The museum said that Burnette was selected out of more than 230 applicants during the hiring process.
“I am thrilled to become part of a team driven to meet Newfields’ mission of enriching lives purposefully and intentionally through exceptional experiences with art and nature,” Pierce Burnette said in a statement. “I am excited to lead Newfields at this unique moment to make it a place every person in Indianapolis and beyond is excited to visit, and every team member is proud to work.”
Pierce Burnette’s “extensive professional achievements reflect her ability to deliver,” said Darrianne Christian, a Black woman who was recently appointed to be the chair of Newfields' Board of Trustees last year. “Her legacy has been to elevate the beloved institutions she’s led into stronger, more inclusive organizations that others seek to emulate.”
The museum came under fire in February 2021 for a job posting that asked for candidates who could help the museum diversify while maintaining its “traditional, core, white art audience.”
After amended its listing, Charles L. Venable, its director, and chief executive resigned after a nine-year tenure as activists demanded new diversity commitments and employees sought an improved office culture.
Kelli Morgan, a Tufts University professor who resigned from her associate curator position at Newfields in 2020, hopes that Pierce Burnette’s appointment signifies change.
“I hope her presence will make the institution what it should be for all audiences and communities in Indianapolis,” Morgan said.
Burnette is currently the president of Huston-Tillotson University, an HBCU in Austin, Texas. She was named the 2021 Austinite of the Year by the city's Chamber of Commerce to honor her work in education and as co-chair for the Mayor's Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities.
Pierce Burnette will begin her new position in August 2022.