The Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields has apologised for and amended a job listing it posted last month saying that it was seeking a director who would seek to maintain its “traditional, core, white art audience” as well as attract a more diverse one.
The wording has been changed to remove the word “white” amid a backlash from critics including guest curators for a planned exhibition at the museum titled Drip: Indy’s #BlackLivesMatter Street Mural. The two curators, Malina Simone Jeffers and Alan Bacon, who oversee GANGGANG, an Indianapolis-based art incubator for artists of colour, said on Saturday they could not continue in their roles and asked the museum to apologise to all of the artists involved in the show and to embrace a strategy for displaying “more works from more Black artists in perpetuity”.
Charles L. Venable, the museum’s current director, told The IndyStar that the original intent behind including the word “white” was to indicate that the museum would not abandon its existing core audience even as it strives for more diversity. The six-page job description is replete with references to attracting a more inclusive audience.
"I think the fact you can read that one sentence and now reading it as a single sentence or a clause, I certainly can understand and regret that it could be taken that way. It certainly was not the intent at all," Venable said.
"We're now hearing feedback saying that ... people commenting didn't get what our intent was. So we've taken that feedback and we will refine that language."
The museum also issued a statement saying: “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.” A torrent of derisive comments followed on Facebook.
The search for a director overseeing exhibitions, public programmes, acquisitions and community outreach is being undertaken as Venable assumes the title of president and devotes more time to fund-raising and other financial matters.
The offending language was included on the fourth page of the job description, disseminated by an executive search firm. It said the person hired would need to "maximise 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."
Between Friday night and Saturday morning, that bullet point was edited down to become more succinct and to read “the museum’s traditional core art audience".
Among those expressing dismay over the original posting was Kelli Morgan, who resigned last July as the museum’s associate curator of American art after being recruited to promote more diversity in the institution’s galleries. She accused the museum then of a “toxic” and “discriminatory” culture.
"The entire job description is chock full of diversity language, but it's completely disconnected from what that language actually means because if you were invested, if you care, right, if you were knowledgeable about all this DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] language that you've got up and through this job description, that sentence would have never been there," she told The IndyStar.