Fellow Spotlight: Shiloah Symone Coley

Meet our 2021-22 Sherman Fairchild Fellows. As part of our institutional values and commitment to diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion, the Sherman Fairchild Fellowship is a comprehensive, yearlong paid program that includes hands-on experience, mentoring, and professional development. 

Shiloah Symone Coley by Nithin Charlly

Why are you interested in working at a museum?

From the time I was a little girl, I didn’t feel represented or seen in art museums. This ended up shaping the trajectory of my learning and pursuit of an artistic practice. I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside children’s museums in the capacity of facilitating art programming and have done smaller projects with larger art institutions. However, I felt that I never truly learned the ins and outs of an art museum. I want to understand how and why they function in addition to how and why they change as their relationship to the audiences they serve has come into question over the past decade.

What brought you to The Phillips Collection?

As an artist, researcher, and writer, I continuously feel compelled to use narratives in all of their complexity as a point of departure for conveying the complications that lie amongst our perceptions of the self and others, which is further complicated by the plethora of identities and positionalities we hold at the individual, familial, and communal level.

How does an institution engage in the complexity of the narratives perpetuated by the work in addition to considering the different narratives of the publics they serve? I think the Phillips is enduring a period of transition as it grapples with its past, present, and future as an institution. When I applied for the fellowship, I was particularly interested in the Community Exhibitions occurring through the work of the Community Engagement and Education departments with different communities in D.C. The particular work of attempting to expand the reach of a museum to not only be inclusive but responsible and accountable to the communities of DC motivated me to pursue a position here.

Please tell us about your work at the Phillips over the summer, and the projects that you will be working on during your fellowship. What do you hope to accomplish during your fellowship?

Over the summer, I focused on creating content for the Juried Invitational Inside Outside, Upside Down in celebration of the centennial. This meant connecting with the artists to create blog posts, social media content, and audio stops. Connecting with the artists has really offered me an opportunity to build my own community of artists working in and around DC, which was one of my biggest goals coming into the fellowship. As an MFA in Studio Art candidate at American University in my second year, I feel that I really missed out on community building during the first year of my program with covid restrictions in place, so it’s exciting to get to do studio visits with some of the artists working with the Phillips.

The focus of my fellowship is to bridge the Community Engagement and Marketing & Communications departments, while considering how we can be intentional about storytelling and engagement with our community. I hope to have a better understanding of museums as not only institutions but sites for civic engagement as I continue to work with artists and support programs at Phillips@THEARC.

What is your favorite painting/artist here?

Currently one of my favorite photographs in the collection is Man with Two Girls on Shoulders (East 100th Street Series) by Bruce Davidson.

If you were to describe the Phillips in one word, what would that word be?


What is a fun fact about you?

I was a very mediocre competitive swimmer from age 5 to 15 years old.

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