October 24, 2022

Newfields President and CEO talks her vision for the museum

Newfields President and CEO Colette Pierce Burnette - provided by Newfields

Newfields President and CEO Colette Pierce Burnette

provided by Newfields

Newfields has a new leader at the helm. WFYI’s Terri Dee speaks with the President and CEO of Newfields Colette Pierce Burnette about her non-traditional path to Newfields and her ideas to blend education and the museum’s offerings for children. 

Terri Dee, WFYI Reporter: Who is Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette and how has her path taken her from engineering, IT, public service, and college president roles and background to the appointment of President and CEO of Newfields?

Colette Pierce Burnett, President and CEO, Newfields: That's a question I ask myself sometimes and the answer always comes to me; it’s something I've read several years ago about learning backwards to live forward. When I think about my pathway, each of my chapters, my journey has prepared me for the next. Even my engineering degree, I tend to be very analytical, and data driven. My higher education degree is just a passion about living on purpose; and then art and nature is something that has just been with me since I was a child.

So, it has all come together into one place, and this chapter I find myself in right now. But that engineering pathway, that higher education pathway, and now here as the President and CEO of Newfields does all come together into one, one exciting moment in my own life.

Dee: Newfields has had to address accusations of not being a welcoming place for diverse individuals, internally and externally. How do you see your role in reversing these accusations and what will the leadership team and vision be to achieve those goals?

Pierce Burnett: First of all, we embrace those accusations. I think it's something that we can learn from. In Austin, Texas, which is where I was immediately before coming here, I was super engaged in that community to be able to address racial challenges that we had about, you know, becoming the anti-racist or becoming open, and open access to sensibility, diversity, sustainability.

I think it's real important that I encourage my team to learn from where we stand to help us to move forward. 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.

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. 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.

Dee: Dr. Burnett, what expectations do you think the Newfields staff, board of trustees and the public should have of you in your role as President and CEO of Newfields,

Pierce Burnett: I am very mission focused. So, that expectation should be for me to stay focused on the mission. I'm also very passionate about what I do and very transparent and I don't run from my own vulnerability in my leadership. I'm doing listening sessions right now for the first 120 days of my tenure, so that I can really hear from people what their expectations are about Newfields, and what they love about Newfields and where they think our areas of interest are.

They can also expect me to be very engaged in the community. I'm very community minded and I'm committed to what Dr. King called building a beloved community and people will expect to see some really exciting and new and different programming. I am an educator, so we have expectations of partnering with local school districts to be able to do some very intentional, educational programs. Getting young people interested in the arts and nature, not just as an observer, but as a caretaker in positions that are non-traditional especially for people of color, to be able to spark that interest in little means in the apostrophe s. We can expect that to come from you.

Dee: It was such a delight to talk to you today. I appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

Pierce Burnett: Thank you.

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