Reflecting on Marking the Infinite with the Phillips’s Chief Diversity Officer, Makeba Clay

In September, The Phillips Collection hosted a special tour and conversation with members of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., an international public service organization headquartered in Washington, DC. We welcomed Delta Sigma Theta’s Committee on Arts and Letters Committee, which strives to advance African-American artists, art works, and organizations who foster this same mission. As you can imagine, this event brought forth a vibrant dialogue!

Members of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority join The Phillips Collection’s Chief Diversity Officer, Makeba Clay to explore Marking the Infinite.

Members of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority join The Phillips Collection’s Chief Diversity Officer, Makeba Clay to explore Marking the Infinite.

A guided tour with a gallery educator revealed a myriad of interesting insights; namely that some of the challenges Aboriginal Australian women experience mirror those of women of color in the US. These challenges, many spurred by the impact of colonialism and racial injustice, also revolved around access, equity, and visibility in the arts and beyond.

Links were easily made between indigenous Australian art and African art. Many likened the woven patterns to the widely known textiles of West Africa such as kente and batik. Designs, colors, and patterns inspired by nature gave way to movement, life, and energy in the fabrics. Some even reflected on the link to the Quilts of Gee’s Bend from Alabama. To our guests, the artworks communicated a narrative that connected aboriginal Australians to the African diaspora. This is an important lesson for any museum and one that the Phillips will be contemplating: depending on the background of the viewer, artwork can take on new meaning and life.

Art in all forms is a vehicle not just for expression but also social justice and change. The Phillips Collection has always leaned forward in this mission, incorporating the ethos of our founder, Duncan Phillips, as a progressive thinker and champion for many social causes. As our city and nation becomes more diverse, the Phillips actively works to reflect that diversity and to be accessible to all our audiences. Events such as this are a perfect and strategic collaboration for the museum that allow us to engage with and learn from public service, civic and social justice organizations like Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Conversations that emerge from this and future opportunities will continue to inform all facets of our work.

We look forward to more events and lively conversations with community partners. If you or your organization are interested in partnering with The Phillips, please reach out to our Manager of Marketing and Partnerships, Lia Seremetis, at lseremetis@phillipscollection.org.

Volunteer Spotlight: Mary Pat Norton

In this series, Manager of Visitor and Family Engagement Emily Bray profiles volunteers within the museum. Phillips volunteers are an integral part of the museum and help in many ways: greeting and guiding guests through the museum, helping with Sunday Concerts, assisting patrons in the library, helping out with Phillips after 5 and special events, and so much more. Our volunteers offer a wealth of expertise and experience to the museum, and we are delighted to highlight several them.

Mary Pat Norton, Art Information Volunteer and Public Program Volunteer

Mary Pat Norton

What year did you start volunteering for The Phillips Collection?I’ve been volunteering since February 2018.

What do you see as the most valuable aspect of your volunteering?

As a volunteer, I’ve had the opportunity to assist a variety of departments and learn about all of the artists within the exhibits. Before working here, I never seriously studied works by Paul Klee or the aboriginal Australian women artists, so I’ve enjoyed broadening my perspective. In doing so, I’ve been able to discuss these works with our visitors, gaining an understanding of their viewpoints as well. Overall, the best part about my role is that I have the privilege of helping visitors cultivate meaningful learning experiences, and they help me to do the same.

What do you do when you are not volunteering at the Phillips?

I am an art history MA student at George Washington University and an editorial assistant to a design historian. When I am not studying, I can be found eating my way through D.C. and wandering through the city’s art museums.

What is your favorite room or painting here?

I love the Laib Wax Room, and I really appreciate that there is a slab of wax on the outside of this space for visitors to touch. The eucalyptus poles in the Marking the Infinite exhibit are also fascinating.

If you had to choose one word to describe The Phillips Collection, what would it be?

Informative.

Share a fun fact about you!

I excel at pogo sticking, and I grew up in South Florida.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I’ve really grown to love the Phillips and I look forward to learning more about this fabulous collection. Volunteering here has been a fun experience, and I appreciate everyone who has helped me learn more about the museum industry.

Inside It Looks Like It’s Going To Be (Part I)

The Phillips’s latest Intersections Contemporary Art Project, Richard Tuttle: It Looks Like It’s Going To Be, has opened on the second floor of the Phillips House galleries. In the extensive exhibition—his “most ambitious,” according to the artist—Tuttle has paired a 41-verse poem that he wrote with 41 artworks that he created for the installation. The exhibition also includes 16 works on paper that he selected from the permanent collection.

Richard Tuttle with his work Just in Case You want to Order (2018). Photo: Rhiannon Newman

Richard Tuttle with his work Just in case You want to order (2018). Photo: Rhiannon Newman

The artist explains: “There’s this point where the artist—and that includes poets and choreographers or novelists—cuts themself off from their audience. The kind of work I do, it’s intense and it’s concentrated, I can actually become unmindful that this is about communication, this is about an audience connecting. But it’s also—a friend of mine, a very wise friend of mine, spoke in terms of the lecture form and said that, ‘If the lecturer does not make contact with the audience, it’s not a lecture.’ I think that’s the same in art where the artist loses contact with the audience. It’s a tightrope, it’s a walking an edge where if the audience is too much in the mind of the artist it becomes popularistic or loses strength. We’re talking about a sound bite situation and I very much—I fall in love with certain ideas and I turn those over in my head for brief periods of time.”

Richard Tuttle: It Seems Like It's Going To Be installation view. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Richard Tuttle: It Seems Like It’s Going To Be installation view. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Richard Tuttle: It Seems Like It's Going To Be installation view. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Richard Tuttle: It Seems Like It’s Going To Be installation view. Photo: Lee Stalsworth