Indy reacts to Newfields leader’s resignation after ‘white audience’ job listing

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Newfields’ president has resigned after a controversial job listing that explained one of the job duties as “maintaining the Museum’s traditional, core, white art audience.”

The boards of trustees and governors for the Indianapolis nature and arts museum said in an announcement that it accepted the resignation of Charles Venable on Wednesday morning.

The most recent tax filing on the Newfields webpage shows Venable made more than $750,000 per year. The filing covers July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019, and was signed and filed in May 2020.

A former associate curator at the museum named Kelli Morgan resigned in 2020 after experiencing what she said was a toxic and racist environment. Morgan said these changes — which came after a restructuring of the leadership announced in early February — make her feel hopeful about the future.

“It is slap dab in the middle of two of the most prominent Black communities in the city. It’s like Fort Knox, where it’s walled off from those people. That’s what’s next. It’s bringing down those walls and opening those gates,” Morgan said.

Chris Suskovich bought a membership to Newfields for he and his wife for Valentine’s Day. After hearing the news of the controversial job posting, he immediately began the work to cancel his membership.

“I couldn’t contribute in good conscience to an organization that would publish something like that. I mean how many eyes were laid on that job posting. That is not a low-level position. That was essentially their second-in-charge,” Suskovich said.

He says Venable is not the only person who needs to be held accountable for the posting. “If the board can resign, I would gladly return as a member.”

Nathaniel Rhodes and Jarrod Dortch are artists who worked on the Black Lives Matter mural downtown over the summer. While neither says that the verbiage of the posting surprised them, they do say that it brought to light the issues that they spent much time advocating and fighting for over the summer.

“Nothing has changed and there are still people like him in positions of power,” Rhodes said.

“It also just reiterated the fact that their is still a lot of work that needs to be done as it comes to spaces for African American multi-cultural artist and caring for their art for the long term,” Dortch said.

Rhodes says Newfields’ promises sound nice, but he says the Black community is going to need more than a promise to move forward. “Their open letter that they put out … I think, we need to see action put behind the words. It is kind of like throwing a child a toy and kind of being like, ‘OK, here you go, go play.’ It is just kind of something to try and satisfy us for the time being.”

Letter from Newfields board of trustees and board of governors

“We are sorry. We have made mistakes. We have let you down.

“We are ashamed of Newfields’ leadership and of ourselves. We have ignored, excluded, and disappointed members of our community and staff. We pledge to do better.

“For those expressing outrage and frustration—we are listening. We are taking action immediately in the following ways:

“This morning, we accepted Dr. Charles Venable’s resignation as President of Newfields. We thank him for his service and agree that his resignation is necessary for Newfields to become the cultural institution our community needs and deserves. Chief Financial Officer Jerry Wise will serve as the Interim President of Newfields.

“We will engage an independent committee to conduct a thorough review of Newfields’ leadership, culture and our own Board of Trustees and Board of Governors, with the goal of inclusively representing our community and its full diversity.

“We will review and expand the current admission policy to include additional free or reduced-fee days to increase access to Newfields and ensure that Newfields is accessible to all members of our community.

“We will form a city-wide community advisory committee consisting of artists, activists and members of communities of color whose primary function is to hold leadership accountable to these goals.

“We will expand curatorial representations of exhibitions and programming of/for/by Black, Latino/a/x, Indigenous, Women, People with Disabilities, LGBTQIA, and other marginalized identities.

“Our Boards, Newfields full staff, and volunteers will participate in ongoing anti-racist training using a developmental approach and assessment.

“As we guide the organization through this crucial process, we will listen to and partner with members of the community. Newfields is yours and we pledge to make the necessary changes to ensure we can regain your trust and respect. We commit to being held accountable, as we hold the institution accountable, to ensure that Newfields is diverse, equitable, accessible and inclusive.

“In the next 30 days, we will publicly share a detailed action plan, with specific deadlines, for each of the commitments made above.


“The Newfields Board of Trustees and Board of Governors”

Below is previous coverage from Feb. 16, 2021.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A petition published Sunday is calling for the immediate removal of a member of Newfields leadership after the museum was criticized Saturday for a job listing that explained one of the job duties as “maintaining the Museum’s traditional, core, white art audience.”

The job description for 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.”

Among the demands on the petition aimed at Newfields are the immediate removal of director and CEO Charles Venable, changes to the museum board to represent the makeup of the nearby community, a change to the fee structure, changes to curatorial representation and anti-racist training for staff. 

The petitioners are also asking 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 done.

The petition also demands that the city to form a Community Accountability Board for the museum and a citywide “Equity Clause” to hold accountable any organization that gets city funding. 

More than 1,000 people had signed the online petition by Monday night, including a number of former employees of Newfields, as well as local artists and supporters of local art.