A Newfields job posting in February included language that the ideal candidate "attract a more diverse audience, while maintaining the museum’s traditional, core white audience." That was met with public accusations of elitism and racism.
Within days, Newfields's president resigned and leadership publicly admitted errors and vowed to implement change. Then Darrianne Christian was elected as the new chair of the organization's board of trustees. She is the first Black woman to lead the board.
WFYI’s Terri Dee spoke with Christian about the organization's response to the outrage and her vision that Newfields become known to be a welcoming place for all visitors.
WFYI Reporter Terri Dee: Who is Darianne Christian and what would you like the listeners to know about you?
Darrianne Christian, chair, Newfields Board of Trustees: I am a native Hoosier and my husband and I started our family business here in Indiana. I see my role as an African-American woman, a person who is committed to the Indianapolis community, to engage myself in such a way that I am doing my part to make Indiana a place that is welcoming for all of Indiana and to ensure that the board sees issues as they relate to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Also, it is important the board have the voice of people from the community that can speak intelligently about what our concerns are, and who are able to issue solutions that will help further the cause of African-Americans here in Indiana, and specifically Latinx, minorities, people with disabilities, LGBTQ, women, everyone. I see my role to advance that mission here in Indiana as an extremely important one.
Dee: Newfields is emerging from a controversial period of time where there were leadership changes.What was it about Newfields that attracted you enough to want to be on their team?
Christian: I've been a board member at Newfields since 2016. When the situation arose with Newfields that we had to deal with, I really felt strongly that I needed to step up. One, because I was the only African-American, so I knew the message that was being put out about Newfields wasn't completely in line with what I knew our work to be behind the scenes, as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion. We had already started the process of doing the work to be a more equitable organization, but we had these instances that had set us back.
I'll be honest; there was a lot of fear in doing that, especially in this cancel culture. I had this conversation very clearly with the other board members. I said, "even as an African-American, I can be canceled for standing with you here at Newfields, so it's important that you understand that if we're going to make the decision to come out to say that we're going to change, I need to know that everyone here is on board with this." Everyone was, and that made the decision for me, very, very easy, because everyone had always been on board and so I didn't have a question about that. But I definitely needed everyone to state it and their assurance; as part of the main change from Indianapolis Museum of Art to Newfields was an effort to make the place more welcoming to a more diverse audience.
Dee: Darrianne, what are your expectations of Newfields as they are revamping their policies and procedures in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion?
Christian: That we just become a world class institution that other cultural institutions can look to, to say this is how you connect and engage with your community in a meaningful way, long term. Our goal is to connect with the entire community, not just a select few, to broaden our audience, and to meet people where they're at and to do it in a way that is meaningful, engaging, and that is sustainable, long tem.
Dee: Darianne, thank you for allowing us to get to know you a little better today and giving us some of your time to talk to you.
Christian: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.