People Who Work Here: Keith Costas

Photograph of Keith Costas in his office by Joshua Navarro

Photo: Joshua Navarro

Keith Costas, Director of Special Events

What is your major selling point for the Phillips to be used as a special events location?

The Phillips Collection is a unique venue in the heart of Dupont Circle. The beauty of hosting an event at the museum is its intimacy and feeling of being in someone’s private home surrounded by magnificent works of art. There is no other venue like this in Washington, D.C., where you can enjoy cocktails in the parlors and view major works by American and European artists. The spectacular Music Room is a wonderful setting for seated dinners, receptions, and musical performances. So often when I lead potential clients through the museum, they exclaim how beautiful and grand the Music Room is. From then on it is a pretty easy sell.

What’s your museum background–and is it particularly difficult to coordinate such things at an art museum?

I spent two years at the National Gallery of Art assisting with events, five years catering events in the Katzen Arts Center at American University and spent a good part of my earlier catering and special events career managing events in museums, embassies, cultural venues, and private residences. By far, The Phillips Collection is one of the more difficult venues in D.C. in which to work. Our voluntary agreement with our neighbors near the museum governs the number, size, logistics, and duration of special events held at the museum each year. The fact that we do not allow any open flame within the building poses a special challenge to caterers as they prepare and service events. The delicate nature of the Music Room floor, the proximity to major works of art, and the strict timing make it imperative that we work with vendors and caterers familiar with our space and rules. It is helpful to know your vendors and caterers, their strengths and weaknesses, and to work closely with their staff to ensure every event is flawless. My rule of thumb is to never assume anything and always keep an eye on all moving parts during an event.

It is really helpful to have a dedicated and cooperative group of Museum Assistants, who are your eyes and ears during an event, as well as a sympathetic curatorial team to consult with when necessary about moving or replacing works of art for an event. Working together, we assure the safety of the collection and still allow our clients to have a wonderful event.

How did you learn about the Phillips?

I have lived in D.C.  for 35 years, so the Phillips was always “that small gem” of a museum. A wonderful place to bring visiting friends and family. It wasn’t until I began to work here that I learned about the breadth of the collection, the commitment of the staff and board to make this a world-class museum, and the vital role the museum plays in the cultural environment of D.C.

Who’s your favorite artist in the collection?

I have many favorite artists, but my favorite painting is William Merritt Chase’s Hide and Seek (1888).  Its theme, lighting, and cropping resonate so much with me it is hard to define. It truly is a very modern work of art. I used to vacation in Shinnecock Hills, N.Y., at my uncle’s art studio and cottage situated just below the Chase homestead where this was painted. I have fond memories of picking wild blueberries below the stately Victorian house on the hill and thinking how a talented and wonderful artist drew inspiration from the rolling hills, the light, and stunning sea views of the Hamptons.

Do you collect artworkor anything?

After one of our first trips to Turkey and the Middle East, my wife and I began to collect tribal flat weave textiles (kilims). Most carpet weaving is created by women in some of the most remote and desolate parts of the world. The energy, imagination, choice of colors, weave, and design never ceases to amaze me. Each piece is a unique work of art that tells a story. We have since continued to collect turn-of-the-century Caucasian carpets that look like they were created yesterday with rich vibrant natural colors and soft silky piles. Needless to say, when we entertain and serve red wine they come up off of the floor! We also have a small collection of antique tiles from Turkey, Uzbekistan, Spain, and Portugal.

Which smart phone do you use?

iPhone 4s.

People Who Work Here: Jeff Petrie

Photo of Jeff Petrie by Joshua Navarro

Photo: Joshua Navarro

Jeff Petrie, Director of Membership

So how hard is it to be membership director at America’s first modern art museum? 

I have learned in my various occupations over 24 years that with every job and employment situation come new and different challenges. The Phillips is a unique institution, energized by our director but also by all the staff who each enthusiastically use their expertise and do their part to help the museum thrive. What’s hard about being Director of Membership is the balancing act: I keep my ear to the ground for ingenious, groundbreaking membership efforts; I use the technology we have already and embrace the idea of doing something new; and I reinvent old ideas. Throughout the year I have to keep my eye on driving our membership revenue towards our goal, which can be tricky at times because so much relies on the popularity of special exhibitions. Simultaneously, I need to explore new ways to reach new people and somehow inspire them to become friends of the Phillips. The effort is daily and always changing, and it involves people.

How did you learn of the Phillips?

In 2000 I moved from Seattle to San Francisco, where I worked in the membership department of the de Young and Legion of Honor museums during the run of a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition organized by a small museum on the East Coast I had never heard of called The Phillips Collection. My supervisor in San Francisco was and still is revered as one of the top membership professionals in the world, and it was an amazing opportunity for me to work with her for six years. In 2006 she left to start her own membership consulting firm. One of her clients was The Phillips Collection, and in September 2007 she told me about the opening in membership. I applied, gave the interviews my best shot, and was hired. Today a framed poster from that O’Keeffe exhibition hangs in my office.

What do people tell you about why they’re joining the Phillips?

Many people who join museums as members do so for the benefits. At the Phillips we recently conducted an in-depth, comprehensive review of our benefits structure, so that we could compare ourselves to other institutions like us. We deliver the best experience we can to keep members engaged, excited, and happy. Even more important, though, is the message of philanthropy. Our education department produces national programs that integrate art in learning. They connect with children here at the museum or at their schools in D.C. as well as far-off states. Our conservators take meticulous care of a world-renowned permanent collection. Our special exhibitions engage and sometimes even entrance, bringing a global conversation about art into the galleries of the Phillips. The Phillips is a gathering place for our community and a crossroads for visitors from around the world with tour books and cameras in hand.

Do you have a favorite artist in the collection?

In 1955 my grandparents moved into a new house in Chehalis, Washington, and they needed a work of art to put above the grand fireplace. One weekend they drove to Seattle and perused several galleries looking for a work of art they both liked. After quite a bit of searching, they finally agreed on a painting that reminded them of their favorite vacation spot, Lake Chelan, which is surrounded by apple orchards that line rolling hills. The work of art they found wasn’t actually an original painting, rather a reproduction of one. Still, it was purchased and placed above the fireplace, which became a site of much family activity. In 2006, when my grandmother followed by grandfather in passing, I asked to have the “painting” above the fireplace. If ever my grandparents knew who painted the original, or what it was titled, they had long forgotten. Fast forward to December 2007: at the end of my Phillips job interview, I took a walk around the galleries and was floored when I stepped into a gallery in the original house and there, above a fireplace, was the original to my copy–John Marin’s Tunk Mountains, Autumn, Maine painted in 1945. For me, it’s gotta be John Marin.

Mutts of the Masters

Breakup of the Boating Party from Michael Patrick’s book Mutts of the Masters

When some friends gave me the 1996 book Mutts of the Masters by Michael Patrick, I thought it was just an overview of famous paintings that include dogs, such as the Phillips’s masterpiece by Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party. But as I flipped through the pages, the truth was exposed–Renoir’s real painting features another, much bigger dog with the title Breakup of the Boat Party.



Pas De Deux from Michael Patrick’s from Mutts of the Masters

Okay, the book is a satire (and a very amusing one at that) of historical art treasures overrun by dogs (and the occasional cat). Another Phillips masterpiece, Edgar Degas’s Dancers at the Barre, is also featured, only in this version titled Pas De Deuxa froofy French poodle dances (or otherwise conducts her business) in the lower right corner.