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Saturday, March 2, 2024

What the silence says…

"Tasha Jones is a rare and wonderful artist that strikes a balance in a world so often lopsided. She has the soul of a Nikki Giovanni draped in the Haute Couture fashions of a runway model. Jones is a student of life and a teacher of lessons. On stage, she tells the story of her life and, in doing so, tells the story of all women, a story of love, loss, and life. She offers a perspective, poignancy, and insight in her writing that allows men to see themselves through her work and women to see themselves in her work. She proves herself to be simultaneously what women are and what they aspire to be. Once you've experienced her for yourself, you will feel better, wiser, and are enriched for it." — Jon Goode

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Despite being a nonprofit with a legal and ethical commitment to transparency, Newfields (formerly Indianapolis Museum of Art) remains silent regarding the sudden departure of President and CEO Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette who was hired to reface Newfields after a series of racial casualties and an internal truth made public by her predecessor, Dr. Charles Venable.

In an honest attempt to hire a polished prospect who could or would straddle the racial line, Venable published the studied “prototype” by whistleblowing in the job post describing the institution’s demand to diversify but “maintain the museum’s traditional core, white art audience.” The open sentiment and language enraged some of the public, publicly. It has been said the institution’s donors began adding (racial) contingencies before releasing funds or making threats to do so. In hopes of rectifying repeated racial wrongdoings, as described by curator Kelli Morgan, who resigned and told of the toxic workplace and board members’ racially explosive tirades in board meetings, it all proved too much for the public especially when the world was still voicing its frustration of the brutally broadcasted murder of George Floyd by a police officer. The art world, in general, and Newfields paid heightened attention to race relations.

As first reported in the New York Times, the institution was advised to apologize publicly by Malina and Alan Bacon, the founders GangGang, whose main mission is to elevate artists of color. In the admission of the timing of repeated racial discrimination goings on the institution went into repair mode and publicly committed to a new path, releasing diversity, equity, inclusion, and access statements, shaking hands, kissing babies, and promising a plan to illuminate its steps on the road to racial recovery. It set aside 20 million dollars to ensure sustained efforts and implemented a Board of Governors (BOG). It was during this 14-month clean-up and interview process that the institution’s communication was forthright and often.

Oh, but the privilege of silence.
Newfields is walking in its privilege; now, now that faces are not needed to help with the public relations fiasco, no diverse hands need to be shaken for the photo opportunity, and more directly, no financial contributions have stopped, so nothing needs to be said. Although, major Black organizations have publicly admonished and halted collaborations. The Urban League and Indiana Black Expo, respected as they may be, are new collaborators without financial impact. So, has the institution been advised to wait in silence until this blows over? A familiar methodology used to test the memory of the oppressed, a game of who will fatigue first (the media, the people, or the institution)?

In defiance of the silent game being played, GangGang Co-Founder and Executive Director Malina Bacon, a founding member of the Board of Governors, exclusively shared her resignation.

“We built the BOG to aggressively serve our community by leveraging our art museum,” Bacon stated. “This season, it is my civic duty to step away from this layer of responsibility at Newfields, as I cannot lead as we designed.”

The resignation safely leads to the idea that the museum uses a canonical approach to art and identity and refuses to change. In an era where the International Council of Museums is evolving in definition and action, one wonders why and how Indiana is moving so slowly.

Maybe the old tactics of marching and protesting are going in the wrong direction. The march should start with the board meetings. Bring the signs and voices to the face of the decision-makers or stakeholders. Maybe demand the 990s and examine who supports division in a community wanting and ready to unite. The ask may be to adhere to a Nonprofit Social Responsibility (NSR), an organizations’ ethical and moral obligations towards society, the environment, and their stakeholders. While corporate social responsibility (CSR) is often associated with for-profit businesses, nonprofits also play a crucial role in contributing to the well-being of communities and addressing social and environmental issues.

If the Culture expands the strategies and tactics used in the past to develop and direct the future, securing the wants and needs may come with a faster favorable outcome. But no one should rule out the inception of Crispus Attucks High School or how history can direct efforts in opening OUR OWN MUSEUM, a cultural museum that expands the history of and contributions of the Culture. That is the time We. The Culture, is in., right?

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