After the Indianapolis Museum of Art in Newfields faced controversy over a job posting seeking a director who could maintain its “traditional white core audience,” the institution’s president, Charles Venable, resigned.
“We apologize. We made mistakes. We let you down,” wrote the Museum’s Board of Trustees and Board of Governors in a notice on the museum’s website. “We are ashamed of the Newfields management and of ourselves. We have ignored, excluded and disappointed members of our community and employees. We are committed to doing better. “
In its letter, the museum said it would set up an independent committee to review Newfields’ leadership and work culture and vowed to diversify its curatorial staff and the programming it offers. Newfields also said it would review and expand periods of free or discounted entry, which was controversial during Venable’s tenure.
On the subject of matching items
The museum’s CFO Jerry Wise will serve as the museum’s interim president, and the board has promised a more detailed plan of action within 30 days.
Venable’s resignation marks the end of a controversy that came to a head last weekend when screenshots of the post went viral on social media. After many expressed anger at the listing, the museum changed the wording to read “core traditional art audience” and apologized for the original language.
Although the job advertisement sparked a mass public outcry and a petition for Venable’s resignation with more than 1,500 signatures, the museum staff had also spoken out against Newfields. Last July, Kelli Morgan, an assistant curator on American art, resigned from the museum. In a letter to Venable, Morgan alleged that Newfields promoted a “toxic” and discriminatory work culture and described “racist ramblings” from a board member. After Newfields apologized for the job posting, a group of 102 museum employees who went by the name Change Newfields called for Venable’s departure.
Venable joined the Indianapolis Museum of Art as a director in 2012 after holding senior positions at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio. While it has been under closer scrutiny over the past six months, Indianapolis locals and museum professionals across the country have for years voiced their concerns about Venable’s leadership, claiming that he in some way controlled the museum, which he later renamed Newfields has put financial success above community engagement.
[Did Charles Venable democratize Newfields or destroy it?]
When he got to the museum, Venable wanted to get rid of Newfields’ debt by 2026. One of the most important aspects of his strategy was to abolish the museum’s free entry policy in 2015. (That policy had been in place since 2007.) On this move, Venable turned off the museum’s 40-acre garden, forcing visitors to pay nearly $ 20 entrance fees to enter. According to a museum official, the election caused visitor numbers to decline and the museum’s audience to begin to distort “older, whiter, richer and fewer families.”
Venable also drew the wrath of staff when he had every object in the museum’s holdings classified using a system of letters. With the results, the museum would then begin to downsize its collection.
In addition to these two measures, there was a focus on blockbuster exhibitions, including on Bugatti cars and Henri Matisse. He also initiated the Winterlights Festival, where the flora in the garden was lined up with colored lights during the holidays and $ 25 was charged for entry. These programs outraged some who claimed Venable had lost sight of what made the Indianapolis Museum of Art so important: its holdings, widely believed to be rich and art-historically significant.
When the museum was renamed Newfields in 2017, CityLabs critic Kriston Capps wrote, “Venable turned a large encyclopedic museum into a cheap Midwestern boardwalk.”
Venable defended his decision to assemble blockbusters like this, telling ARTnews in 2019, “What is fair to say is that we are extremely disciplined in programming these shows.” The board of directors granted Venable a 10-year contract extension in 2016.
In the latest job posting looking for a new director, Venable was supposed to take on the role of president. He was previously director.
In his statement on Wednesday, Newfields pledged to fundamentally change the way of working and the work culture that makes it possible.
“As we lead the organization through this crucial process, we will listen to and work with members of the community,” said the museum. “Newfields is yours, and we are committed to making the changes necessary to ensure we can win back your trust and respect. We are committed to holding the institution accountable to ensure that Newfields is diverse, equitable, accessible and inclusive. “