The CEO of a Beleaguered Indianapolis Institution Suddenly Departs After Just 15 Months

Colette Pierce Burnette's predecessor, Charles Venable, was forced out of the museum over an allegedly racist job posting.

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

Another abrupt regime change is taking place at the Newfields campus in Indian apolis, which includes the Indianapolis Museum of Art, as Colette Pierce Burnette has left the institution after only 15 months as president and CEO. There was no reason given for her unexpected exit.

“We thank Dr. Burnette for her service to Newfields,” Darrianne Christian, the chair of the board of trustees, said in a statement. “She helped deepen our relationships with the community and championed the transformative powers of art and nature. We are grateful for her work on behalf of Newfields and wish her well in her future endeavors.”

The board has appointed Michael Kubacki, who served on the board from 2014 to 2023 and as its vice chair from 2021 to 2023, as the organization’s interim president and CEO. At the time of publication, press representatives for the institution had not responded to requests for comment.

Newfields was plunged into controversy in February 2021, when it posted a job description that emphasized “maintaining the museum’s traditional core, white art audience.” Following accusations of racism and calls for his removal from staff and board members, director and CEO Charles Venable promptly resigned.

The Newfields campus. Photo courtesy of Newfields.

The Newfields campus in Indianapolis. Photo: courtesy of Newfields.

Venable had led the museum since 2012, overseeing its evolution from the Indianapolis Museum of Art to Newfields, a 152-acre cultural campus where a traditional art gallery was just one of the arts and entertainment attractions on offer.

He controversially replaced the contemporary art galleries with the Lume, a digital art venue that launched with an immersive Van Gogh show, and created a “Winterlights” festival decorating the grounds with Christmas lights, with tickets now ranging from $15 to $119.

In the wake of Venable’s departure, Newfields announced a raft of new diversity, equity, inclusion, and access (DEIA) initiatives, including a $20 million endowment to diversify its programming and art collection.

Newfields director Charles Venable. Photo courtesy of Newfields.

Newfields’ former director Charles Venable. Photo: courtesy of Newfields.

Burnette was the institution’s first Black woman leader, arriving at Newfields from the Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, where she was president. She came to Indianapolis intent on embracing a mandate for change, to ensure that Newfields would be a welcoming place for audiences of all backgrounds.

“There’s a new definition of what a museum is, and the word diversity and inclusivity is in that definition. Where museums across the world are experiencing this renaissance moment, this evolution moment of who we are as institutions and how we serve our constituents, our patrons, our members, our guests, and we’re at a place in history where we can either make this a moment or a movement,” Burnette previously told local NPR station WFYI, which broke the news of her resignation.

“I want Newfields to be a part of that movement, so that we are really opening ourselves up and facing outward as opposed to inward,” she added. “So, we embrace what happened and we learn from it, and we keep moving forward, as opposed to being stuck in it or repeating that history.”

Belinda Tate. Photo courtesy of the Newfields.

Belinda Tate. Photo courtesy of the Newfields.

Just last week, Burnette won the Breaking Barriers Award at the Indiana Minority Business Magazine and Minority Business Review’s annual Champions of Diversity Awards.

Burnette’s sudden departure also comes on the heels of the hiring of Belinda Tate as the director of Newfields. A Black woman who had served as head of the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts since 2014, Tate had her first day on the job on November 6.

 

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