Indianapolis Museum of Art president resigns after "core white audience" job listing fiasco

Originally published at: Indianapolis Museum of Art president resigns after "core white audience" job listing fiasco | Boing Boing


So basically curating Dogs Playing Poker, those weird velvet paintings of cats, medieval art of babies who look like old men and collections of those little Precious Moments figurines.


There’s more to the quote, unsurprisingly:

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).”

Worth looking up when BB fails to post a reference.


That additional framing about diversity isn’t exculpatory. Thinking about your “core” audience as white people to be “maintained” is the essence of how white racial identity sustains itself.


The assumption in 2021 that any American museum’s “traditional, core audience” is white is problematic on a number of levels. The job posting doesn’t look any better quoted in whole than it does quoted in part. That anyone considered this acceptable reflects a racist rot that’s deep and long-lived in the institution.


Another quote from the Artnet News article linked above:

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.”


Who would have guessed that training people to categorise and interpret everything in racial terms could possibly have a downside?


I think the issue is whether you read “core audience” as mission statement or current reality. Since the primary thrust of the advertised position, per the full quote, is to change that demographic tilt, I assume the latter.

I’m not here to defend the sensitivity of the wording…I’d never have included “white” even if I knew that my core audience was overwhelmingly white.

The OP calls it “excruciatingly tone deaf”, which sounds right, while the truncated quote in the post would have been straight up culture war racist. It was that disconnect that made me search for an actual article.


It’s doesn’t matter which it is, and it’s not just the wording. This museum has existed since 1883, and if the “traditional core audience” is still seen as white then that’s a situation of the museum’s own making. The tone-deafness here is a reflection of institutional racism further described by former curator Kelli Morgan in @ahope1 's comment above.

The museum’s stated mission is “To enrich lives through exceptional experiences with art and nature”, but it’s now been made clear that there was – for a long time – an unstated adjective before the word “lives”.


Right; it still basically reads as “it would be nice to have some additional nonwhite people but not at the risk of alienating any of the good white folks who come here now.”


It definitely sounds like there’s a lot more going on there than a job posting.

More than 100 Newfields staffers and stakeholders called for Venable’s removal in an open letter.


Some of you may be saying to yourselves, “This is probably all a misunderstanding. I can’t believe Indiana is so bad.”

As someone who lived the first 30 years of his life in Indiana, I can assure you, this is no misunderstanding, Indiana is indeed so bad. In fact, it’s a lot worse than you’d believe.




Live there now. Can confirm.


Time to go back to dog whistles and structural racism.

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With Montovani and the Kingston Trio playing in the background

This Ohioan can confirm and this place is just as bad

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…and Arcade Fire.

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I give them credit for honesty. Every place like this is doing the same exact thing, they just aren’t admitting it. I’m in the cultural institution field, and while I feel that most people in leadership positions in institutions like this are indeed sincere in diversification, whether it be staffing, audience or collecting, none of them can afford to offend or lose their already cultivated high-dollar donor base, which is almost exclusively white. As such, there’s a lot of tip-toeing and half-assed attempts at diversification. Mostly it’s the easy stuff - open hiring instead of internal promotions to attract a more diverse applicant pool, for instance. However, they won’t topple excessive education requirements for those positions because donors like talking to PhD curators or the leadership fears an MFA curator will lessen their prestige. Institutions that depend on ticket sales are afraid of getting too “ethnic”; the general audience wants too see things they know. It’s a huge mess they got themselves into over the years, and they have no idea how to get out it without making uncomfortable sacrifices.


tone deaf

…is not how I’d character that.

Which really doesn’t help. Specifying “white” there was totally unnecessary (and sadly redundant). That someone (and likely several someones) felt the need to insert that speaks volumes; it’s a deliberate message for a museum in a city that’s significantly less white than the state around it.