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Ex-Newfields president earned millions in compensation, tax records show

Art museum charged an $18 admission fee in 2015
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Posted at 1:19 PM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-18 13:22:14-05

INDIANAPOLIS — The president of Newfields who resigned this week earned millions of dollars in compensation over the past few years, records show.

WRTV Investigates looked at Newfields’ tax filings dating back to 2017 and found Dr. Charles Venable reported a total of $2.3 million in compensation for 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Venable resigned as president of the Indianapolis art museum after nearly 100 staffers, hundreds of artists, and others in the community called for him to step down following a job listing that prioritized maintaining the museum’s “core, white art audience.”

According to the tax filings, Venable’s compensation included perks like personal use of social club dues, housing expenses, cell phone, life insurance, and travel expenses for his spouse to attend events as needed.

According to Newfields’ 2019 tax filing, Venable’s base salary was $493,950.

But with bonus and incentive compensation, retirement and deferred compensation, and nontaxable benefits, Venable received $784,622 in compensation in 2019.

In 2018, Venable received a base salary of $496,413 and total compensation of $787,718, according to tax filings.

And in 2017, the director’s base salary was $476,666 with total compensation of $732,412, records show.

2020 tax filings for Newfields are not yet available.

A 2020 salary survey from the Association of Art Museum Directors shows a director in the Midwest region has a median salary of $250,300 and a mean salary of $324,700.

A median is the value of the middle item of a group of values when they are arranged from the highest to the lowest.

Unlike the mean, this value isn’t greatly influenced by outliers, according to the study.

Venable’s base salary of $493,950 was nearly twice the median salary of other Midwest art museum directors.

Venable, who joined the museum in 2012, and Newfields have received criticism for instituting an $18 per person admission fee back in 2015.

WRTV contacted Newfields and Venable for a response on his compensation and is awaiting a response.

According to its 2018-2019 financial report, “Over the past three years, Newfields, with Board of Trustees approval, has paid down over $49.1 million of outstanding debt. This step, part of the Newfields’ 10-year debt reduction plan, will help contribute to the organization’s long-term financial stability.”

In a letter posted to its website, Newfields stated regarding the job posting, "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."

Calls for the ouster of the president of Newfields grew after the publication of the job advertisement for a director. The job description read in part:

"Maximize 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:"

The wording of the ad was changed soon afterward to eliminate the word “white.” But the posting had already been circulated widely on social media, and even the newly worded ad was criticized as racist for suggesting that the traditional target audience for the museum was not diverse.

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