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New president, CEO at Newfields brings new perspective to institution

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Colette Pierce Burnette has only been at the helm of Newfields for eight months but says she knows it’s where she’s meant to be.

“That was part of what drew me here was the fact that we were founded by a suffragette and we were founded by a woman because she had a vision and she saw the power of art in people’s lives.”

Burnette followed in the footsteps of May Wright Sewall, the founder of the Art Association of Indianapolis, which one day became the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields.

“When I reflect on it, I realize I’ve been coming here for all my life.”

Burnette, an engineer and educator, brings a new perspective to running a large art and nature institution.

“I went back to school very late in life at the age of 55 to get my doctorate because I wanted to be a president. Most of my education has been informal in my life experiences. My whole journey has been to put me in a place to be able to lead a very complex intricate organization like Newfields.”

Burnette says she believes in the mission at Newfields: to use the arts to enrich people’s lives. That’s what drew her back to the Midwest. After she retired from higher education, she was chosen to manage the Indianapolis institution, which includes the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the historic Lilly House, the Virginia Fairbanks Art and Nature Park, and the Garden at Newfields.

“Everything you’re experiencing in your life you’re learning about where your passions are and what brings you joy and I find great deep passion in seeing people really blossom and bloom as a result of some experience they’ve had.”

Burnette says the art museum is in a renaissance; curators are offering more art from women, encouraging people to reflect and learn about those long been ignored.

“Now what we’re doing, we’re unearthing the parallel at that time there were also women doing phenomenal things at that time despite the odds of the experiences they were having during their own personal lives. The excellence just continues to flourish.”

Reflecting on her life, it’s clear Burnette has been in male-dominated fields for most of her career.

“I’ve been in these, people call them ‘trailblazing positions,’ my entire life. I’m a first-generation college student, but I was always in an environment where I was never told what I could not do. I was only told what I can do.”

She says she credits some of her success to the support from those around her and is ready to be the person encouraging others in this role.

Burnette says she mentors young people, specifically young women, and reminds them that our own negative thoughts make them their worst enemies.

But Burnette encourages them regardless.”When people say to you ‘Oh, you’re a girl,’ I say tell them ‘Yeah, try to keep up with me.’”

All of these life experiences have brought Burnette to a place to continue to push Newfields in the future.

“I’ll know my journey, this chapter of my life as serving as the president and CEO of Newfields is coming to an end when I hear two people talking and one person is telling another person ‘I’m going to Indianapolis’ and that person says to them ‘Oh my gosh, you have to go to Newfields because it will change your life.’ Then I’ll know I put us on this grand, national scale.”

Burnette brings years of interdisciplinary experience that she plans to use to grow the mission at Newfields and continue to push Newfields in the future.