Eiteljorg CEO John Vanausdall announces retirement
After serving for nearly 26 years as president and CEO of the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, John Vanausdall will retire June 30, 2023, he announced today.
Vanausdall, 66, has led the Eiteljorg Museum through unprecedented growth in its collections, exhibitions and public programming, enabled by expansion and renovation of the museum building and growth of the operating endowment. During his tenure, the Eiteljorg developed a national reputation for excellence in its Native American art and art of the American West, with a special emphasis on contemporary expressions of both. The museum has forged deep working relationships with artists, scholars, and Native American leaders and culture bearers. And, the museum has nurtured the support of donors in the greater Indianapolis community and across the nation.
“I am tremendously proud of all the staff, board and community have accomplished together to help the Eiteljorg maximize its impact locally, regionally and nationally,” Vanausdall said. “Now, as the Eiteljorg completes the work of its most recent five-year strategic plan and the Project 2021 capital and endowment campaign, the museum is poised to develop its next vision and strategic plan. The timing is perfect for new leadership to take the helm and navigate the museum into the 2030s.”
The Eiteljorg Board of Directors and Vanausdall long have planned for this change, and an executive search committee of board members is leading the process. The committee first conducted a national search for the best firm to partner with the museum to identify potential candidates to lead the Eiteljorg. With support of the board, the committee selected Bridge Partners, LLC, a minority- and woman-owned business that specializes in the arts and cultural space and has a track record of identifying top potential leaders, including diverse candidates. Bridge Partners and the search committee have mapped out a timeline in which Vanausdall’s successor will be announced in the first quarter of 2023 and in place at the museum by the time he steps down, just over 10 months from now.
“There are not enough superlatives for this board, or all the members of 26 years of Eiteljorg boards, to fully express our gratitude to John Vanausdall for what he has done for the museum,” Eiteljorg Board Chair Pat Anker said. “Although he has always been reluctant to acknowledge his contributions to the museum’s successes, John has been the significant driver. He has clearly been a stellar leader, but John is also an extraordinary person and friend. He has built a great past and present for our beloved museum. Our challenge will be to find someone who can help us build an equally great future.”
Vanausdall said he is most proud of the Eiteljorg Museum’s role as a cultural center in the Indianapolis community – a leader in cultural diversity, understanding and inclusivity.
“I am grateful for the support of the Eiteljorg’s Board of Directors, our many members and supporters, and especially for the museum’s loyal and hard-working staff and volunteers, who make all of it possible,” Vanausdall said. “Best of all are the friendships I have made throughout the greater Indianapolis community and larger art world, especially among our Native American and Western artist friends.”
Among the highlights of Vanausdall’s leadership are several milestones at the institution:
- The recent completion of the $55 million Project 2021 capital/endowment campaign, which involved raising $40 million in cash and pledges for the museum’s endowment; reimagining and reconstructing the Native American and Western art galleries; renovating the children’s discovery area, the Nina Mason Pulliam Education Center; and expanding the multipurpose facility, the Allen Whitehill Clowes Sculpture Court.
- An earlier project, the completion of the museum’s $20 million Mel and Joan Perelman Wing in 2005, that doubled the Eiteljorg’s public space.
- Major growth in the museum’s collections of Native American, Western and contemporary art through important acquisitions – including donations and bequests from art collectors around the nation – that built upon the original collection of museum founder Harrison Eiteljorg.
- Expansion of the museum’s culturally significant initiatives that attract new or diverse audiences and groups, including the biennial Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship and several annual events: the Indian Market and Festival, the Juneteenth and Día de Muertos community celebrations, the Quest for the West® Art Show and Sale, and the holiday model train display, Jingle Rails: The Great Western Adventure, among others.
- Developing and maintaining the museum’s financial support base through private philanthropy, donor relations and corporate sponsorships, which allowed the Eiteljorg to meet its obligations during the pandemic-shortened year of 2020 and quickly bounce back.
- Achieving national honors and recognition for the Eiteljorg through multiple awards in the field and attaining accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums.
- Emphasizing a commitment to diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion, through among other things implementing the museum’s new DEAI plan as part of its next five-year strategic plan.
Vanausdall joined the Eiteljorg in October 1996 after 18 years in both the creative and management areas of the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. He earned a BS in education in 1978 and an MBA in 1996, both from Indiana University. In 1989, he attended the Museum Management Institute in Berkeley, California, a program of The American Federation of the Arts and The Getty Trust.
His longevity as museum president and CEO – which will be nearly 27 years when he retires – is unusual in the museum world. Now that the museum’s new Native American Galleries are open, fundraising goals for Project 2021 have been reached and a new five-year strategic plan is in development, Vanausdall said it’s an opportune time for him to retire and for the museum to bring on a new leader.
Vanausdall will remain on the job as Eiteljorg president and CEO through next June and will assist in the transition to a successor selected by the Board of Directors through the search process with Bridge Partners, LLC.
“For my part, I am looking forward to spending time in retirement with family and friends, traveling and finding new ways to be of service to others,” Vanausdall said. “I am tremendously excited for the future of the Eiteljorg Museum and the opportunities awaiting it.”