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Newfields: ‘We deeply regret’ job description that cited ‘traditional, core, white art audience’

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Newfields apologized Saturday for a job description in a listing for director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art that explained one of the job duties as “maintaining the Museum’s traditional, core, white art audience.”

Newfields is an 152-acre campus on the White River in Indianapolis that includes the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park and the Lilly House, as well as an historic garden and properties Columbus, Indiana.

The job description, 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.”

A former associate curator at the museum, Kelli Morgan said she was not surprised by the posting. She resigned in 2020 after experience what she said was a toxic and racist environment. She doesn’t believe this was a typo but instead shows how out of touch they are.

“I think the intent in their minds was we want to be inclusive but we don’t want to exclude white people” said Morgan.

Musician Stacie Murphy visits Newfields often. She said she was disappointed by the posts and hopes things will change.

“It can no longer be business as usual. For organizations to actually change they have to do a personal inventory and do the internal work to examine the process that lead to these disparities.” said Murphy.

Both agree this issue is bigger than Newfields, and hope this is a step towards change.

“If this is what you want your leader to do. I totally don’t want to be there,” said Morgan.

“I want to see the institution learn from these mistakes and do that work. It’s not going to happen over night. It has to be a long term commitment,” said Murphy.

Newfields’ full statement on Saturday said they regretted that the “wording was divisive rather than inclusive” and that their intention was “to build an institution that is truly inclusive”:

“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.”

Newfields

The Arts Council of Indianapolis on Saturday said it was disappointed and concerned about the original job description, which “served to undermine” the museum’s “stated value of inclusivity,” saying the situation was a reminder that there is much work to do in the arts and culture sector to “make progress in racial equity and inclusion”:

We are deeply disappointed and concerned by Newfields’ original job description for the IMA Director. The declaration of interest in maintaining their “traditional core, white art audience,” served to undermine their stated value of inclusivity and desire to “attract a broader and more diverse audience” made in other parts of the description. Unfortunately, we know this is not an isolated situation among our arts institutions locally or nationally. While we are working hard to make progress in racial equity and inclusion across our arts and culture sector, we are frequently reminded just how much work we have to do. We want to believe this isn’t who we are, but this is exactly where we are. And it has to change.

Arts Council of Indianapolis

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