Organizations seek explanation for Newfields leader’s departure
Three of Robert Indiana’s Numbers sculptures are grouped to signify 2023 as the 140th anniversary of the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, 4000 Michigan Road . (IBJ photo/Dave Lindquist)
Indiana Black Expo Inc. and the Indianapolis Urban League are urging the Newfields Board of Trustees to share information about the abrupt departure of Colette Pierce Burnette from the role of CEO of the art museum and gardens.
“The Newfields board leadership owes the community an explanation,” leaders of Indiana Black Expo and Indianapolis Urban League said in a joint statement released Thursday morning.
On Nov. 10, Newfields announced the exit of Burnette by releasing a statement that offered no explanation for the move. A Newfields spokesperson told the IBJ that the organization adheres to a policy of not discussing the details of internal employment matters.
Attempts to reach Burnette, whose 2022 hiring followed a race-related controversy at Newfields and the resignation of her predecessor, have been unsuccessful.
The statement by Indiana Black Expo and the Indianapolis Urban League cited a negative perception created by the lack of details offered about Burnette’s departure.
As part of Thursday’s statement, IBE and the Urban League said, “Dr. Burnette opened the Newfields’ doors to many African American organizations and the entire community, and we have personally witnessed the buzz and excitement around her leadership,”
The statement said Burnette’s departure raises questions about the commitment to Black talent recruitment and retention in Indiana.
Burnette succeeded controversial former CEO Charles Venable after the organization was rocked in February 2021 by a race-related controversy in which a job posting referenced the need to maintain “the museum’s traditional, core, white art audience” while attempting to attract guests from all backgrounds. Venable resigned after more than 85 Newfields employees and affiliates signed a letter calling for his ouster.
Burnette was the first Black top executive at Newfields, an organization initially founded as the Art Association of Indianapolis in 1883.
News of Burnette’s exit arrived the same week that Belinda Tate began her tenure as the new director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields. Burnette led the process to hire Tate, executive director at Michigan’s Kalamazoo Institute of Arts since 2014. Tate manages IMA day-to-day operations ranging from exhibitions and art acquisitions to public programs and community outreach.
The Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration film festival traditionally is presented at The Toby theater at Newfields, 4000 Michigan Road. In May, Newfields hosted a reception for Alice Watson, who began her tenure as IBE CEO in January.
“We were looking forward to expanding the partnership with Newfields in 2024, which has now come to a complete halt,” the organizations said.
The Newfields Board of Trustees appointed Michael Kubacki, a former trustee and chairman of Lake City Bank, as interim president and CEO.