Newfields president steps down after controversial job posting

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INDIANAPOLIS — Dr. Charles Venable resigned Wednesday morning as president of Newfields, the Newfields Board of Trustees and Board of Governors announced.

Chief Financial Officer Jerry Wise will serve as interim president.

In a public letter, a group of employees of Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields asked the museum’s president to step down in response to a controversial job posting. The group says they don’t trust the leadership of Venable.

Last week, Newfields posted a job opening that said the museum was looking to attract a more diverse audience while “maintaining the museum’s traditional, core, white art audience.”

The museum has since apologized and changed the wording of that posting.

Employees say leadership ignored concerns about wording months ago.

Chrystal Ratcliffe, president of the Greater Indianapolis Branch of the NAACP, released a statement on Tuesday.

“As one of the nation’s oldest civil rights organizations, we continuously advocate for diversity of thought and expression in all artistic mediums to showcase the uniqueness of a multicultural world. However, these instances illustrate systemic issues are still prevalent at many organizations in our city.  The time is overdue for organizations to have uncomfortable but necessary conversations while reviewing their practices and policies, and then create a plan with accountable remedies to eliminate systemic racism through not only their words, but their actions.”  

The Newfields Board of Trustees and Board of Governors released a letter Wednesday afternoon announcing Venable’s resignation.

“We are sorry,” the letter reads. “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.”

The Board of Trustees and Board of Governors says they 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,” the letter continues. “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.”

Newfields leadership says they plan to publicly share a detailed action plan with specific deadlines in the next 30 days.

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