Newfields, the Beleaguered Indianapolis Museum, Sees a Board Exodus After Its CEO’s Sudden Exit

Six trustees have resigned from its board, though two members have recently been added.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2011. Photo by Indianapolis Museum of Art/Getty Images.

The board of Newfields in Indianapolis has been losing members in the wake of the unexpected departure of chief executive Colette Pierce Burnette in November. Trustee Jason Noyan, an executive director at the field office for J.P. Morgan Private Bank, resigned from the institution’s governing body in December, becoming the sixth member to do so in the weeks before and since Burnette’s exit, reported the Indianapolis Business Journal. He declined to comment to the publication on why he left the position.

“While we are unable to provide additional details around the current leadership transition at Newfields, we want to assure the community there is no change in our strategy, mission and values,” the board of trustees said in an emailed statement to Artnet.

The board said Newfields “has been working hard to earn the community’s trust” and has “made progress” in becoming a more inclusive institution but admitted that “important work remains.”

“We will continue growing the programs which extend our reach to communities statewide. Our focused efforts to recruit and retain diverse talent at every level of our organization will not cease. Newfields’ commitment to providing exceptional experiences with art and nature—for generations to come—is steadfast,” the board statement reads. “At Newfields, we value respectful and constructive dialogue with the community.”

Burnette was tapped in August 2022 to lead Newfields, an institution that houses the Indianapolis Museum of Art and other garden venues on a large campus that includes shopping and dining. Her predecessor Charles Venable resigned over an insensitive job posting that called for candidates who would maintain the museum’s “traditional, core, white art audience.”

Burnette was the first Black executive at Newfields and following her sudden departure, has been temporarily replaced by former trustee and banker Michael Kubacki, who is white.

Colette Pierce Burnette is the new president and CEO of Newfields. Photo courtesy of Newfields.

Colette Pierce Burnette. Photo courtesy of Newfields.

“There’s a new definition of what a museum is, and the word diversity and inclusivity is in that definition,” Burnette previously told local NPR station WFYI.

Still, no comment has been provided by Newfields or Burnette on why she left. Artnet News has reached out to Newfields for comment on Noyan’s resignation but did not hear back by press time.

The other five trustees who have left Newfields include Otto Frenzel IV, Gary Hirschberg, Adrienne Sims, Sherron Rogers, and Sean Huddleston.

Huddleston remains the only one trustee who has made any sort of comment about why he left through a spokesperson who said it was over Burnette’s exit. “Given the current climate, her departure represents an unfortunate setback to the progress our community has made,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to the IBJ.

The Indianapolis Recorder newspaper in November obtained an email from Sims, highlighting her reasoning for leaving the position on November 17. Sims wrote that recent leadership decisions were not made “in an inclusive and consultative manner.”

In addition to the six trustees who have departed, at least four members of Newfields’ mostly white board of governors have also left their roles. The IBJ named them as Malina Simone Bacon, Chris Gahl, Isaac Bamgbose, and Barry Wormser.

The board of trustees decreased in membership from 30 to 24 after the recent resignations but has grown back to 26 with the addition of two new members to its roster. The latest additions include Robert Scheele, a Merrill Lynch executive who has served on the Newfields board of governors since 2021, and Leon Jackson, the chief executive of Diversity in Leadership Program Inc.


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