Colette Pierce Burnette has resigned as president and CEO of Newfields after only 15 months on the job, the museum said in a statement Friday.
Burnette “helped deepen our relationships with the community and championed the transformative powers of art and nature. We are grateful for her work on behalf of Newfields and wish her well in her future endeavors,” board of trustees chair Darrianne Christian said in the statement.
The board has appointed former board vice chair Michael Kubacki as interim president and CEO.
Burnette was hired to replace former Newfields CEO Charles Venable , who departed amid controversy over an Indianapolis Museum of Art director job post that said it sought a candidate who could maintain its “traditional, core, white art audience.”
Burnette came to Newfields following a tenure as president of Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas. At the time, she told Indianapolis’ public radio station that she was eager to regain the public’s trust following the scandal.
“There’s a new definition of what a museum is and the word diversity and inclusivity is in that definition,” she said. “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.”
Burnette’s sudden departure is the latest in a string of leadership shakeups at Newfields. On November 6, Belinda Tate started her tenure as the first Melvin & Bren Simon Director, which was established in February 2021 as the not-for-profit museum revamped its executive structure. As Newfields begins its search for a new permanent CEO, Tate is tasked with carrying the 140-year-old organization past an unprecedented crisis of identity.
Since Venable’s departure in 2021, Newfields has faced allegations that it had facilitated a “toxic” and discriminatory work culture at the museum, according to an open letter from Kelli Morgan, its former associate curator of American art. In the letter, Morgan described a “racist rant” from a museum board member.
Tate must also contend with the legacy of Venable’s polarizing vision for the museum’s programming which, according to his critics , prioritized blockbuster exhibitions. Oft-cited examples include a show devoted to Bugatti cars and the Winterlights festival, which involved stringing its garden with colorful lights during the holidays and charging $25 for entry.
Newfields has not responded to a request for comment from ARTnews .