Indianapolis art museum apologizes for job posting that mentioned 'traditional, core, white art audience'

Indianapolis art museum apologizes for job posting that mentioned 'traditional, core, white art audience'

The Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields has apologized for a job listing looking for a new director who could bring in a more diverse audience but maintain the “traditional, core, white art audience.”

The New York Times reports Newfields's museum director and chief executive Charles L. Venable said in an interview that the wording of the job listing was intentional. He said the listing was meant to indicate that the museum would not abandon its existing audience as it sought a more diverse, inclusive crowd.

“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,” Venable said according to the Times. “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 D.E.I. efforts in all parts of the museum.”

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Guest curators for the upcoming “DRIP: Indy’s #BlackLivesMatter Street Mural” exhibition, Malina Simone Jeffers and Alan Bacon, told the Times that they could no longer stay on as guest curators. Simone Jeffers and Bacon are the founders of GANGGANG, an Indianapolis-based incubator that elevates artists of color.

“Our exhibition cannot be produced in this context and this environment,” Simone Jeffers and Bacon 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 continued, “GANGGANG will not continue as guest curators for this exhibition.”

The Times notes that former associate museum curator Kelli Morgan, a Black woman, resigned in July due to what she referred to as "toxic" and "discriminatory" culture at the museum.

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

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Morgan added that the incident at the Newfield museum was indicative of a larger problem in museum culture. As the Times notes, spaces such as museums have largely excluded people of color.

“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," Morgan said.

In July of last year, in the midst of renewed Black Lives Matter protests, multiple former Smithsonian staffer came forward with allegations of racism going back years at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art (NMAfA).

In a letter addressed to Lonnie Bunch III, the first Black head of the Smithsonian Institution, former staffers described a culture of racism that persisted through multiple different leadership changes.

“Recent events have brought deeper attention to systemic racism within museums across our country. In this spirit, we write to you to express our outrage about the current state of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art," the letter read. “Our goal is to collectively express our concerns and to engage in building an equitable and inclusive museum for our community.”

Updated on Friday at 8:26 a.m. to clarify that Morgan resigned in July.