WORK IN PROGRESS: AMERICAN GALLERIES

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The Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields American Gallery is a self-described “Work in Progress,” much like America herself, proved by the weeks’ actions of overturns, abrupt stops, and hard left(s). One wonders how many companies or organizations will follow suit and alter their “diverse direction.” The burgeoning anti-woke laws, vocal and literary censure, anti-CRT legislation, and now the reports of companies refusing to deliver on DEI promises all make one question will there be more abrupt halts in the “diversity, equity, inclusion, and access” (DEIA) lane?

In addition to Affirmative Action being unlawful for colleges and universities, the brazened declaration of race-conscious admissions at military academies remained lawful, which told a more urban realist narrative, a pertinent story of the two Americas.

The cantankerous idea of “this is what we have always done” holds progress, hostage. While there have been several steps toward advancement in one frail swoop, one asks whether we have regressed. The court’s decision to strike Affirmative Action gives way to additional unprecedented changes. As America celebrates independence, one wonders what diverse values will take precedence or what companies/organizations will forgo their DEIA commitments.

This is a check-in; in the last year, Newfields has intentionally looked at its policies and practices to make changes or disrupt.

Newfields’ turn toward DEIA was accelerated when the job description for a new director stated applicants would need to maintain the museum’s “traditional, core, white art audience” in 2021. After, Newfields dedicated a $20-million endowment to the work of marginalized artists, with promises to promote diversity on the Board of Trustees, expand community partnerships, and broaden/diversify its audience.

To do so, Newfields looked for “disruptors” for an installation that would be the first step in telling more inclusive stories in the American Gallery. The first question posed to Natalya Herndon, Newfields’ Public Relations Manager, can you define disrupt? Herndon, with gaiety, described how Newfields utilized external voices to contribute to interpretation as a way of disruption. A broad stroke the museum has only taken after its newfound diverse commitment. The museum staff would normally complete the action of art interpretation, so the aspect of external voice with different lived experiences coming in to illuminate differing perspectives of “American Art” also infers a monochromatic staff.

The external voices formed a collective named Looking Glass Alliance (LGA) to “turn upside down the white, heteronormative interpretations of art and the American mythos that have traditionally been communicated in museums.” For context, LGA comprises five distinct voices from the Indianapolis area pegged to work with the Newfields staff to create the American Galleries: Work in Progress content. The alliance includes Bobby Young, Jordan Ryan, Tatjana Rebelle, Nasreen Khan, and Kyng Rhodes.

Along with lending their interpretations, each also supplied new stories about the permanent collection as a first step toward amplifying underrepresented voices while simultaneously changing whose voices are included in the museum.

 LGA understood the assignment. The work was intriguing, prescient, and told a more powerful versed narrative; I engaged Kyng Rhodes’s presentations, especially the Dr. Cool (Barkley Hendricks) and Red Handed (Kyng Rhodes) pieces. The thought of being “adapted to harassment” and still finding joy resonated.

Although the American Galleries is a permanent exhibition, the current installation began May 27, 2023 (the last was on exhibit for 18 years). However, the display has already been threatened with pullbacks; originally, the exhibition was slated for three-to-five years; now, there is talk of 18 months or maybe a refresher in October, states Maggie Ordon, Interpretation Planner at Newfields.

The idea of time is a major concern not only for the exhibit but as an evaluative study of the authenticity to “disrupt damaging narratives.” Time will tell if Newfields is seeking aspirational change or transformational change. The community should not have to wonder if “privilege pacing” is at the forefront of the agenda or if these short-term programs are “feeding the rabbit.”

The museum is transparently informing the public of its continual strides toward an equitable space, acquiring Black art, seeking feedback, and looking for more routes to engage and interact with the community.

Work in Progress: Time will tell (poem)

 I don’t wanna fight wit you for being myself.

Be sure to check out episode three of Jones’ podcast “Work in Progress: Conversations about American Art” below!