On February 13, 2021, the Indianapolis Museum of Art in Newfields posted a job advertisement looking for a new director. While their goal was to find potential applicants for recruitment, it provided further insight into marginalization within the recruitment process. What made this job description so volatile was finding someone who would help sustain “the museum’s traditional white core audience”. I first heard about this news when I scrolled through my Twitter feed and saw a tweet created by Donna Sink, co-host of the Archinector and Archinect Sessions podcast.
Donna provided a screenshot of the listing and followed an updated picture of the job posting with “corrections” the museum made a few hours after her tweet was posted. Sure, changes have been made, but the damage has already been done. Seeing a job description like this was disappointing and nerve wracking to say the least, but does it shock me? Incomplete.
9 am Saturday, February 13, 2021 Newfields is still actively looking for a director to maintain its “white core audience”. Screenshot from the M Oppenheimer Executive Search website. pic.twitter.com/JGgZmT1NiI
– Donna Sink, Architect (@DonnaSinkArch), February 13, 2021
While awareness and intent to dismantle white supremacist attitudes and racist acts against blacks, indigenous peoples and people of color has increased, it does not erase the reality that marginalized communities continue to face. The truth of living and working in spaces where one’s culture and existence are diminished, appropriated and erased is all too common.
I am a black woman, and after reading a job description presented in this way, I was surprised. However, I was quickly reminded that alleviating centuries of structural and institutionalized racism, especially in spaces like museums, requires much more than finding the “right person” to drive change and increase diversity. The social media architecture community expanded Sink’s contribution as they shared their thoughts on the subject.
The LA-based designer, educator, and co-president of the LA Forum for Architecture and Design Nina Briggs shared hauntedly in a tweet: “They believe that attracting a diverse audience and maintaining a white audience are mutually exclusive, and send both their disbelief that it can be and the tasty unicorn candidate they are looking for. ” Transdisciplinary designer, urbanist and design attorney Justin Garrett Moore added context to Newsfield’s “core white art audience”. In his tweet he included a map illustrating the location of the museum and its location in an area of Indianapolis with a large black population.
For those following the news of Newfield’s “core, white art audience”, I just want to mention that the location the museum is located in the “core” of Indianapolis has a large black population (green dots on map) . The postal code 46208 where the museum is located is 55% black. pic.twitter.com/46Sg8J8kuK
– Justin Garrett Moore (@jgmoore) February 17, 2021
On February 17, Newfields’ President Charles L. Venable announced that he was stepping down from his position. While his decision may also have been influenced by the 2,000+ calls and direct responses that insisted on his removal, the museum released an open letter in which they expressed their apologies and mistakes. Venable’s interview with the New York Times added context to his decision and use of the word “white” in the job description.
The decision to use “white” in the employment list was deliberate
“The decision to use ‘white’ in the job listing was deliberate and stated that it was meant to indicate that the museum would not leave its existing audience if it moved to greater diversity, equity and inclusion,” he shared with Sarah Bahr with the times. Added: “I deeply regret that the choice of language clearly did not help reflect our overall intent to build our core art audience by letting more people in the doorway. We tried to be transparent about that everyone who will do this. ” Applying for this job really needs to be dedicated to the DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) efforts in all parts of the museum. “At this point, however, Venable makes me shake my head in dismay.” This is a six-page job description, not a single point, “he told The Times.” We talk a lot about our commitment to diversity in a number of ways, from collections to programming right up to hiring. I sure can. “Say, if we wrote this again, with all the feedback we’ve received, we wouldn’t write it that way.”
His response made me think of architecture and its own employment trends. How does this what not to do example reflect companies looking to hire their “ideal candidate”? Not only are employers trying to find highly skilled architects and designers, but are they also secretly trying to check their DEI boxes, or are they providing some level of transparency to potential applicants?
I assume that, like most social mistakes that have been ridiculed in public, Newfields will continue to remedy the situation. Ultimately, however, their efforts are examples of a community whose dull awareness of the provision of jobs and spaces that reflect more than a colonialist’s view of the world is merely a reflection of how deep racism lies within institutions that are on record and preservation of history and culture.
Click here to read the full letter shared by the Newfields Board of Trustees and Board of Governors on February 17, 2021.