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Front Entryway of Indianapolis Museum of Art

In a friendly, frank, and at times intense Afternoons with Amos interview, Dr. Charles Venable, President/CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) defended the Museum’s new admission pricing policy. A policy which has been strongly criticized in social media since it was announced December 12th. Venable, who was joined by IMA Board of Governors Vice-Chair Matt Gutwein, came on the program to explain, especially to the African-American community the reasons for the museum changing its nearly 130 year history of free admissions.  During the interview, Venable clarified several points in the new policy that IMA failed to do when the admission policy was initially announced.  Venable now says IMA will utilize the Arts Access pass system when the new Admission policy takes effect April 1st.  Arts Access is a system where family members on public assistance (TANF), Food Stamps, or Hoosier Healthwise Insurance gains admittance to area museums for $1 per person.  Venable also said that students attending Ivy Tech campuses in Marion County will also recieve free admission. The previous announcement had limited it to only 4 year colleges/universities. But Venable said that IMA would not offer senior citizen discounts at this time.

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IMA President/CEO Dr. Charles Venable

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IMA Board of Governor’s Vice-Chair Matt Gutwein

Venable said seniors are “a major portion” or IMA’s visitors and a discount would hurt IMA’s efforts to generate revenue that helps bolster programming. Venable and Gutwein defended the museum’s plan of charging $18 for adults and $10 for children 6 to 17 saying they need the revenue to help bolster and expand IMA’s arts and culture programming for the community.  Amos asked did the IMA’s huge deficits; $20.9 Million in the museum’s 2012 fiscal year which ended in June 2012 and $9.4 million in fiscal 2013 drive this decision. Both men didn’t directly answer that question, but did say that revenue generation was one goal of the new admission charges along with encouraging persons to buy purchase IMA family and individual memberships.  They said that research showed that IMA visitors didn’t like to be charged for both for parking and special exhibitions.  Venable said that a single pricing policy was much fairer.  Amos asked forcefully about racially diversity at the IMA; specifically are Blacks employed in “management positions”? Dr. Venable’s answer was not as forthcoming as you might expect from the head of an institution like IMA. Disconcerting was Venable saying the museum employed an African-American to engage the community. An individual Amos and other Black institutions hadn’t heard of or had any communications with. Also, in the interview, Amos asked directly whether African-American leaders had been consulted about the admissions policy before its implementation.

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Creative art inside Indianapolis Museum of Art

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Artwork in White River on the IMA’s Grounds

Such consultations were done when the Indianapolis Zoo opened downtown in 1988 and when the Children’s Museum first began charging admission in 1990.  Venable and Gutwein said no, that the Board didn’t think they needed to consult with the community leaders on “pricing points” for the museum.  Venable admitted that IMA has a low percentage of African-American visitors, saying their research showed just 8% of IMA visitors were African-American.  But Amos forcefully told the IMA execs that in the past six years, the museum hadn’t done any marketing to the Indianapolis African-American community though Black media. Furthermore, marketing companies employed by IMA had “racially profiled” potential Black visitors by telling Black media the museum only wanted to reach Blacks making over $75,000 yearly; which comprises just 14.7%, or one-seventh of the total Black community.  Venable says the IMA knows it has done a bad job marketing itself and telling the community about IMA programs and activities.  Venable and Guwein says changing that is the IMA’s challenge. Click the Media Player to Hear the Afternoons with Amos Interview With Indianapolis Museum of Arts Leadership. Runs 54 Minutes ©2014 WTLC/Radio One.

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