Newfields, Still Reeling from Controversy, Names Indianapolis Museum Director After Lengthy Search

Newfields has appointed Belinda Tate as the next director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfield, concluding a nearly four-year hiring process and crisis of identity for the 140-year-old institution.

Tate comes to Indianapolis from Michigan’s Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, where she has served as executive director since 2014. She will begin her tenure on November 6 and be the first at Newfield to hold the title Melvin & Bren Simon Director, which was established in February 2021 as the not-for-profit museum revamped its executive structure.

That same year, the museum provoked a firestorm of online outrage after the original posting for the job went viral over its requirement that the chosen applicant must maintain its “traditional, core, white art audience” while also increasing diversity. 

The controversy led to the resignation of then-CEO and president Charles Venable. Newfields appointed his replacement, Colette Pierce Burnette, in 2022.

“I am humbled by the opportunity to work alongside President and CEO Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette and the incomparable team at Newfields,” Tate said in a press release.

“The Indianapolis Museum of Art is an evolving institution with a stellar collection and inspiration to all who visit. I look forward to joining a team dedicated to serving the community through exceptional exhibitions and programs as one of the nation’s leading cultural destinations,” she added.

Her resume includes a tenure as director of the Diggs Gallery at Winston-Salem State University, and time serving the American Alliance of Museum’s Task Force on Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion in Museum Excellence.

Since Venable’s departure, Newfields has also faced allegations that it had facilitated a “toxic” and discriminatory work culture at the museum, according to an open letter from Kelli Morgan, its former associate curator of American art. In the letter, Morgan described a “racist rant” from one board museum member. 

Tate must contend with the legacy of Venable’s polarizing vision for the museum’s programming which, according to his critics, prioritized blockbuster exhibitions. Oft-cited examples include a show devoted to Bugatti cars and the Winterlights festival, which involved stringing flora in the garden with colorful lights during holiday time and charging $25 for entry.

“We all have high expectations of our incoming Director to lead the next generation of the IMA at Newfields,” Burnette stated in the news release. “Belinda is strongly positioned to deliver for Newfields, bringing our full potential to fruition. She is committed and aligned to our values of stewardship, inclusivity, excellence, and service and is also a trailblazer in diversity, equality, inclusion, and access.”