Newfields has announced that President Dr. Charles Venable has resigned.
Newfields said they are “ashamed of Newfields’ leadership and of ourselves.”
INDIANAPOLIS–Dozens of staff members at Newfields are calling for the museum’s president to resign.
The letter, which was released Tuesday, is attributed to a group of 85 Newfields staff and stakeholders. It said the staff is “disheartened” by the museum’s lack of leadership in addressing racial equity. They call the museum’s response about a recent online job post “a symptom of a much larger problem.”
The letter goes on to say that while President Charles Venable managed to “financially stabilize” Newfields and get through the pandemic “without sacrificing employees to stay afloat,” staff members are frustrated by what they see as leadership breaking the trust of the community and “do not see a way forward if Dr. Charles Venable remains at the helm of our institution.”
The job description for The Melvin & Bren Simon Director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which had been posted sometime in January, was changed between Friday night and Saturday morning, according to the listing online, to remove the word “white” from the wording of this entry under the “exhibitions, collections and programs” section of the job duties:
-Maximize unique programmatic opportunities, working closely with the curatorial, education and public programs divisions to animate the permanent collection galleries in innovative ways that attract a broader and more diverse audience while maintaining the Museum’s traditional, core, white art audience; work in concert with the Director of The Garden and Park to ensure the creation and coordination of engaging art and nature programing in the Museum, Garden and Park.”
Newfields released the following statement Saturday:
Our audience – and most museums’ audiences – have historically been, and currently are, too homogeneous, and we are committed to changing that and intentionally diversifying our audiences. We deeply regret that in our job description, in our attempt to focus on building and diversifying our core audience, our wording was divisive rather than inclusive. Our intention is to continue to build an institution that is truly inclusive. It will be our challenge for years to come to continue building our diversity, equity, and inclusion in our hiring, programs, artwork, exhibitions, and more, and we are committed to doing so.
A petition published Sunday and signed by more than 1,600 people by Tuesday called for the immediate removal of Venable. Among those signers former employees of Newfields, as well as artists and supporters of local art.
The petitioners have also asked Lilly Endowment and other groups that provide funding to the museum to hold pending or future funding until changes are made and for the city of Indianapolis to hold funding from Arts Council grants until a third-party audit is complete.
Venable became the first-ever president of Newfields on Feb. 3 as part of the museum’s new executive structure. He was hired in 2012 as The Melvin & Bren Simon Director and CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Once he became president, he was responsible for finding someone to fill the director position.
You can see a full copy of the letter here.