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John Vanausdall marks 20 years as President and CEO of the Eiteljorg Museum

by | Oct 11, 2016
John Vanausdall, President and CEO of the Eiteljorg Museum

INDIANAPOLIS – The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art reached a noteworthy milestone October 14 when John Vanausdall marked his 20th anniversary as the museum’s President and CEO.

Though in the museum world it’s unusual for any director to stay for two decades, Vanausdall said he has been refreshed by each new stage of the Eiteljorg’s development. “To some extent it’s my nature to stick with something for the long haul,” he said of his longevity in the job. “Also, I’ve been lucky to have one of the best museum boards in America, an incredible, creative and productive staff and donors and volunteers who have been deeply committed.” 

When Vanausdall joined the Eiteljorg Museum as its new president and CEO in October 1996, the museum, already open for seven years at that point, was at an “inflection point,” he said – “the newness had worn off.”  In the 20 years since, Vanausdall led the Eiteljorg through a dramatic series of changes to position it for the future: 

  • Growing the museum’s endowment from $2 million to $27 million.
  • Completion of the $20 million Mel and Joan Perelman Wing that doubled the museum’s public space.
  • Dramatic growth in the museum’s collections of Native American and Western art through nationally important donations and bequests.
  • More than doubling the museum’s ticket sales in recent years through popular public exhibitions, and reaching out to culturally diverse communities to ensure the museum is relevant.
  • Advancement of the museum’s professional practices for the core of its collection, facilities upgrades and human resource development, and attaining accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums. 

“John Vanausdall has been an extraordinary leader for the Eiteljorg for the past 20 years,” said Thomas G. Hoback, chairman of the museum’s board of directors. “During his tenure, we have seen the museum grow in size, breadth of its collection and in national and international stature. His remarkable ability to engage people of diverse backgrounds in the life of the museum has helped us grow our membership and interest in the organization. All of us at the Eiteljorg are grateful for John’s leadership.”

In 1996 Vanausdall came to the Eiteljorg after 18 years in both the creative and management areas of the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and with an MBA from Indiana University. Through patience, persistence and diplomacy he’s navigated the Eiteljorg through projects to build the base of supporters, cultivate new audiences and realign the public’s perception of the Eiteljorg from solely an art museum to one of art, history and culture that is deeply engaged with the Indianapolis community.

“Especially since we are a museum in large part about Native Americans, and because these are living cultures of today, we have nurtured extraordinarily special relationships with the people themselves, their leadership and the artists. I’m proud of what we have accomplished in that area,” Vanausdall said.

“We’ve also been very deliberate in telling the complete story of the American West, one that’s really about the cultural diversity that our West has always embodied,” he added, noting the confluence of Native American, Anglo, Latino, African-American and Asian cultures in the West in shaping the nation as a whole and the perceptions Americans hold of themselves.

During his 20 years, the Eiteljorg launched new programs – the Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship, the annual Quest for the West® Art Show and Sale and the Buckaroo Bash fund-raiser – and enhanced the annual Indian Market and Festival that will celebrate its 25th year in June 2017. Developing and maintaining the museum’s financial support base, both from private philanthropy and corporate sponsorships, is Vanausdall’s most important role. Through his forging long-term working relationships with collectors of Native American and Western art, the Eiteljorg has become beneficiary of the impressive collections of George Gund, Helen Cox Kersting, Kenneth S. “Bud” Adams and other donors that include works by Frederic Remington, Georgia O’Keeffe, Howard Terpning and others.

One important development is that the Eiteljorg has become a destination for international visitors to Indianapolis, who seek out the museum on their own or are brought there by local civic leaders, Vanausdall said. While any other city might have a zoo or an art museum, the Eiteljorg is something unique to Indianapolis due to its focus on Native Americans and the West. “They want to see something they can’t see in their countries or in other cities. There is deep interest in the American West among people from around the world,” he said.

Vanausdall 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.

As he prepares to launch the next phase of building the museum’s endowment, Vanausdall, 60, said what he finds most rewarding is “just being able to guide the growth of one of the best museums in America.”

New board members
The anniversary comes as the nonprofit museum’s board of directors recently appointed two new members to serve on the board:

  • Charles Blair leads Charles Blair Associates, Consulting which specializes in strategic planning, community relations and minority affairs for clients. With experience in philanthropy, fund-raising and community and organizational development, Blair is former president of the Madame Walker Theater Center and former president and general manager of the Indianapolis Recorder.
  • Wendy Cooper is senior special projects manager of Insight Development Corporation, the not-for-profit arm of the Indianapolis Housing Agency. Cooper also is principal of the Athari Group which assists local governments, nonprofits and businesses with economic development. She is former director of economic development at Flanner House of Indianapolis.

Both Blair and Cooper previously served on the museum’s advisory board before their recent appointments to the board of directors. Meanwhile, four community leaders recently were appointed to the museum’s advisory board:

  • Christopher C. Eck, an attorney who is senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary at The Finish Line, Inc.
  • Norman “Tom” Funk, an attorney who is of counsel to Krieg DeVault’s litigation practice.
  • Lynnette Hanes, executive director in J.P. Morgan’s Private Bank who has previously served on boards of arts organizations.
  • Chad Slaughter, senior vice president and division executive of Fifth Third Bank.

About the Eiteljorg
The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis seeks to inspire an appreciation and understanding of the art, history and cultures of the American West and the indigenous peoples of North America. The Eiteljorg is located on the Canal in downtown Indianapolis’ White River State Park, 500 West Washington St., Indianapolis, IN  46204. For general information about the museum and to learn more about exhibits and events, call 317.636.WEST (9378) or visit


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Bryan Corbin                                        
Public Relations Manager                     
Eiteljorg Museum                                 

Hyacinth Rucker
Communications Coordinator
Eiteljorg Museum

Bert Beiswanger
Director of Marketing and Communications
Eiteljorg Museum


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