Newfields welcomed Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette as President & Chief Executive Officer on August 1, 2022, at a turning point in history—a time of angst and fear, but also a time of beauty and innovation. In her words, “a time of renaissance and revival.” Renaissance means rebirth, restoration, resurgence, reawakening, and reimagining. A time that encourages revival, that will allow us to create, express, and strive for a better world. And what better place to do that than at a world-class art institution?
She joined Newfields as President & CEO after a whole 31 days of retirement, bringing 40 years of progressive leadership experience in engineering and higher education, most recently as President of the historically Black college (HBCU), Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas.
On August 24th, just weeks after she began, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) Extraordinary General Assembly approved a new museum definition, the culmination of an 18-month participatory process involving hundreds of professionals from 126 national committees. A museum is now defined as:
“A not-for-profit, permanent institution in the service of society that researches, collects, conserves, interprets and exhibits tangible and intangible heritage. Open to the public, accessible and inclusive, museums foster diversity and sustainability. They operate and communicate ethically, professionally and with the participation of communities, offering varied experiences for education, enjoyment, reflection and knowledge sharing.” “A not-for-profit, permanent institution in the service of society that researches, collects, conserves, interprets and exhibits tangible and intangible heritage. Open to the public, accessible and inclusive, museums foster diversity and sustainability. They operate and communicate ethically, professionally and with the participation of communities, offering varied experiences for education, enjoyment, reflection and knowledge sharing.”
Newfields is committed to this new definition—a permanent institution in the service of our community. Newfields was built for this, founded as the Art Association of Indianapolis in 1883 by suffragette May Wright Sewell, in the name of innovation and creativity. Moving forward, with the first female leader and first African American leader since its inception, Newfields will continue to be a world-class art museum, with awe-inspiring festivals, programming, and events in a truly unique setting surrounded by breathtaking gardens, an art and nature park, and a living collection.
Dr. Burnette centers Newfields’ legacy as a cornerstone destination in Indianapolis, while simultaneously sparking innovation and transformation that extends beyond what we have known. Her vision is for Newfields to be an iconic cultural destination, a best-in-class, life-enhancing cultural experience through many eyes, prisms, and perspectives. Everyone will see themselves here. We can enrich lives through exceptional experiences with art and nature.
This work is hard work, but it is also heart work. Heart work requires trust. Her first assignment from the Board of Trustees was to be a goodwill ambassador for Newfields, to extend Newfields’ connections and relationships beyond 4000 Michigan Road.
The hiring of the Melvin & Bren Simon Director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art is at the top of the priority list, and well underway. She has assembled a search committee made up of eight people, with immense and diverse experiences, internally and externally, including: Julie Goodman, President & CEO for Indy Arts Council; Kent Hawryluk, President & CEO for MBX Biosciences; Dr. James Lemler, President for Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation; Sherry Peglow, Director of Registration for Newfields; Artur Silva, Visual Artist & Filmmaker; Dr. John Teramoto, Curator of Asian Art for Newfields; Frederick Wallace, Chief Conservator for Newfields; and Jonathan Wright, Ruth Lilly Director of the Garden & Fairbanks Park for Newfields. The committee is chaired by Dr. Burnette.
She is committed to continuing the work of the board-approved 2018-2028 Strategic Plan and overcoming what she is calling the triple tragedies; COVID-19, the collective outrage and civil unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd in 2020, and the public resignation of Newfields’ former CEO in 2021.
Dr. Burnette has met and connected with countless community groups, leaders, artists, and patrons of the arts. “She came in and hit the ground running, she hasn’t turned down a single engagement, dinner, coffee, or invitation,” said Darrianne Christian, Chair of the Board of Trustees.
“She has embraced this role completely, our city, our community, the neighborhood. A beloved community starts with seeing yourself as a part of it. She exemplifies that beautifully. It shows up in her approach, in her authenticity, her questions, listening, and the experiences she is seeking out. She is soaking up the DNA of Indianapolis,” said Julie Goodman, President & CEO of the Indy Arts Council, and member of the search committee that recommended Dr. Burnette for the position said.
Dr. Burnette often refers to her life journey as a series of assignments. Each assignment is an opportunity to live her purpose, to improve the quality of lives for others by leveraging her own talents, and to be her authentic self—a servant, living what Dr. Burnette calls a vessel life.
Robert Indiana (American, b. 1928), LOVE, 1970, Cor-ten steel, 144 × 144 × 72 in. Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, Gift of the Friends of the Indianapolis Museum of Art in memory of Henry F. DeBoest. Restoration was made possible by Patricia J. and James E. LaCrosse, 75.174 © Morgan Art Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Sol LeWitt (American, 1928–2007), Wall Drawing No. 652, Continuous Forms With Color Acrylic Washes Superimposed, 1990, acrylic wash on wall, 30 × 60 ft. Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, Gift of the Dudley Sutphin Family, 1990.40 © The LeWitt Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.