A cultural arts leader with 28 years of experience managing art collections, exhibitions, community outreach efforts, museum operations and strategic planning will become the next president and CEO of the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art.
Kathryn Haigh will take charge as Eiteljorg president and CEO, succeeding John Vanausdall, who is retiring June 30 after more than 26 years leading the museum. The Eiteljorg Board of Directors voted this week to hire Haigh, and she will assume her new duties in May. She said she plans to introduce new ways of engaging Indianapolis communities with programs developed through community collaboration.
“I am excited about the opportunity to lead the Eiteljorg at this particular time in our country’s history,” Haigh said. “We are experiencing a period of cultural transformation in Indianapolis with many new leaders at key institutions, and I can’t wait to see what we can do together to promote culture and become a community resource for all.”
Haigh comes to the Eiteljorg after serving both as interim director and chief operating officer at the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, where she has managed collections, exhibitions, conservation, security, facilities and other areas. She has prioritized collecting and exhibiting art by artists from marginalized groups, and worked to build dialogue with underserved communities. Haigh joined the IMA in 2007 and has served in several important management positions, including chief registrar and in multiple roles as deputy director.
Pat Anker, chair of the Eiteljorg Board of Directors, noted that when Vanausdall announced his retirement last August, the board’s challenge was to find someone with his quality of experience who could sustain and build on his legacy at the Eiteljorg.
“Kathryn Haigh clearly is that someone. Her career has been one of rich artistic as well as deep operating experience. We searched for – and found – someone with exemplary credentials in leadership, fundraising, DEAI, strategic planning and community outreach. In addition, Kathryn brings a tremendous exhibition-development background,” Anker said.
L.G. Edwards, an Eiteljorg Board member and former board chair who chaired the executive search committee, said that during the selection process the committee did thorough due diligence and spoke with many people in order to find the optimal candidate.
“In her previous roles, Kathryn Haigh has been a creative problem-solver who found innovative solutions. She had responsibility for advancing efforts in community engagement for the purpose of reaching underserved communities, which is one of our goals in the Eiteljorg’s strategic plan,” Edwards said.
“Her vision for the museum meshes with the just-completed strategic plan: continuing to raise the profile of the museum, continuing to tell the untold stories and continuing to expand the connections with our full range of Indigenous and multicultural audiences,” Anker added. “We are all pleased and excited to welcome Kathryn Haigh as the next president and CEO of the Eiteljorg.”
In her most recent role, Haigh has worked with curators to collect and exhibit art by traditionally marginalized artists who are not well represented in museum collections – including women, LGBTQ+ and BIPOC. The addition of these works allows the museum to tell new stories and gives museum visitors an opportunity to see the permanent collection in a different context, increasing their level of engagement with the art, she said.
“It is important that museum collections reflect the cultures and experience of the communities that they serve in order to be relevant,” Haigh said. “It is the responsibility of museums to not only show artwork that is representative of different cultures, but to also extend an invitation to underserved communities to visit the museum, understanding that not everyone feels welcome.”
She led recent efforts to invite community members to gatherings to give their feedback on Newfields gallery exhibits, asking them to respond to artworks in the collection and then including their responses in the gallery interpretation.
“One of the reasons I am thrilled about this opportunity is the fact that the Eiteljorg Museum has been doing this work for decades,” Haigh said. “As the next president and CEO, I see this as an incredible opportunity to continue to expand the foundational programs that have been successful in the past, such as the Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship, the Quest for the West® Art Show and Sale, the Indian Market and Festival, the Juneteenth and Jazz Community Celebration, Jingle Rails and Día de Muertos. I also plan to introduce new ways of engaging our Indianapolis community through programs developed in collaboration with the community,” she added.
“It will be my responsibility to continue to raise the profile of the Eiteljorg on a local, national and international scale. I hope to do this through touring exhibitions, new commissions by contemporary Indigenous artists, publications and placing strategic loans from the permanent collection in other institutions,” Haigh said.
One of the longest-serving nonprofit leaders in Indianapolis, Vanausdall announced last August that he will retire effective June 30, 2023. To conduct an inclusive national search for a successor, the Eiteljorg Board’s executive committee hired the firm Bridge Partners, LLC, a minority- and woman-owned firm that specializes in the arts and cultural space and has a track record of identifying top potential leaders. Out of 213 who applied through Bridge Partners’ process, Haigh stood out as the finalist, Edwards said.
“As part of a purposeful and inclusive search process, a particular effort was made to ensure the voices and networks of Native American and First Nations communities were included, both in order to support the development of the position description, and in our outreach to potential candidates and those with networks that might include potential candidates,” Edwards said. “We remain thankful to those leaders and communities for their thoughts, input and introductions.”
The Eiteljorg president and CEO is the top executive of the nonprofit museum with a $40 million endowment. The CEO has major responsibilities for community relations, donor stewardship, fundraising, curatorial, program and facilities management and strategic planning, and leads five departments with a staff of approximately 50 employees and 250 volunteers. Building relationships with Native American communities and other diverse communities are major responsibilities of the CEO. Known for its exhibitions of Native American art – including one of the best collections of contemporary Native art anywhere – as well as Western art and inclusive public programs, the Eiteljorg is one of the anchors of White River State Park in downtown Indianapolis.
The transition from one CEO to another comes after Vanausdall recently led to completion the Eiteljorg’s five-year capital endowment campaign, Project 2021, for which more than $55 million in cash and pledges were raised. Project 2021 included the reimagining of the Eiteljorg’s Native American Galleries, which reopened in June 2022 with the spectacular new exhibition Expressions of Life: Native Art in North America. During Vanausdall’s final three years, the Eiteljorg adopted a new diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion (DEAI) statement. Recently the board adopted a new DEAI plan as part of the Eiteljorg’s new five-year strategic plan.
A graduate of the University of Cincinnati with a degree in art history, Haigh served as chief registrar, first at the Cincinnati Museum of Art from 1998 to 2007 and then at IMA from 2007 to 2010. As deputy director, she was promoted to increasing areas of responsibility. She became chief operating officer of IMA at Newfields in 2017, planned the institution’s response to the COVID pandemic, and then in 2021 became both interim director and chief operating officer. Among her many major projects in recent years were: installation and operations of the popular Winterlights holiday display, which had double its projected attendance; renovation and development of the new Clowes Pavilion; and reimagining the permanent galleries to include feedback from audiences.
Haigh is the fifth chief executive or museum director in the Eiteljorg’s history and its first female president and CEO. She will arrive a few weeks before Vanausdall’s departure, so that the outgoing and incoming CEOs will overlap during the transition. Kathryn, her partner Brad Sterling and her teenage son, Ryan, split their time between Fishers, Ind., and Columbus, Ind. Her daughter, Madeleine, is a Ball State University graduate and interior designer living in Noblesville. Kathryn collects art, enjoys traveling, hiking, and spending time outdoors.
“I am grateful for the efforts of the Board of Directors and Bridge Partners, and I am extremely pleased that Kathryn Haigh will take the helm at the Eiteljorg and navigate this museum in the years ahead,” Vanausdall said. “I know her to be a highly regarded museum executive with a focus on diverse communities and commitment to excellence. Kathryn Haigh will make an immediate positive impact on the Eiteljorg and all the communities it serves.”