Newfields, a sprawling campus that contains the Indianapolis Museum of Art, announced on Tuesday that the educator Colette Pierce Burnette will become its next president and chief executive. She is the first Black woman to lead Newfields, which in February 2021 apologized for a job posting that asked for candidates who could help the museum diversify while maintaining its “traditional, core, white art audience.”
The museum amended its listing and Charles L. Venable, its director and chief executive, resigned after a nine-year tenure as activists demanded new diversity commitments and employees sought an improved office culture.
Newfields then released an action plan in response to growing anger. Commitments included a $20 million endowment to acquire works from marginalized artists, increase diversity on its board and institute a program for antiracism training. Last year, Darrianne Christian became the first Black chairwoman for the museum’s board.
Burnette is currently president of Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, a historically Black university where she has worked for nearly six years, after an earlier career in information technology. She has also served on Austin’s Task Force on Institutional Racism and System Inequities, which produced a final report in 2017 calling for a regional inclusivity effort. She starts the new role on Aug. 1.
“I am thrilled to become part of a team driven to meet Newfields’ mission of enriching lives purposefully and intentionally through exceptional experiences with art and nature,” Burnette said in a statement. “I am excited to lead Newfields at this unique moment to make it a place every person in Indianapolis and beyond is excited to visit, and every team member is proud to work.”
The museum said that it considered more than 230 applicants during the hiring process.
Burnette’s “extensive professional achievements reflect her ability to deliver,” Christian said in a statement. “Her legacy has been to elevate the beloved institutions she’s led into stronger, more inclusive organizations that others seek to emulate.”
One observer, Kelli Morgan, a Tufts University professor who resigned from her associate curator position at Newfields in 2020, hopes that Burnette’s appointment signifies change.
“I hope her presence will make the institution what it should be for all audiences and communities in Indianapolis,” Morgan said in a phone interview.