Former Newfields CEO joins Martin University board of trustees

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Colette Pierce Burnette
Colette Pierce Burnette led the Newfields art museum and gardens as CEO from August 2022 until an abrupt and unexplained departure in November 2023. (IBJ file photo)

Colette Pierce Burnette, CEO of Newfields art museum and gardens from August 2022 until an abrupt and unexplained departure in November 2023, is one of three new members on the Martin University board of trustees.

Indianapolis-based Martin University, a predominantly Black school that serves adult learners, announced Burnette, National Guard Brig. Gen. Felicia Brokaw and Professional Management Enterprises owner Danny Portee as new board members on Monday.

Newfields has provided no explanation for Burnette’s exit, citing a policy of not discussing the details of internal employment matters.

Newfields representatives have declined to be interviewed. Attempts to reach Burnette for comment have been unsuccessful.

Martin University President Sean Huddleston was one of six Newfields board of trustees members to step down in the weeks before and after the organization announced Burnette’s exit. Newfields added two board members, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management executive Robert Scheele and Diversity in Leadership Program Inc. CEO Leon Jackson, in December.

A Martin spokesperson told the IBJ in December that Huddleston left the Newfields board in response to Burnette’s departure.

“Given the current climate, her departure represents an unfortunate setback to the progress our community has made,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

Burnette became the first Black top executive at Newfields following a race-related controversy involving her predecessor, Charles Venable. In February 2021, Newfields issued a job posting referencing 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.

Before her CEO stint at Newfields, Burnette was president of historically Black college Huston-Tillotson in Austin, Texas. She was named the 2021 Austinite of the Year by the city’s Chamber of Commerce, which cited Burnette’s commitment to education and her work as co-chair for the Mayor’s Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities. She is credited with helping grow Huston-Tillotson’s endowment by 55% during her tenure.

The Martin board oversees the institutional mission, planning and fiscal affairs of the school founded in 1977.

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