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'We’ve listened, we’ve learned': Newfields reveals action plan after job posting debacle

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Posted at 2:03 PM, Mar 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 14:03:45-04

INDIANAPOLIS — A "30-Day Action Plan" was released Friday by the Newfields Board of Trustees following the job posting debacle that resulted in the resignation of the now-former Indianapolis Art Museum president.

“Over the past month, we’ve listened, we’ve learned, and now we have acted to take Newfields in a new direction. The Board of Trustees believes deeply in this plan, and we will support it with real resources, energy, and investment,” Kathryn Betley, the chair of Newfields’ Board of Trustees, stated in a release.

In February, Newfields' job description for a new director came under close scrutiny by the Indianapolis and art community beyond when the description stated the person hired needed to work with programs to attract a more diverse audience "while maintaining the Museum’s traditional, core, white art audience."

A screengrab of the listing quickly made its virtual rounds, many calling the word choice, and entire institution, racist.

Soon, the word "white" was eliminated from the description. And Newfields issued an apology in which it stated, "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."

However, a letter drafted by hundreds of artists, former Newfields employees, and others across the country called for the resignation of the then-president Charles Venable. Days later, he resigned.

“This is a beginning, but it's only a beginning. Our goal is to transform Newfields into an inclusive and empathetic place where community engagement, critical conversations and collaboration define our path forward,” Darrianne Christian, Newfields trustee and chair of the board’s "Commitment Committee," said. The committee, according to Newfields, engaged stakeholders and drafted an action plan.

Newfields' plan to focus on "becoming an empathetic, multicultural and anti-racist institution" includes an investment in underrepresented artists’ works, diverse leadership, expanded access, retraining and more.

“This plan is about rebuilding trust and forming new partnerships. We intend to bring more voices into our decisions, reflect greater diversity in our offerings, and embed Newfields more deeply in the fabric of our community” Jerry Wise, the interim president of Newfields, said.

Here's a look at the "Newfields’ Action Plan:"

  • $20-Million Endowment to Enhance Representation in Exhibitions and Programming: Newfields is establishing a $20-million endowment, the proceeds of which will be dedicated to the acquisition of art created by BIPOC artists and artists from other marginalized identities.
  • New Community Advisory Committee: Led by Dr. Sean L. Huddleston, President of Martin University and a highly respected community leader, a new Community Advisory Committee will bring Newfields closer to its neighbors and bring community voices directly to leadership.
  • Increasing Leadership Diversity: By May 2021, new appointments will result in nearly 25 percent of the Board of Trustees representing diverse backgrounds, an increase from the current 8 percent.
  • Hiring a Leadership-Level Diversity Executive: Newfields will recruit a senior-level executive reporting to the President and CEO to help drive the work required to become an empathetic, multicultural and anti-racist museum, and to oversee Newfields’ procurement processes, helping foster diversity across vendors and suppliers.
  • Top-to-Bottom Outside Review of Leadership, Culture and Policies: Outside experts including Ice Miller’s Racial Equity Solutions Group and PINK! Consulting are conducting exhaustive interviews and listening sessions with Newfields staff and stakeholders, and will recommend comprehensive ways to transform the institution.
  • Organization-Wide DEIA Training: All staff, docents and volunteers will receive ongoing DEIA training, and board members will complete additional 2-day intensive training.
  • Expanding Access, Partnerships and Free Memberships: Newfields will create a neighborhood pass to provide free memberships to area residents and expand free memberships with local community groups. Newfields will expand its complimentary student membership program, which already includes Marion County public schools and public and non-profit universities and colleges, to include Ivy Tech.
  • 50,000 Free and Discounted Tickets Annually: Newfields will significantly increase free and discounted ticket distribution --including to signature programming such as Harvest, Winterlights, and THE LUME—accelerating this commitment from 2023 to 2021.
  • Expanded First Thursdays: Effective April 1, Newfields will expand its popular First Thursdays program, providing free general admission to the IMA Galleries and The Garden on the first Thursday of each month, for the full day, year-round.

You can visit discovernewfields.org/together to read the full action and strategic plan. Newfields' has already implemented some programs and missions, others have a set date.