News Release: Eiteljorg Museum names Elisa Phelps as new VP and Chief Curatorial Officer

News Release: Eiteljorg Museum names Elisa Phelps as new VP and Chief Curatorial Officer

Elisa G. Phelps
Elisa G. Phelps

INDIANAPOLIS – The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art has chosen a highly experienced museum curatorial leader from Denver as its new vice president and chief curatorial officer. Elisa G. Phelps will start her new duties in November leading the Eiteljorg Museum’s curatorial, collections and exhibitions divisions.

For the past 14 years, Phelps has served at History Colorado in Denver as the director of that museum’s collections and library departments. In that role, she has had overall management of the curatorial, collections and library departments, and supervised a staff of 14. Phelps and her staff made History Colorado’s collections available to the public through an online portal. She initiated public outreach activities, oversaw the relocation of museum collections to new facilities, worked on grant proposals and ensured compliance with federal laws that protect Native American objects.

Phelps succeeds James H. Nottage, who retired in June after 17 years as the Eiteljorg’s vice president and chief curatorial officer.

“From its founding, the Eiteljorg Museum has been fortunate in recruiting the most respected and talented museum professionals and experts in Native American and Western art,” Eiteljorg President and CEO John Vanausdall said. “This is a crucial position, so we are enormously pleased that Elisa Phelps with her outstanding record of accomplishments will join our team in Indianapolis and bring her experience to bear in leading the Eiteljorg’s scholarship, exhibitions development and collections,” he said.

Elisa Phelps has strong credentials as a museum professional in the fields of Native American and Western art. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Southwest studies and anthropology from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., and a master’s in museum studies from the University of Leicester in Leicester, England. She served as curator of anthropology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science from 1987 to 1998, and as director of collections and curator of anthropology at the Witte Museum in San Antonio from 1998 to 2003.

“A deep interest in Native American and Western history has significantly impacted my life, from choosing a college major, to shaping the direction of my professional career, and even to the selection of where to spend vacation time. With the Eiteljorg’s rich collection, talented staff, and preeminent role in sharing the art, artifacts and stories of Native Americans and the American West, I am honored to have been selected to become part of the Eiteljorg team,” Phelps said.

“Museums have a unique power to inform, entertain, engage, and educate that extends far beyond their physical walls. The Eiteljorg art catalogs published in conjunction with the biennial Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship are a noteworthy example of this power. In promoting understanding and appreciation of contemporary Native art, the Eiteljorg has helped shape the field. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to play a role in forging the museum’s future,” Phelps added.

In her various museum positions, Phelps has been curator or project director of numerous exhibitions. Author of scholarly articles in museum publications, she also has taught college undergraduates and graduate students, given many presentations to groups and has chaired or served on the boards of several professional museum organizations.

She was selected by the Eiteljorg after a nationwide search and her hire was announced recently at a museum Board of Directors meeting.

Founded in 1989, the Eiteljorg Museum houses thousands of objects, including historic and contemporary Native American art works and Western paintings and sculptures, many of them donated by Harrison Eiteljorg, the George Gund family, Helen Cox Kersting, Kenneth “Bud” Adams and other prominent art collectors. The museum’s collections staff organizes, researches, maintains and conserves objects, and the curatorial staff creates, develops, and manages exhibitions of art and provides interpretation of the art works. Exhibitions involve months or years of planning, including coordinating with other museums, galleries, donors and artists in order to secure art works for a show; and the vice president and chief curatorial officer oversees the management of that process. Phelps’ arrival comes at an important time; the Eiteljorg is gearing up for the reopening of its first-floor Western galleries Nov. 10, and for the planned renovation of its second-floor Native American galleries in 2021.

About the Eiteljorg:
The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in White River State Park in downtown 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. Located on the Central Canal at 500 West Washington St., the Eiteljorg Museum recently was named one of the USA Today Readers’ Choice 10 Best Indiana Attractions.

Photo Caption:
Attached is a file photo of Elisa G. Phelps, the new vice president and chief curatorial officer of the Eiteljorg Museum.


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