Indiana Art Museums Denounce Homophobic Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Will donors change their minds about gifts to Indiana museums?

Charles Venable.
Charles Venable.

Indiana is making headlines with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has widely been interpreted as allowing Indiana businesses to decline to serve lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender people.

The Indiana arts community is outspoken in its dismay at the legislation, which was signed into law last week and goes into effect July 1.

“The Indianapolis Museum of Art is already seeing the fallout from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and it’s not good,” museum director Charles Venable and chairman of the museum board Thomas Hiatt wrote Monday to the editors of the Indianapolis Star.

“Several generous art collectors from different parts of the country have contacted us to say how RFRA discourages them from making future donations to the IMA and other Indiana charities,” the letter says. “We are receiving countless emails telling us visitors are cancelling their planned trips to Indiana and the IMA as a direct result of the RFRA law.”

“They called almost instantly once they learned that the bill had been signed, saying how amazed they were that this could be happening in 2015,” Venable told artnet News by phone today. The museum’s encyclopedic collection comprises some 55,000 objects, making it as large as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Venable pointed out.

“It’s not just a gay-straight issue,” Venable went on. “It’s really a discrimination issue that people are worried about. One of our African-American employees approached me to say he was so pleased that the museum is taking a stand on this.”

Artists and leaders of smaller institutions are also speaking out.

“This doesn’t feel like our Indiana,” Paula Katz, interim director of the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (iMOCA), told artnet News. “People in the arts community are extremely upset. The Indiana arts community is very welcoming and accepting and diverse. We don’t want to be a culturally vacant city, but every performance cancelation is, in a way, a small victory that says ‘Look what you are doing to our state.’”

She pointed out that Wilco has canceled an upcoming performance in the state, as has comedian Nick Offerman.

Paula Katz.

Paula Katz.

Indianapolis-based artist Kathryn Armstrong has a show coming up at iMOCA. Armstrong had solo shows last year at Napoleon, in Philadelphia, and the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“I do not support discrimination of any kind,” Armstrong told artnet News via email. “It is important for Indianapolis as a city to be represented as a city that welcomes all people. Many artists living and working here are embarrassed by RFRA.”

They join business leaders including tech companies like Amazon and Yelp, who have weighed in against the law, and Angie’s list, which referred to the law when it canceled plans to expand its Indianapolis facility. Governors of Connecticut, New York and Washington have banned state-funded travel to Indiana.

Likely Republican presidential contenders Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, meanwhile, support the law.

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