Head Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, Charles Venable Resign

Director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Charles Venable resigned.

His resignation comes on the heels of a work announcement, in which the museum's core demographic was white, which was corrected, and followed by criticism from a trustee, some employees, and local artists.

After he had completed editing the post and then apologised for it, Charles L. Venable, the president of Newfields, the 152-acre campus that is home to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, has stepped down.

We're extremely ashamed of the leadership at Newfields and of our business, and this is why we accepted Venable's resignation," the board of trustees and board of governors of the museum said in a statement posted on the organization's website Wednesday. We have overlooked, excluded, and insulted members of our culture and employees. "We commit to doing better."

We express our appreciation for his service and concur that his resignation is appropriate for Newfields to be the cultural institution our community expects and needs.

Venable, 60, has led the museum as both director and CEO since 2012; he took on the additional responsibility of president of Newfields in April. Jerry Wise, the museum's CFO, will serve as the interim president of Newfields.

Venable, the owner and CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, declared his resignation on Wednesday after apologizing for an offensive work advertisement.
Venable, the owner and CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, declared his resignation on Wednesday after apologizing for an offensive work advertisement.

The job listing listed on the recruitment firm m/website Oppenheim's since January but was brought to light on Friday only said the museum was seeking a director who would not only increase the diversity of its audience but also retain the “traditional, core, white art audience.”

A party of 85 Newfields staff and board of governors members called for Venable's resignation on Tuesday. More than 1,900 artists, local arts representatives, and former museum workers all signed an open letter calling for his resignation over the weekend. The board of directors sent a letter to the museum's main funders, asking them to hold off on funding until a number of improvements, including a more diverse board and curatorial staff, could be placed in place.

Newfields, the parent company of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, announced on Wednesday that it would conduct an independent review of the museum's leadership, history, and board of trustees and governors, and expand the amount of free or reduced-cost days to help the community get access to the museum. Other reforms include establishing a citywide neighborhood advisory council, creating greater resources for those with marginalized backgrounds, and requiring anti-racist training for all involved in the organization, including board members and volunteers.

In an interview with Venable on Saturday, Venable said that the museum's decision to use "white" in the jobs listing was deliberate and that it signified that the museum would not abandon its current audience as it turned toward greater diversity, equality, and inclusion. After the museum had updated the definition connected in the listing, which now states that it aims to “welcome and embrace a more diverse audience” while retaining the museum's “traditional core art audience,” the item was changed again to read: "This museum seeks to welcome and embrace a more diverse audience while maintaining the museum's traditional core art audience."

Mr. Venable confirmed that the summary had both been written and edited by the museum and the search company.

Repercussions from the original listing were swift. In the forthcoming “DRIP: Indy's #BlackLivesMatter Street Mural” exhibition in April, two guest curators have declined to continue organizing the exhibition unless the museum apologizes to the 18 artists involved and promises to “always show more works by Black artists.”

Newfields has faced allegations of excluding residents of the area, which has a significant Black population, and criticism for hyping the work of Black artists while failing to financially help them during Venable's divisive tenure. (The board of directors and trustees of the museum are almost all white.)

After leaving the museum in July, former associate curator Kelli Morgan resigned, calling the community “toxic” and “discriminatory” in a letter she sent to Venable as well as to board members, artists, and the local news media.

In an interview on Saturday, Morgan, who is African-American, noted that while the museum had started offering leadership training in diversity, equality, and inclusion, she was disappointed that the job description contained offensive words.

"Obviously no investment or attention is being given to what is learned or communicated in the training," she remarked. “If there were, there would be no way for a job posting to be written in such a manner, nor for a museum director.”

It's no secret that Venable, who has been Indianapolis's director for nearly nine years, has had a controversial time in Dallas and Cleveland. He was condemned for bringing more well-known events to campus, such as an artist-designed miniature golf course. As a part of his cost-cutting steps, he cut the workforce by eleven percent and introduced an entrance fee at the museum. Though Venable has a Ph.D. in American Studies from Boston University, he was once mistrusted because of his deviation from conventional art activities. In addition, he disrupted the structure by having his curators award every artwork in the museum a letter grade, with the intention of pruning the collection.

His departure takes place at a time when other organizations have grappled with race-related problems, such as how to diversify white-majority employees, board, and collection staffs.

Over the last year, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has been grappling with systemic inequities among workers. In July, former head curator Gary Garrels resigned in the face of staff outrage due to his use of the word “reverse discrimination” in an all-staff Zoom conference call.

According to Venable, the museum had already taken measures to become more diverse, but that process would take time. However, it will be done now with a new leader in place.

In the statement made on Wednesday, the museum board pledged to make the required improvements to regain your confidence and respect. "We pledge to hold ourselves and the institution accountable to meet diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusiveness as demanded by Newfields."

A detailed course of action was said to proceed in the next 30 days.

Although members of Indianapolis's Black art group welcome Venable's resignation, they know it is just the beginning of the discussion.

Josiah McCruiston, a local artist, told The Indianapolis Recorder, the city's Black-owned newspaper, on Monday, "The C.E.O. is just the head, and then there will be another head when he's gone." “The cause must be addressed before picking at the fruit.”

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