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Indianapolis Museum of Art apologizes for insensitive job posting
The Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields has edited and apologized for an employment listing that said it was seeking a director who would not only work to attract a more diverse audience, but also maintain its “traditional, core, white art audience.” Lyndon French/The New York Times.

by Sarah Bahr

INDIANAPOLIS (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- The Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields has edited and apologized for an employment listing that said it was seeking a director who would work not only to attract a more diverse audience but also to maintain its “traditional, core, white art audience.”

The museum’s director and CEO, Charles Venable, said in an interview Saturday that the decision to use “white” was intentional and explained that it had been intended to indicate that the museum would not abandon its existing audience as part of its efforts toward greater diversity, equity and inclusion.

“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 DEI efforts in all parts of the museum.”

The museum subsequently revised the position’s description in the listing, which now reads “traditional core art audience.”

Venable said it was unfortunate that what he called the museum’s “core commitment to inclusion” was overshadowed by the word choice.

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

But, he added, “I can certainly say that if we were writing this again, with all the feedback we’ve gotten, we wouldn’t write it that way.”

Malina Jeffers and Alan Bacon, guest curators for the museum’s upcoming “DRIP: Indy’s #BlackLivesMatter Street Mural” exhibition, slated to open in April, said in a statement Saturday night that they had decided they could no longer do so.

“Our exhibition cannot be produced in this context and this environment,” Jeffers and Bacon, co-founders of GANGGANG, a local art incubator working to elevate artists of color, said. “We have asked Newfields to revisit this exhibition to include an apology to all artists involved, the opportunity for the 18 visual artists to show their other, personal works with appropriate compensation, and an intentional strategy from Newfields to display more works from more Black artists in perpetuity.”

“Until then,” they added, “GANGGANG will not continue as guest curators for this exhibition.”

The incident comes at a time when the museum’s workplace culture and support for artwork created by nonwhite artists have been under fire — and amid a national reckoning at institutions over how to reform work environments that have in the past excluded artists and employees of color.

Kelli Morgan, who was recruited in 2018 to diversify the museum’s galleries, resigned in July, calling the museum’s culture “toxic” and “discriminatory” in a letter she sent to Venable, as well as board members, artists and local media.

Morgan, who had served as the museum’s associate curator of American art, called the museum out for its lack of trainings to address racism and implicit bias, a “racist rant” by a board member that left her in tears, and an Instagram post that included a Black artist’s work in a racial justice statement without consulting him after the museum failed to substantially support an exhibit he had created.

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

Morgan, an independent curator and consultant in Atlanta, said in an interview Saturday that she was disappointed that, despite the fact that the museum had begun training leadership in diversity, equity and inclusion, it had still included the language.

“Clearly there’s no investment or attention being paid to what’s being learned or communicated in the training,” she said. “Because if there were, there’s no way a job posting would’ve been written like that, let alone for a museum director.”

Venable said the description was posted in January, when the museum began its search to fill the director position. Under the museum’s new leadership structure, Venable will serve as the president of Newfields, the museum’s 152-acre campus, and a second person will direct the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Venable, who has led the museum since 2012, has been criticized for catering to a popular audience with programming like an artist-designed miniature golf course at the expense of investing in traditional art experiences. He also instituted an $18 admission charge at the formerly free institution in 2015.

Although museums have taken recent measures to diversify their collections and programming in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody and the Black Lives Matter movement, Morgan said a critical understanding of and commitment to diversity at the nation’s arts institutions remains 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 until we deal collectively with the responsibility for discrimination, things like this will continue to happen.”

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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