Things That Make You Go Buh?!? “white art audience”

I don’t even know where to begin with this one so let’s just jump into it. The Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields engaged PR crisis management mode over the weekend after a job description for a new director including a qualification that the candidate would work to attract a more diverse audience while maintaining its “traditional, core, white art audience.”

It didn’t take long for that gem to get picked up and circulated across traditional and social media outlets. The museum’s chief executive, Charles L. Venable, told the New York Times the wording was intentional.

“I deeply regret that the choice of language clearly has not worked out to mirror our overall intention of building our core art audience by welcoming more people in the door,” he said. “We were trying to be transparent about the fact that anybody who is going to apply for this job really needs to be committed to D.E.I. efforts in all parts of the museum.”

But the damage was done.

There is no shortage of jabs and criticisms but my favorite (so far) is from @ArtsAdminsSay.

While usually cagey about who they lampoon, this one leaned into the blunder. It’s clear they are talking about Newfields.

So…who wants to apply?

All kidding aside, @ArtsAdminsSay makes a good point. The arts and culture sector has a long history of playing fast and loose with language. This is just the latest reminder.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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