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Eiteljorg at 35: CEO discusses past and future of distinguished museum

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Posted at 5:47 PM, Jun 24, 2024

INDIANAPOLIS — “It's been a whirlwind, but amazing at the same time,” Eiteljorg president and CEO Kathryn Haigh said of her first year at the helm of the museum that’s celebrating its 35th anniversary.

The Eiteljorg Museum opened its doors to the public on June 24, 1989. The museum is named after philanthropist and businessman Harrison Eiteljorg.

1989: Eiteljorg Museum opens

“Harrison was an art lover,” Haigh said. “But he didn't only collect Native American and Western art. He collected African art [and] European art. He was really a connoisseur of art and he worked with dealers and artists directly to get the best of the best.”

The core of the Eiteljorg Museum’s original collection consists of some 2,000 objects derived from Harrison Eiteljorg’s personal collection and one other source.

“It’ll be the first time that even I will see all of the objects displayed,” Eiteljorg said ahead of the museum’s groundbreaking in 1987.

1987: Land prepared for Eiteljorg Museum

Since that time, the museum's collection has grown to some 10,000 artifacts, all with the goal of maintaining the standard of quality that was established from the beginning.

“I think whether you're looking at the Western art collection or the Native American collection, it's the quality and the exceptional work that is right here in Indiana that people don't really know about,” Haigh said. “We have famous artists like Georgia O'Keeffe and Thomas Hart Benton, and then we have incredible Native American art.”

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The Eiteljorg also boasts a large collection of contemporary art. Since 1999, and every other year since, the Eiteljorg has awarded five contemporary fellowship awards to five contemporary Native American artists. This year, each selected artist was awarded $50,000. The museum then collects something from each artist’s collection.

“It's incredible,” Haigh said. “[It’s] probably one of the best contemporary Native art collections in the country. It's a really significant award, and there's very few like it.”

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Visitors will also find temporary exhibitions. Currently, that includes “Acts of Faith: Religion and the American West,” “Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces,” and “Developing Stories: Native Photographers in the Field.”

“Our mission for many years has been to foster an appreciation and understanding of indigenous peoples of North America and the American West,” Haigh said. “That is still our mission, but there's a slight twist in that.”

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Haigh says the Eiteljorg Musuem recently updated its mission, vision and values, and strategic plan.

“It's not dissimilar to our last mission, but it's really focusing on those diverse stories that haven't been told,” Haigh said. There are more things that we can talk about that we haven't talked about. So when I think about the future of our exhibition program and reinstalling the permanent collection, there are so many opportunities to tell those stories that haven't been told.”

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