Sour Grapes

Maxwell L. Anderson, former CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art from 2006 to 2011 posted an op-ed on the ArtNews web site. Of course, he slams the recently ousted CEO Charles Venable saying :

“Every decision made by Charles Venable over the past decade seemed to be in service of remaking a museum founded in the 19th century into an income-generating attraction, when in fact it is a peer of other great Midwestern art museums that are open to the public for free and pursue an educational mission rather than masquerading as amusement parks.”

He also says :

By eliminating free general admission, instituting an $18 admissions charge, erecting costly barriers to keep the public from enjoying its expansive grounds without paying, and implementing extravagant ticketed “attractions,” the museum excluded its Black and lower-income neighbors and was left with a much smaller, whiter, and more privileged audience.

I walked through the galleries of Newfields (formerly known as the Indianapolis Museum of Art) when the admission was $0 and when the admission was $18. I would say that I saw the same number of black and lower income neighbors under both admission prices.

So, black people are unable to help themselves? Are they unable to buy their own admission ticket? Why do white people say these things?

Even when the Museum was free for everyone most people (black and lower income people included) in the community choose to do other things with their time instead of going to a “museum”, even paying their money to do those other things. Just because you can get through the door for free doesn’t mean everyone will walked through the door, and appreciate it.

Anderson also writes :

He convinced the board to follow him by misrepresenting the spending rate on my watch, selling them on a commercial model, and promising a painless transition from being a charitable organization to a destination favoring beer, golf, and twinkling lights over art.

The Beer Garden at Newfields is a cool thing. It’s placed in a literal garden. It offers local craft brews. Winterlights, the twinkling lights as Anderson calls it, is a popular walking attraction. The Indianapolis Zoo offers the same type of attraction (for an admission fee). The Indianapolis fair grounds hosts a drive through twinkling light show (for an admission fee). The miniature golf attraction was just as popular and showcased local artist works (free to play with admission).

It seems Anderson is sour over the success Venable brought to the Indianapolis Museum of Art (known currently as Newfields) in terms of offerings, exhibits and attractions. Under Anderson’s watch, the museum was ‘just’ a museum common to other dull, lifeless museums people hardly walked through. Under Venable, it was became a destination.

Anderson concludes his op-ed by saying :

Offering free general admission to the public and removing ill-conceived barriers needn’t sacrifice earned revenue. By staging compelling exhibitions and charging a fee to visit them, the Indianapolis Museum of Art can generate income, incentivize membership, attract sponsors and support—and welcome back a broad and diverse audience.

I don’t get this … you want to charge a fee to visit compelling exhibits to generate income? Won’t charging a fee to walk through staged and compelling exhibits exclude black and lower income neighbors? Invite them through the door with zero dollar admission yet demand payment to see a staged compelling exhibit? Isn’t that exclusionary?

Anderson is jumping on the band wagon of tramping Venable due to the W word in a employment ad. It’s a popular low class virtue signal.


Five Brushstrokes by Roy Lichtenstein, at Newfields. Photo taken by Dave O on May 6, 2018.
Five Brushstrokes by Roy Lichtenstein, at Newfields. Photo taken by Dave O on May 6, 2018.

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