My Time at The Phillips Collection: Communities + Collaborations

Our 2021-22 Sherman Fairchild Fellows have recently completed their year at the Phillips! Fellow Gary Calcagno shares his experience. We thank all of our fellows for their hard work and amazing contributions to the museum.

Over the past year as a Sherman Fairchild Foundation Fellow, I’ve had the opportunity to take on projects I never had the chance to in previous internships. What I learned throughout my tenure is the possibilities of cultivating communities and collaborations.

I was initially drawn to the fellowship because of the opportunity to develop a unique project. I previously worked at a university art museum in California, the Manetti Shrem Museum of Art. There, I developed a real interest in the relationship between academic institutions and art museums and the possible outcomes of such relationships. When I was researching The Phillips Collection, I learned the museum had an ongoing partnership with the University of Maryland that began in 2015—lightbulbs started going off in my head.

Luckily for me, a professor at UMD had reached out to the Phillips for a potential project. Tita Chico, professor of English and faculty director of the Center for Literary and Comparative Study, wanted to co-sponsor programs with the museum. I was selected as one of the fellows and brought on to develop programs for the center’s anti-racism initiative. Starting in 2020, the Center for Literary and Comparative Study sponsored a series of programs to support and act on the statements of solidarity for Black Lives Matter. Programs ranged from topics in the humanities to pedagogy and education, but I noticed there weren’t programs dedicated to visual culture or the visual arts which is where I could bring my background in art history to develop programs.

I learned a great deal about the possibilities of giving platforms to scholars and thinkers in the arts. It was important to me to not only feature speakers who were doing topical and timely work, but also those whose voices could be further amplified by providing a platform. After I conducted research and compiled bios, we narrowed down our speakers: Bridget R. Cooks and Jolene Rickard.

Hosting virtual programs meant that we could build connections across the country. Bridget R. Cooks, professor of art history at University of California, Irvine, collaborated with Robert Cozzolino from the Minneapolis Institute of Art to put on “Haunted: The Black Body as Ancestor and Spectre.” Jolene Rickard from Cornell University in New York spoke with Lisa Myers from York University in Toronto, Canada for their program: “Indigenous Arts with Dr. Jolene Rickard, Citizen of the Tuscarora Nation.

My collaborative projects included other partners also. I helped develop a professional development series for Phillips Collection staff in an effort to learn from each other and build camaraderie. I also coordinated outreach for our internship program to reach universities and groups we haven’t worked with in the past.

One of my final projects for the museum is working on an inclusive language guide. One of the key aspects of developing communities and collaborations is a shared and understood language. By recognizing and ensuring the language we use is inclusive, we can better communicate and understand each other.

The Sherman Fairchild Foundation Fellowship has been one of the most enriching and essential experiences for my career.

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