The Phillips Returns to Italy

In partnership with the US Department of State, The Phillips Collection collaborated with museums across Italy in fostering diversity and inclusion for audience and program development. Anne Taylor Brittingham, Deputy Director for Education and Responsive Learning Spaces, and Donna Jonte, Head of Experiential Learning, discuss the workshops conducted on their travels to Italy, October 15-19, 2022.

After finishing up our time at the EDI Global Forum in Naples, Donna Jonte and I shifted to presenting workshops in collaboration with the U.S. State Department. The workshops were a continuation of the projects we conducted May 2-6, 2022, in Rome and Naples. However, this time we expanded our audiences and the region in which we worked.

Procida, Italy

On Saturday, October 15, we participated in a Cultural Hackathon on the island of Procida. Procida was awarded the Italian Capital of Culture 2022. The colorful destination is the first island to be given the title since the award was established. Recipients of the award become a focus for improved cultural heritage and tourist development, with numerous projects and initiatives to benefit the region. During the application process for the title, Procida presented a vision entitled “la cultura non isola” (culture doesn’t isolate). Procida planned 44 cultural projects with 330 days of programming, involving 240 artists and eight cultural spaces, including a 16th-century palace turned prison, now transformed into an arts-space with site-specific installations.

As an island, Procida is at an interesting moment—the award brought an influx of tourists. How will the island maintain the momentum generated by the rise in tourism, while not forgetting their local communities who are with them 12 months of the year? Hackathon workshop participants thought about ways of engaging new audiences (both local and tourists) and how to balance new media and technology with more low-tech opportunities for engagement. We focused on the role of empathy in identifying and growing audiences, starting with the user at the center of all the programs and resources we develop.

Left to right: Agostino Riitano, Director of Procida 2022; Michelle Lee, Public Affairs Officer US Consulate Naples; Anne Taylor Brittingham; Raimondo Ambrosino, Mayor of Procida; Donna Jonte; Martina Romanello, Program Assistant Procida 2022 at Palazzo d’Avalos

Procida Hackathon workshop participants

On Monday, October 17, we led a workshop for university students at the Fine Arts Academy, Naples. In the morning, the students gave us a tour of their collection, using different strategies to engage people in looking at art. In the afternoon, we thought about connection—what connects art together, what connects art to us, and what connects art to today. First the students picked the image from The Phillips Plays Art Cards that they felt connected to. Then working as a group, they picked five connected artworks and identified emerging themes such as “You see what you want to see,” “Absence and Presence,” and “Movement and Confusion.” They thought about why they were attracted to certain images, how their biases affected their choices, and how it was different to select images as a group versus as an individual.

University students working in small groups

University students with Director of Fine Arts Academy Professor Renato Lori and US Consul General Naples, Tracy Roberts-Pounds (center)

On our last day in Naples, October 18, we presented a workshop for teen immigrants at the Dedalus Cooperative’s art studio in the Officine Gomitoli’s Intercultural Centre, located in the Formiello neighborhood in a restored building that has had a past life as a convent and a woolen mill. Dedalus has been working with immigrants in Naples for more than 30 years, offering social services especially to unaccompanied minors, trafficking victims, and vulnerable women. We met Dedalus’s artistic coordinator, Alessia Montefusco, on our previous trip to Naples in May, when she brought teen immigrants to the Museo Madre for our workshop.

Alessia and a new group of teens welcomed us to the Dedalus art studio. First, we introduced ourselves by choosing one image from the Phillips Art Cards game that reflected a part of our identity. Then, to begin our exploration of the power of landscape, past and present, interior and exterior, we discussed Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Self-Portrait as a Tree, a photograph from our collection. Next, with watercolor pencils and paintbrushes, we sketched details from real or imagined landscapes. Finally, we put all three images together in a narrative sequence that depicted our different landscapes—past, present, and future.

Teens engaging with Phillips Art Cards in the Dedalus art studio

After wrapping up in Naples, we went to Rome for one last day of programming on October 19. In the morning, we met with museum employees from Civic Museums across Rome. After our presentation in May 2022 on the development of games to engage visitors, the network of museums developed a single game designed to connect multiple museums in multiple locations across the city. They presented their prototype to us for feedback. We discussed challenges and opportunities for engaging audiences, in particular local Roman audiences that may not regularly visit the civic museums.

Presentation by Civic Museums of Rome

Then in the afternoon, we were able to meet with the director of the Pantheon, Gabriella Musto, about ideas for how we could collaborate with them in a similar way to what we did with the Civic Museums of Rome. While they get millions of visitors a year, they are interested in ways they can more deeply engage with their local communities.

We are grateful to have had the chance to build global relationships, sharing our audience-engagement strategies with museum educators from around the world and continuing our work with colleagues in Naples and Rome.

EDI (Education Integration) Global Forum

Deputy Director for Education and Responsive Learning Spaces Anne Taylor Brittingham shares her experience at the Education Integration (EDI) Global Forum in Naples, Italy

From October 12-14, Donna Jonte, Head of Experiential Learning, and I were able to attend the inaugural convening of the EDI (Education Integration) Global Forum. The EDI Global Forum seeks to inspire change, promote sustainability, connect communities, spark innovation, and rethink education. The three-day conference in Naples, Italy, brought together 200 museum professionals representing 180 institutions actively working with education through the lens of art and culture. After years of isolation, it was amazing to be at a conference with people from 5 continents, 80 international institutions, and 100 Italian organizations. Through a series of keynote lectures, participatory workshops, and collaborative working groups, the convening focused on five themes: Accessibility, Diversity and Inclusion, Sustainability, Art and Well-Being, and Institutional Structure.

EDI Global Forum participants at National Archaeological Museum

I moderated a session with the Pinacoteca in São Paolo, Brazil, and the MANN (National Archaeological Museum) in Naples. The session brought together perspectives from Naples and San Paolo to address how to engage communities that museums are not always prepared to welcome, including sex workers, the homeless, and youth without access to cultural institutions. As a part of the workshop, we performed a “SWOT” analysis of the strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats to engaging a group at risk of social exclusion. Museum professionals from London, Switzerland, Germany, Brazil, Italy, and the United States discussed how we can not only reach these traditionally excluded audiences, but also how to prepare staff to welcome all guests to the museum.

Anne Taylor Brittingham, The Phillips Collection; Gabriela Aidar, Pinacoteca Sao Paolo; Angela Vocciante and Elisa Napolitano, MANN Naples

I was also able to be a part of another working group that considered issues of sustainability—in particular focusing on how to address the waste generated by exhibition and education programs. How can we create institutional policies that address and solve the waste problem? What is our responsibility to be leaders in confronting this waste problem head on?

Throughout the three days, Donna and I connected with museum professionals from around the world and heard about work that’s taking place in their museums around diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion.

Reflections: Art + Music: More Than a Feeling 

Education Assistant Davinna Barkers-Woode shares her experience helping facilitate a school partnership with Washington School for Girls which culminated in an exhibition. 

Lloyd McNeill and Lou Stovall, Roberta Flack, 1967, Silkscreen poster, 17 x 11 in., Courtesy of Stovall Family

Working with the Washington School for Girls this past June allowed the Phillips Education Department to expand on the ideas presented in our recent Lou Stovall exhibition. The exhibition centered on themes of community, collaboration, accessibility within the arts, experimentation, and calls for social change. When we merge these concepts with a real-life application we can uncover what these concepts mean in our reality. With Art + Music: More Than a Feeling, we focused on Stovall’s love of community: he stayed connected to his community through creating music festival posters that would hang in the streets of D.C. Musicians, artists, and activists for Black liberation often worked with each other to host these festivals and donate a portion of the proceeds back into the community—emphasizing the cyclical nature that goes into sustaining a community.  

Looking at these music festival posters featured in Stovall’s exhibition, color, shape, rhythm, and repetition are emphasized. We encouraged the students to listen to their favorite songs and explore how these musicians use rhythm, repetition, tone, and mood. They also looked closely at their song lyrics and underlined any repeating words or phrases that stood out to them. With these elements in mind, the students began to sketch their ideas for their print. Many of them were clever enough to translate the sonic aspects of their songs into different shapes to create a visual language.  

The students transferred their sketches onto cardstock and cut out their forms.

The cutout shapes allowed them to explore many possibilities with the composition. Many took advantage of layering their cutouts, creating more dynamism within their print. Next, they brushed their cutouts with a thin layer of glue and let them dry completely before arranging them one last time on their inking plates.  

Experimentation had a chance to shine when it came to choosing the colors they wanted to incorporate.

Watching the students cover their inking plates and shapes with all these crazy colors would be a nightmare for some. Still, I found it fascinating to see how confident they were in their decision-making and their ability to capture their song’s mood visually through color. With the help of teaching artist Gail-Shaw Clemons, students sent their inking plates through the printing press and were able to carefully remove their prints and reveal their final results. Each student had the opportunity to write their own wall text that accompanied their finished print in the exhibition, which gave them a chance to reflect and articulate the reasoning for how they depicted their song.  

Showing the students the possibilities with printmaking made way for understanding that artmaking does not have to be reserved for traditional mediums like painting. If you have a message, find whatever means to communicate it best. Also, experimentation shouldn’t be scary or something we should try and avoid. You never know the possibilities that will come from thinking outside the box and trying something new. Lastly, we created an atmosphere invested in the students’ self-expression and honored them as individuals to make their own decisions. As educators, we came together with our various skill sets and bonded over this common goal—we created a community that desired to uphold the students’ visions.  

Critical engagement with artists and their work elevates their contributions and allows us to explore contemporary issues and new perspectives. Keeping this objective at the forefront of our school partnerships has made us cultivate youth activities that nurture their foundation with love, respect, and compassion, while providing them with the tools necessary to build on the work of influential artists in personally relevant ways.