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Indianapolis Museum of Art Apologizes for Insensitive Job Posting

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields has edited and apologized for an employment listing that said it was seeking a director who would not only work to attract a more diverse audience, but also maintain its “traditional, core, white art audience.”

The museum’s director and chief executive, Charles L. Venable, said in an interview on Saturday that the decision to use “white” was intentional and explained that it had been intended to indicate that the museum would not abandon its existing audience as part of its efforts toward greater diversity, equity and inclusion.

“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,” he said. “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.”

The museum subsequently revised the position’s description in the listing, which now reads “traditional core art audience.”

Venable said that it was unfortunate that what he called the museum’s “core commitment to inclusion” was overshadowed by the word choice.

“This is a six-page job description, not a single bullet point,” he said. “We talk a lot about our commitment to diversity in all kinds of ways, from the collections to programming to hiring.”

But, he added, “I can certainly say that if we were writing this again, with all the feedback we’ve gotten, we wouldn’t write it that way.”

The incident comes at a time when the museum’s workplace culture and support for artwork created by nonwhite artists have been under fire — and amid a national reckoning at institutions over how to reform work environments that have in the past excluded artists and employees of color.

Kelli Morgan, who was recruited in 2018 to diversify the museum’s galleries, resigned in July, calling the museum’s culture “toxic” and “discriminatory” in a letter she sent to Venable, as well as board members, artists and local media.

Morgan, who had served as the museum’s associate curator of American art, called the museum out for its lack of trainings to address racism and implicit bias, a “racist rant” by a board member that left her in tears, and an Instagram post that included a Black artist’s work in a racial justice statement without consulting him after the museum failed to substantially support an exhibit he had created.

Venable said at the time that he regretted Morgan’s decision and that the museum had been taking steps to become more diverse, but that it would take time.

Morgan, who is now working as an independent curator and consultant in Atlanta, said in an interview on Saturday that she was disappointed that, despite the fact that the museum had begun training leadership in diversity, equity and inclusion, it had still included the language.

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

Venable said the description was posted in January, when the museum began its search to fill the director position. Under the museum’s new leadership structure, Venable will serve as the president of Newfields, the museum’s 152-acre campus, and a second person will direct the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Venable, who has led the museum since 2012, has been criticized for catering to a popular audience with programming like an artist-designed miniature golf course at the expense of investing in traditional art experiences. He also instituted an $18 admission charge at the formerly free institution in 2015.

The museum is set to open an exhibit in April on Indianapolis’s #BlackLivesMatter street mural that was created last summer. But Morgan said a critical understanding of and commitment to diversity at the nation’s arts institutions remains a long way off.

“Newfields is a very visible, very bad symptom of a much larger cancer,” she added. “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.”

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