November 22, 2023

Newfields releases statement, but no new details, after CEO’s exit

Protestors outside Newfields.  -  (Jill Sheridan/WFYI)

Protestors outside Newfields.

(Jill Sheridan/WFYI)

Newfields released a statement Tuesday after the departure of former CEO Colette Pierce Burnette, almost two weeks after the organization announced her exit without providing more specific details about what led to the leadership change.

The board of trustees said they were unable to provide any additional information about that transition. The board’s statement also underlined efforts to “recruit and retain diverse talent” at Newfields, and said there is no change in the museum’s mission.

Three board members have also left Newfields in the wake of Burnette’s departure.

A collective of Black organizations and community members have called for an explanation about Burnette’s exit.  Some say they were blindsided as the work Burnette was doing to repair a rift between the Black community and the museum came to a halt.

In its statement, the board said Newfields is working hard to earn community trust and understands that important work remains.

The most recent call for clarity, issued by the African American Coalition of Indianapolis and 18 other Black organizations, questioned the museum's commitment to diversity.

“The situation compels us to consider if the outcome would have been different had the racial dynamics at play been otherwise,” their release said. “These questions are not just conjecture; they stem from a discernible pattern in Indianapolis where Black professionals seldom see long tenures in executive roles. This trend contradicts our collective mission for a thriving African American community represented robustly at every leadership level.”

About 50 people attended a protest outside Newfields last weekend. Mary Huebner, a docent at the museum, was there. She said with the abrupt change, an explanation is due.

“It would help,” Huebner said.

Burnette started the job only 15 months ago, replacing the former Newfields CEO Charles Venable. He resigned after public outcry over an Indianapolis Museum of Art director job post that sought to maintain the organization's "traditional, core, white art audience".

The Newfields Board appointed Michael Kubacki, a former trustee and outgoing chair of Lake City Bank, as interim President and CEO of Newfields.

Contact WFYI city government and policy reporter Jill Sheridan at jsheridan@wfyi.org.

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