The controversy comes about six months after an Indianapolis Museum of Art curator—who was recruited to help diversify the museum’s collection—resigned and accused the museum of discrimination. Kelli Morgan, who held the title “associate curator of American art,” called the museum’s culture “toxic,” according to a story in The Indianapolis Star posted July 18.

“I’m doing the work, and, like, nothing’s coming of it in terms of what the institution says it wants and says it wants to do and has this ‘core value of inclusivity,’” IndyStar quoted Morgan, an African American art specialist, saying.

Venable

Venable said then that, “I too wish an institution like Newfields could move more quickly, especially on such important matters, but in my 30-plus-year career I have seldom seen that happen,” he wrote.

Recently, Venable told IBJ that he has been working with the Newfields board “to figure out ways how to broaden and diversify the audience for Newfields, as well as how we can do our share in terms of the city to make Indianapolis more of a tourist attraction than perhaps it’s been in the past.”

Events like Winter Lights and a new Harvest festival have been part of that effort. But he said that “it has been harder to figure out new ways to try to attract more people and more diverse people into the art museum itself.”

“And that’s because art museums often are off putting to the average individual who don’t think they know enough about art to really enjoy those experiences or feel welcome in those experiences,” he said.

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17 thoughts on “Newfields says it regrets describing its ‘core’ audience as white in job description

  1. Yep! Just showing there true Leftist and Liberal colors of the local elites.

    If any tax dollar are received by such organizations they should be stopped now.

    Why couldn’t they just start doing the right things to attract the attention of a diverse crowd and not say a thing?

    Being a bleeding heart SJW for a marketing ploy backfired big time.

    Play the race card and get burned!

    1. The IMA is a “Leftist and Liberal” organization? Hahahahahahaha! Thanks for the laugh, Darrell!

      Now, don’t you have some “Q” conspiracies to spread?

  2. ‘But Venable told The New York Times that the use of the word “white” was intentional to indicate that the museum intended to continue to serve its existing audience, while also “building our core art audience by welcoming more people in the door.”’

    “Venable said then that, “I too wish an institution like Newfields could move more quickly, especially on such important matters, but in my 30-plus-year career I have seldom seen that happen,” he wrote.”

    Tone-deaf much? Maybe they should look to him as part of the problem.

    1. I don’t know why it would. Most museums in most cities are struggling with this. Would you say San Francisco is Mississippi on the Bay?

  3. Newfields has struggled for sometime with it’s inability to define itself as an art museum vs an overpriced entertainment venue. It’s been a long time since it was destination the caliber of similar sized museums in the US. It’s shifted focus away from its core – ART, while eliminating programs such as Asian Arts Society, Horticultural Society, Contemporary Art and Fashion Art Societies. When you’re shunning your members and selling off collections, your purpose is not the ART. When I think of the time, effort and money my parents and others committed to the advancement of the IMA, I’m sickened.

    1. Shifting away from its core—ART— began with the exit of Maxwell Anderson and the entrance of Charles Venable. He has made a laughing stock of a once desirable art destination with the addition of miniature golf, beer gardens, winter light shows, yoga, etc while he sells off art, purchases little to no new art, has fewer special exhibitions, and builds a wall around the grounds to keep the less privileged out. It’s insulting. He feels that the locals cannot appreciate art but need the “dumbed down” entertainment venue that he has provided. He needs to go.

  4. exhibit still, but I respect our group’s decision not to do it. Imho, people make mistakes, and I don’t think anyone should be fired or lose an opportunity to do an exhibit over a lousy sentence in a job description. Number one, next time—write GOOD sentences.

    Next time—have someone skilled in diversity READ EVERYTHING you send out. Hell, I’m available. I have two decades of experience as a writer and four decades of experience as a BLACK artist—and almost 50 years of experience—as a BLACK person living in Indiana. I would have caught that in a New York minute, changed it—and kept it moving. Instead of “core white audience,” I would have used ” art-loving audience with disposable income.” THAT’S who Newfields needs to reach post-COVID-19. If they want to get that audience—they should talk to people like me.

    Number two, some of the BLM muralists still would LIKE to DO an exhibit in a 138-year prestigious Midwesrten art institution. I don’t care about hurt feelings—I want Black art (specifically MY art) in prestigious art institutions—that’s what I want. So now, we still don’t have the diversity in the art institution’s programming—wonderful. Somewhere Mike Pence (where is he?) is smiling, no doubt.

    Thank GOD Rosa Parks didn’t let a “lousy sentence” stop her from taking her seat upfront and making positive change in America. My letter was about empowering Black Americans to VOTE. Learn more here: https://youtu.be/B8X1MzieHps

  5. As one of the eighteen Indianapolis BLM muralist, I would like to do the exhibit still, but I respect our group’s decision not to do it. Imho, people make mistakes, and I don’t think anyone should be fired or lose an opportunity to do an exhibit over a lousy sentence in a job description. Number one, next time—write GOOD sentences.

    Next time—have someone skilled in diversity READ EVERYTHING you send out. Hell, I’m available. I have two decades of experience as a writer and four decades of experience as a BLACK artist—and almost 50 years of experience—as a BLACK person living in Indiana. I would have caught that in a New York minute, changed it—and kept it moving. Instead of “core white audience,” I would have used ” art-loving audience with disposable income.” THAT’S who Newfields needs to reach post-COVID-19. If they want to get that audience—they should talk to people like me.

    Number two, some of the BLM muralists still would LIKE to DO an exhibit in a 138-year prestigious Midwesrten art institution. I don’t care about hurt feelings—I want Black art (specifically MY art) in prestigious art institutions—that’s what I want. So now, we still don’t have the diversity in the art institution’s programming—wonderful. Somewhere Mike Pence (where is he?) is smiling, no doubt.

    Thank GOD Rosa Parks didn’t let a “lousy sentence” stop her from taking her seat upfront and making positive change in America. My letter was about empowering Black Americans to VOTE. Learn more here: https://youtu.be/B8X1MzieHps

    1. John M: You had me agreeing with you and understanding your position until you decided to drag Mike Pence into it. That’s too bad; what the hell has Mike Pence got to do with it; is he on IMA’s Board of Directors or something? Did he write or approve of the job description composition and subsequent posting? If you’re gonna hate someone “just because,” it’s better to keep that to yourself if you want to be understood and your opinion respected.

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