This week Indianapolis's art museum Newfields made local and national news, as people decried a job description reference to its "core, white audience" -- that led to the resignation of its president. Indy Star arts and creativity reporter Domenica Bongiovanni has been covering the story, and she spoke with WFYI's Terri Dee about the public outcry, which included criticism of many changes in recent years, including a new fee to enjoy the grounds and its rebranding as Newfields.
WFYI Reporter Terri Dee: Until the story about the wording in the job description broke, some in the community were not aware of, or did not make the connection between the name Newfields, and the familiar name of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. So how did the name change occur?
IndyStar Arts Editor Domenica Bongiovanni: The name change occurred in 2017, or at least that's when they announced it. It was an effort to rebrand and what they were trying to do was to broaden their direction.
At the same time, as they announced that change, they announced winter lights as the new kind of direction that they were going to take. Prior to that, what they shared with me at the time, they had done a lot of market research, and what they found people weren't connecting the types of cultural experiences that they were looking for with the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
They saw that people were looking for things to do outdoors, and they wanted their grounds to attract those people. They thought that if they named the campus, that it would issue that broader invitation.
A lot of people ask where the name Newfields came from. It actually came from the name of the younger generation’s home that was on the Oldfield estate and the family had named that Newfields. That was a play on Oldfields you know, for the family.
Dee: Let's fast forward to this controversial job description. How many levels of approval did the job description have to pass before it was signed off on, to your knowledge?
Bongiovanni: I asked directly who wrote the job description when I talked with Charles Venable. He just said that there were several drafts that went back and forth between the museum and Oppenheim Executive Search; and that there were a number of people who had input into what terms they were using. As I understood it, that was kind of their protocol. So, they didn't tell me, and I couldn't say definitively who specifically or what department did that.
Dee: So, it would be accurate to say, this description went through several hands and at no point, did someone said, “Hey, we might need to go back and reword this. This is not appropriate.”
Bongiovanni: There was input from several people and that it had gone back and forth between the museum and Mr. Buffett. So there would have been several people's eyes on it. What the employees had said in their letter, the employees interchange, Newfields employees and stakeholders, when the language of the posting was questioned at an all staff meeting in January, it was defended by both Dr. Venable and Laura McGrew, senior director for guest experience in human resources.
I think that was the first time that the wider public saw that language, or at least had been questioned by some people and that it was not a surprise. Then the employees were telling us in this letter that the language was in that job description.
Dee: What were some of the comments from past and current staffers regarding efforts to make the museum a welcoming place to all of the community?
Bongiovanni: I didn't talk with them about their instructions they received, I guess, in terms of their specific jobs. I can tell you that they are very passionate about what they do. They had shared that with me. They also shared with me that they very much wanted to share this with literally everyone in the community, and that they wanted to feel like they were good neighbors, and that they that they really wanted to reach out to everyone regardless of ethnicity and all of that and they feel strongly about that.
Dee: Thank you for your information and your time today Dominica
Bongiovannni: Absolutely, yes. Thank you so much for having me.