Meet our 2023-24 Makeba Clay Diversity Fellow. As part of our institutional values and commitment to diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion, the Makeba Clay Diversity Fellowship builds on and adds to the research and critical thinking about the museum’s history, including the philosophical underpinnings and aesthetic vision of Duncan and Marjorie Phillips. Sophie Bennett is enrolled at Georgetown University’s master’s program for Art and Museum Studies.
Why are you interested in working at a museum?
I feel tremendously indebted to art museums for fostering my early interest in art history. I started to gravitate toward the arts in middle school. If it wasn’t for museums, I would not have been able to develop that interest or pursue a career in the arts. It is very easy to brush off a young person who doesn’t know much; and yet, throughout various moments in my life, people from all professions in the museum world—museum educators, curators, guards, conservators—have engaged me in conversations about their work and generously shared their perspectives. With art currently being such a massive part of my day-to-day experience, I would love to be one of those museum individuals who can lead others to a lifelong relationship with fine art.
What brought you to The Phillips Collection?
I am from the DC area and always loved visiting The Phillips Collection. I had kept an eye on opportunities within the institution for a few years, and this year the stars finally aligned in terms of where I was in my education, my interests in the art world, and what fellowships were available.
Please tell us about the projects that you will be working on during your fellowship. What do you hope to accomplish during your fellowship?
This year, I will be working with both Chief Curator Elsa Smithgall and the Horning Chair for Diversity, Equity, Access, and Inclusion Dr. Yuma Tomes. One of the primary projects I am focusing on is the Institutional History Project, wherein fellows research The Phillips Collection’s history through the lens of diversity, equity, access, and inclusion. Many primary sources discuss how Duncan Phillips’s vision for the museum was innovative and forward-thinking; I would like to go back and assess whether his innovation was limited to the realm of the arts, or if he was also ahead of his time in terms of how he approached issues of inclusion and equity.
What is your favorite painting/artist here?
I really love the work of Alma Thomas. Her use of color is so striking, and her work is a real testament to the existence of a rich art scene in DC, a city that so many reduce to government. Plus, as the daughter of a kindergarten teacher, I have a particular fondness for an artist who studied kindergarten education and taught K-12!
If you were to describe the Phillips in one word, what would that word be?
What is a fun fact about you?
I was obsessed with carnivorous plants between ages 7-9, and I think, as a result, some core part of my brain will always be devoted to facts about pitcher plants.