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Newfields President Resigns Amid Outrage Over 'White Art Audience' Job Posting

Robert Indiana's "Love" sculpture outside the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Robert Indiana's "LOVE" sculpture outside the Indianapolis Museum of Art. (Serge Melki, Wikimedia Commons)

The president of the Newfields art campus in Indianapolis resigned Wednesday after dozens of staff members signed a petition calling for him to go.

Museum officials said they accepted Charles Venable’s resignation Wednesday morning.

The petition followed a job posting for a new director position that referenced maintaining the Indianapolis Museum of Arts’ “core, white art audience.”

The San Francisco-based m/Oppenheim executive search group posted the ad in January.

It has since been changed to say the museum seeks to “welcome and embrace a more diverse audience” while maintaining its “traditional core art audience.”

The Newfields statement said CFO Jerry Wise would serve as interim president.

 

Venable’s departure comes after dozens of staff member at Newfields and the Indianapolis Museum of Art began circulating a petition calling for him to leave.

A second letter signed by nearly 2,000 artists and other stakeholders called for a pause on funding to Newfields absent changes in leadership and other areas.

One of the signers, Morgan Kelli, left in 2020 over what she called a "toxic" culture that alienated people of color and ignored their concerns.

"That is very unique to the institution," Kelli said. "There's not a real finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the broader art world, and the broader American society, even in Indianapolis as a city, when it comes to issues around race."

Kelli says the problem is leadership: Even before the latest controversy erupted on social media, she was hearing from former colleagues about the job posting.

"That's the other thing, staff has been pushing against this stuff internally for years," she said.

READ MORE: Newfields Regrets Reference To 'White Art Audience' In Job Description

Newfields officials initially said that their intention was to emphasize the museum’s ambition of growing non-white audiences without alienating its present, white visitors.

On Saturday, the institution expressed regret for the job listing, saying, "it will be our challenge for years to continue building our diversity, equity, and inclusion."

The following Wednesday, the Boards of Trustees and Governors issued a new statement saying that an independent committee would conduct a review of its leadership, culture, and boards.

Officials also say they will expand exhibitions and programming for and by Black and other marginalized communities and conduct anti-racism training.

This story has been updated. 

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