Newfields Director Charles Venable Has Resigned After Posting a Job Ad That Sparked Allegations of Racism

The museum came under fire for describing its "traditional core, white art audience.”

Newfields director Charles Venable. Photo courtesy of Newfields.

Charles Venable has resigned as director and CEO of Newfields after the Indianapolis museum posted a job listing that sparked widespread criticism.

The post said the candidate for the director job should seek to “attract a broader and more diverse audience while maintaining the museum’s traditional core, white art audience.”

After immediately coming under fire, the museum apologized for the language and edited the description to refer instead to a “traditional core art audience.” Venable told the New York Times that including “white” had been intentional, and that “I deeply regret that the choice of language clearly has not worked out to mirror our overall intention of building our core art audience by welcoming more people in the door.”

More than 100 Newfields staffers and stakeholders called for Venable’s removal in an open letter. “At the present time, we do not see a way forward if Dr. Charles Venable remains at the helm of our institution,” the letter read. A second open letter with similar demands from members of the public attracted more than 2,000 signatures. The controversy also saw guest curators Malina Simone Jeffers and Alan Bacon resign from the upcoming exhibition “DRIP: Indy’s #BlackLivesMatter Street Mural,” and a board trustee step down.

Today, the Newfields board of trustees announced Venable’s resignation. “We are sorry. We have made mistakes. We have let you down,” read the board’s statement. “We are ashamed of Newfields’s leadership and of ourselves. We have ignored, excluded, and disappointed members of our community and staff. We pledge to do better.”

Two visitors enjoying the Beer Garden, located at the Madeline F. Elder Greenhouse at Newfields. Image courtesy of Newfields.

Two visitors enjoying the beer garden, located at the Madeline F. Elder Greenhouse at Newfields. Image courtesy of Newfields.

Newfields has promised to conduct an independent review of its leadership, institute anti-racist training for all staff, and establish a city-wide community advisory committee to hold the institution accountable for meeting diversity goals, and host additional programming representing “marginalized identities.” The museum will also look into offering more opportunities for free or reduced-fee admission.

Curator Kelli Morgan, who quit her job at Newfields last year citing a racist workplace culture, says Venable’s resignation doesn’t go far enough. “They need to replace the entire board and all the senior leaders,” she told Artnet News in an email. “You can be flawed in leadership, nobody’s perfect, but what you can absolutely not do is be a leader who blatantly and deliberately refuses to listen and learn. And most of Newfields’s leadership made that decision years ago. A toxic institutional culture does not rest in one person.”

Venable, whose contract ran through 2026, had served as the museum’s director since 2012. He previously led the Speed Museum in Louisville.

At Newfields, he has overseen the institution’s evolution from a traditional art museum to what was billed as a “place for nature and the arts.” In 2017, the museum and its 152-acre campus, which features a garden and nature park, was christened a “holistic cultural campus.”

Van Gogh painting at The LUME at the Indanapolis Museum of Art. Image courtesy Newfields, Indianapolis.

Van Gogh painting at the LUME at the Indanapolis Museum of Art. Image courtesy Newfields, Indianapolis.

Changes instituted under Venable included a new $18 admission fee to the formerly free museum and closing several pedestrian entrances to the campus.

In a bid to capitalize on the popularity of immersive art installations as a means of expanding the museum’s audience, Venable expanded programming to include mini golf and a holiday-themed outdoor display. He unveiled plans last year to replace the museum’s contemporary art galleries with the LUME, a Vincent van Gogh-themed digital light show.

Though his approach ruffled some traditionalist feathers, Venable was promoted this month to run the entire Newfields campus, prompting the search for his successor at the museum. In the wake of his departure, Newfields CFO Jerry Wise will serve as the organization’s interim president.

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