Before the announcement of the departure of Newfields CEO Colette Pierce Burnette on Nov. 10, two members of the organization’s board of trustees resigned—one stepping down a month before Burnette’s exit and one on the day of the announcement.
A spokesperson for Newfields confirmed the resignations of Otto Frenzel IV, a four-year board member, and Gary Hirschberg, a five-year board member, but declined the opportunity to comment. Newfields has offered no explanation for Burnette’s exit, saying the organization adheres to a policy of not discussing the details of internal employment matters.
Frenzel resigned on Oct. 9. Hirschberg resigned the morning of Nov. 10, about eight hours before Newfields made the unexpected Burnette announcement.
IBJ obtained an email Hirschberg sent to fellow board members to announce his resignation.
“It is with great disappointment that recent events have forced my decision to tender my resignation from the board and as the chair of the finance committee,” Hirschberg wrote. “I do not believe I am able to serve any further in a fiduciary capacity that is up to the standards held by me personally and required by the state of Indiana in either role given the direction forced on us yesterday.”
IBJ contacted Hirschberg, who verified the authenticity of the email. He referred any questions to Newfields. Frenzel declined to comment on his decision to resign.
The mention of “direction forced on” the board on Nov. 9 joins a list of unknowns hovering above recent changes at Newfields.
Circumstances surrounding Burnette’s departure have not been publicly revealed. It’s unknown if Hirschberg’s resignation is related to Burnette’s exit, and the same uncertainty applies to Frenzel’s resignation.
Indiana Black Expo Inc., the Indianapolis Urban League and the Indy Arts Council publicly asked Newfields for more information related to Burnette’s departure.
On Thursday, Indiana Black Expo and the Indianapolis Urban League issued a joint statement, saying, “The Newfields board leadership owes the community an explanation.”
In an Indy Arts Council statement issued on Nov. 11, CEO Julie Goodman described the lack of information shared about Burnette’s exit as “callous and cold communication fueling a cycle of trauma and harm.”
IBJ’s attempts to reach Burnette have been unsuccessful.
The CEO of Newfields reports to the 28-member board of trustees. Darrianne Christian has served as board chair since May 2021.
The election of Christian made her the first Black woman selected for the position. Burnette, who began her tenure at Newfields on Aug. 1, 2022, was the first Black top executive at the organization initially founded as the Art Association of Indianapolis in 1883.
Burnette was hired in part to ease a race-related controversy involving her predecessor. She succeeded controversial former CEO Charles Venable after the organization was rocked in February 2021 by a controversy in which a job posting referenced 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.
Newfields was in the process of installing a new executive structure when Venable resigned. While Venable was hired as director and CEO in 2012, he was given a new title of Newfields president in 2021.
Two new roles, one devoted to managing day-to-day operations of the Indianapolis Museum of Art and one devoted to managing outdoor attractions at the Newfields campus, were created.
Jonathan Wright became the Ruth Lilly Director of The Garden and Fairbanks Park at Newfields.
The job of overseeing the art museum was filled this year. Belinda Tate started her tenure as the Melvin & Bren Simon Director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields the same week that Burnette’s departure was announced.
The board appointed Michael Kubacki, a former trustee and outgoing chair of Lake City Bank, as interim CEO of Newfields.
Frenzel, who had served as the board’s vice chair, is part of a family that has long-running connections to Newfields. His late father, Otto “Nick” Frenzel III, served on the art museum’s board. The estate of Frenzel III donated $1.5 million to Newfields and helped to endow a conservation science lab position that’s known as the Otto N. Frenzel III Senior Conservation Scientist.
Frenzel IV, owner of Lebanon-based Kauffman Engineering, previously served as president of the Penrod Arts Fair that’s presented annually on the grounds of Newfields. A former U.S. Marine Corps officer and Wharton School of Business graduate, Frenzel IV is treasurer of the Riley Children’s Foundation and president of the Indiana War Memorials Foundation.
Hirschberg and his wife, Hannah, presented the first “Art in Bloom” festival on the grounds of Newfields in 2021. Hirschberg is CEO of Chicago-based Aaron Wealth Advisors, which opened an office in Carmel earlier this year.