People Who Work Here: Sue Nichols

Sue Nichols

Photo: Sue Ahn

Susan Nichols, Chief Operating Officer

You’re seen a lot in the museum–in the galleries, at various events–is at all work-related or do you like being with the art?

Of course I love being with the art, but mostly I just love being with the people. I am enamored of many of our staff members and working with them is tons of fun. Also, I really enjoy meeting and talking with our visitors and seeing responses to the museum. So I am easily able to combine work with pleasure in this way. I also LOVE many of our programs and want to be part of them.

How did you learn of the Phillips?

I’m too old to remember. It was a long time ago.

Do you have a favorite artist in the collection?

No, but every day I see something fantastic. And I love the Reading Room displays that Librarian Karen Schneider and Cataloguing and Technical Services Librarian Sarah Osborne Bender put together. I adore the fact that we change things up all the time, and I’m amazed at how we can make such a small collection appear fresh and new every day.

Are there more women now in top executive positions at art museums, such as you and Dorothy Kosinski, the Phillips director?

I think the museum field has always been a great place for women. I entered the field in 1985 already in a senior role, and many of my colleagues were (even then) very talented women.

Which smartphone do you use?

Okay, I’m awfully proud to say that I recently upgraded to a Samsung 4G, which (when I acquired it) was one generation ahead of that owned by IT Support Specialist Sandy Lee! Since then, of course, he has won an upgrade as a door prize somewhere, but for a couple of weeks I was on the cutting edge. Pretty rare for me.

People Who Work Here: Lisa Leinberger

To celebrate National Volunteer Week, Rolf Rykken sat down with Lisa Leinberger, our tireless volunteer coordinator, to talk about the Phillips volunteer program, recently listed among D.C.’s top 25 volunteer opportunities in the Washington Post.

Photograph of volunteer coordinator Lisa Leinberger at the Art Information Desk

Volunteer Coordinator Lisa Leinberger at the Art Information Desk. Photo: Joshua Navarro

Lisa Leinberger,  Volunteer Coordinator

When did the Art Information Desk start?

When the volunteer program originally started [in 1988].

Has the service changed over the years?

Yes, there are quite a few more volunteers now than in the past. There are 90–100 volunteers now. The program was more or less in place when I took over in February 2006. The volunteer program is under visitor services. The demographic of volunteers has changed. There are more young professionals who volunteer (about 15-20%), several mid-career folks (about 10-15%), as well as retirees now.

And there are three types of volunteers at the Phillips: departmental volunteers, volunteer children’s docents, and art information volunteers.

What are the qualifications to serve at the Art Information Desk?

Enthusiasm for the museum is the first qualification.

A volunteer must commit to a minimum of one year service, two shifts each month, and attend two formal training sessions per year.

I give each volunteer a private tutorial about the collection, its history and philosophy (“the eye” of Duncan Phillips), plus they are briefed on each special exhibition.

How did you learn about the information desk?

I knew the importance of volunteer programs from my former position as board member and chairman at the New Mexico Museum of Art, Fine Art Committee, in Santa Fe, NM.

Two days after I moved back to D.C. in 2005, I became a member of The Phillips Collection.

My house was under construction at the time. The noise and the dust were punishing. I knew this museum was filled with quiet beauty. It was the perfect escape. I called the museum to inquire about volunteering. That very day the volunteer coordinator was moving to another position. After a long conversation about my interests and qualifications, she asked me if I would be interested in applying for the position that she was vacating. Long story short, I now have what  many folks call “the best job in D.C.”

Many first-time visitors seem very enthusiastic–especially after seeing the collection. Is that your impression too?

First-time visitors, frequent visitors, and even members are constantly telling volunteers at the Art Information desk how wonderfully welcoming this museum is. Folks often stop to chat with volunteers to share a story about a former visit or to marvel at a new exhibition or addition to the collection.

Do you have a favorite artist in the collection?

Each time the galleries change I get a new point of view and appreciation for various art works in the collection. However, I am continually besotted with Paul Klee.

“Seeing Red,” Mark Rothko Inspired Works Displayed at “Red”

Briefly augmenting the Tony Award-winning play, Red, by John Logan, at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage, were a dozen works inspired by the grand, colorful paintings of Mark Rothko, who is the focus of the play.

Two Museum Assistants at The Phillips Collection were among the artists in the “Seeing Red” display, organized by Joseph Orzal and Josef Palermo of the Washington art collective, Vestibule. The works were on view February 3-5, 2011.

Experiment Station talked with Museum Assistants Janelle Ortiz and Rodrigo Carazas Portal about their works in the display.

Rodrigo Carazas (left) and Janelle Ortiz (right) stand by their works installed at Arena Stage in February 2011. Photos: Rodrigo Carazas Portal

You’re familiar with paintings in the Rothko Room at the Phillips, and I heard you went to the Phillips library to look through the books on Rothko. Is the Phillips your first exposure to Rothko?

Janelle: The Phillips Collection is not my first exposure to Rothko. I actually cannot even pinpoint in my memory when I first learned about Rothko or first saw a painting of his. However, the Rothko Room was my first EXPERIENCE with a Rothko. Previously, I passively viewed them at art museums; this was before I viewed the Rothko Room or did any research on the artist and his work. The way the Rothko Room presented his paintings requires real consideration from the viewer, a consideration I had never given before to a work by Rothko.

Rodrigo: Mark Rothko is a continuous inspiration for me. Working at The Phillips Collection gave me a much closer approach to his work, and the library [provided] a deeper insight on his life and ideas.

Is Rothko the inspiration for the work? Continue reading ““Seeing Red,” Mark Rothko Inspired Works Displayed at “Red”” »