USA, museum seeks director to maintain traditional white audience. President resigns

A blizzard is brewing in the U.S. over one of the country's most important museums, the Indianapolis Museum of Art: the ad for the new director in fact called for knowing how to "maintain the traditional white audience for art." The president resigns.

A highly questionable job ad has thrown a major U.S. museum into a storm and forced its president to resign. It happened in Indianapolis, where Charles L. Venable, president of the Newfields campus, where theIndianapolis Museum of Art is based, resigned following the emotional wave triggered by the job ad in which Newfields was seeking the museum’s new director.

Indeed, among the requirements in the lengthy pdf file with specifications for the position sought had been the ability to “maximize opportunities, work closely with the curatorial staff and the office of education and public education programs so as to enliven the permanent collection in innovative ways that succeed in reaching more diverse audiences and maintain the traditional, core white art audience.” In the final drafting of the file the announcement the adjective “white” disappeared (now it speaks only of “maintaining the traditional and fundamental audience for art,” without any reference to skin color), but by then the damage was done.

The museum was therefore met with vigorous protests. Among them was an open letter devised by an Indianapolis urban planner, Danicia Malone (formerly a member of the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Contemporary Art Society), which garnered as many as 1,500 signatures: the letter called on Newfields, in addition to the president’s resignation, to diversify the museum’s Board of Trustees, composed mostly of white people, to include representatives of the city’s African American and Native communities. But rising up against the museum’s announcement was not only the grassroots: outrage also came from artists, sponsors, the museum’s workers, and the curators of its exhibitions (two of the latter, Malina Simone Jeffers and Alan Bacon, in protest themselves resigned in turn, abandoning the projects they were pursuing for the museum). Even the former chairman of the Board of Trustees, John Thompson, had said it would be best if Venable resigned. Newfields workers (a group of 102 professionals) also wrote an open letter lamenting the “lack of a strong position in addressing racial equality.” And they too called for Venable’s immediate removal from office.

And the resignation punctually came, on Wednesday. Explaining the museum’s decisions was a letter from the Board of Trustees and Board of Governors, which begins, “We are sorry. We have made mistakes. We have let you down. We are ashamed of the leadership of Newfields and ourselves. We have ignored, excluded and let down members of our community and staff. And we promise to do more.” We learn from the letter that the two bodies have accepted the resignation of Venable, who is therefore no longer president of the museum. But that’s not all, because the two boards have made some promises: “we will commission an independent commission to conduct a strong review of Newfields’ leadership, culture, and the Board of Trustees and Board of Governors themselves, with the goal of representing our community and its full diversity in an inclusive manner; we will revise our admissions policy to include additional free or discounted days in order to increase access to Newfields and to ensure that Newfields is accessible to all members of our community; we will form a community council composed of artists, activists and members of communities of color, whose primary function will be to make sure that the board follows these goals; we will expand representation, among exhibition curators, of black, Latino, Native, women, differently abled, LGBTQIA and other minorities; and our Boards, Newfields staff and volunteers will participate in anti-racism trainings with a knowledge development approach.” The museum also announced that it will publicly share a detailed plan within 30 days.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art, as mentioned, is one of America’s most important museums, and the ninth oldest in the United States: in fact, it was founded in 1883, and has a collection of 45,000 objects spanning 5,000 years (and the venue that houses the collection is one of the largest in the U.S.). It is also one of the richest, being able to count on a budget of about $20 million (to give an idea, it is about one-fifth that of the Uffizi), compared to 442,500 visitors in 2019 (if it were an Italian museum it would be among the 20 most visited).

Pictured: one of the halls of the Indianapolis Museum of Art

USA, museum seeks director to maintain traditional white audience. President resigns
USA, museum seeks director to maintain traditional white audience. President resigns