The Phillips in Italy Part III: Travels to Italy! Milan and Turin

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. Hilary Katz, Head of Teaching & Learning, and Emma Dreyfuss, (former) Manager of Community Programs, discuss the workshops conducted on their travels to Italy, May 2-6, 2022.

How can we create a visionary design of a museum—as a place for people to meet and converse? How are we breaking expectations for how people experience museums? We explored these questions throughout collaborative programs during our week in Turin and Milan. We exchanged ideas for how the future of museums and the arts can be imbued with principles of diversity, inclusion, and accessibility.

Phillips museum staff tour GAM Turin

As a result of the Phillips’s virtual diversity and inclusion workshops in 2021, Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Torino (GAM Turin) organized a multi-sensory meditation workshop with artist Marcos Lutyens. Through guided meditation, we drew with our hands on a table covered in salt and molded clay—all with our eyes closed!

Left: Exploring a textured reproduction of Fortunato Depero Fondo’s L’aratura (1960), which is intended as an accessibility tool for low vision visitors, at GAM Turin; Right: During a trance-like experience led by artist Marcos Lutyens, we meditatively drew in salt with our hands.

Museum Science university students who had attended Lutyens’s meditation workshop returned to explore our identities as local and global citizens of the world. We learned stories of how everyone in the group experiences their identities differently, yet through universal themes of community and global connections. We observed Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, Allan deSouza’s The World Series, and Aleksandra Mir’s World Map of Underworlds as a catalyst for conversation about the power of identity and storytelling.

Left: University students write “blackout poetry” in response to Aleksandra Mir‘s World Map of Underworlds (2006); Right: Some of the drawings created by the university students using the same paint markers and paper that Mir uses in her works.

How do we decide what works of art to use for our education programming and resources? How do we ensure that women and artists of color are not overlooked, even though many museum collections consist primarily of white male artists? Using as a jumping off point GAM Turin’s reinstallation of its permanent collection, A Museum without Boundaries, we analyzed what works we gravitate towards and why. We played with the Phillips Art Cards, featuring 54 Phillips Collection artworks, to confront our biases when selecting artwork.

Left: Local Turin museum staff join for this workshop exploring confronting biases in our artwork choices; Right: Artist Marcos Lutyens (orange shirt) joins in on the workshop

The week was an enlightening and invaluable exchange of ideas. We also met with Director Davide Quadrio of Museo di Arte Orientale (MAO) about his visionary plans for renovating and reinstalling their collection; with the Directorate of Culture in the Turin Municipality about their annual art week, Artissima, which shines light on Turin’s art and culture; and with Museo del Novecento (Milan) colleagues about the concept of diversity and inclusion in Italy through the lens of citizenship.

Scenes from our tours of MAO (left) and Museo del Novecento (right)

We can’t wait to see what this international collaboration with Italian arts and cultural organizations brings next!

Nature|Spirit|Art: Gratitude in Every Step

Manager of Art + Wellness and Family Programs Donna Jonte shares her experience at the second session of the NatureISpiritIArt workshop on art and climate change.

The second session of the five-week course Nature|Spirit|Art focused on our gratitude to the Earth as an essential component of climate resilience and a practice that helps us connect to artworks through an ecocritical lens. The evening’s agenda included a close look at Henri Matisse’s Interior with Egyptian Curtain, an outdoor meditative walk, and art-making in response to the walk.

Discussing Henri Matisse’s Interior with Egyptian Curtain, 1948, in the galleries

A dramatic storm drenched Dupont Circle just before the class began, sweeping away the humid, oppressive air, leaving droplets, puddles, wet leaves, and a few downed branches. We prepared for the silent, independent walk first in the gallery, exploring the ways Matisse brings the outside in, inviting us to consider our relationship to the lush fern we see through his window. He seems to be offering us a choice to pull the curtain—patterned with abstracted pomegranate shapes—open or closed. After contemplating this choice from different lenses (ecocritical, biocentric, anthropocentric), we gathered in the café to set intentions for the walk, ready with our raincoats and umbrellas in case the storm resumed.

We opened the café’s door to the courtyard, letting post-storm smells and sounds in. We arranged the chairs in front of the windows that frame the museum’s courtyard with its sculptures and cultivated plantings as well as the roofs and windows of neighboring buildings.

Watching the rain in the courtyard from the café

Workshop instructor Robert Hardies helped us envision our walk. Guided by a map of Dupont Circle, we would walk alone, slowly, for 20 minutes. We would “be present to ourselves and to the environment around us, attentive to beauty, gratitude, and delight.” During the silent walk, Rob suggested that we could return to this intention by repeating the phrase “Gratitude in every step.” As we walked slowly, we would try to stay in the present moment by paying attention to our senses. For instance, Rob advised, “If you notice that something attracts you visually, stop and look at it. Notice its color, shape, appearance. Close your eyes and create a mental snapshot of what you saw, so that you can remember it later. At the end of your walk, recall the moments of your walk that brought you joy. Give thanks for the opportunity to walk on and with the Earth by repeating ‘Gratitude in every step.’”

After the meditative walk, participants expressed their responses with a variety of materials and methods in the museum’s art workshop. We painted with watercolor; printed with leaves; sketched with oil pastel, crayon, and color pencils; and collaged with painted papers. These expressions of gratitude would inspire projects—poetry and photography as well as mixed media compositions—to be presented at the fourth class.

Creating artwork in the workshop

Rachel experimented with bleeding tissue paper, adhering it to the paper with water, and then pulling it off to reveal a print of pink pigment. Connecting this process to climate grief, she added stitching, sewing the wounds, showing the scars. She titled the piece Sutures because it “depicts the beauty of the natural world that is falling to pieces. If left alone, nature heals herself, but it’s uncertain whether too much damage has been done to save our Earth for future generations.”

Rebecca’s artwork using tissue paper

Joe saw his reflection in a puddle atop a drain cover. In this artful photo, he unites human with nature, brought together by the storm. Joe’s photo is also a nod to Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Self-Portrait as Tree, which inspired the meditation during the first class.

Joe’s self-portrait, taking inspiration from Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Self-Portrait as a Tree, 2000

Some participants commented on the ethereal quality of the droplets clinging to the chairs on the courtyard balcony; others noted their anthropomorphism, as Danielle does in her poem Of Course We Are:

The rose smiles, her sisters join in
Tiny droplets of rain, sparkling lights
eyes of the Japanese maple
invitingly /  hello
Up, through, around
wrought iron gate
wandering, twisting, turning
vines embrace me    join us
your brothers, sisters, mothers

Rough, brownish, grey, black
Oh the bark has softened
Aged, sturdy, standing tall
Arms, limbs   reach/open/
Home, together,  we are one
Together.  yes together

The storm complicated the evening’s plans, and we were grateful for every step.

The Phillips in Italy Part II: Travels to Italy! Rome and Naples

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, Manager of Art + Wellness and Family Programs, discuss the workshops conducted on their travels to Italy, May 2-6, 2022.

How can we see differently? From a different perspective? Through a different lens? In one of the 2021 Zoom sessions, we considered Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. How do we see it differently when it’s in conversation with Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series?

Left to Right: Pierre-August Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880-81, Acquired 1923; Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series, Panel 45, The Migrants Arrived in Pittsburgh, One of the Great Industrial Centers of the North, 1940-41, Acquired 1942

Working with high school students in Rome, we asked them to select three artworks from a painting gallery in Palazzo Braschi. They selected 18th- and 19th-century paintings that depict Roman landscapes. The students thought about why they selected those three works. What drew and connected them to those paintings? They were places that were familiar, even though the paintings were from hundreds of years ago. Then we asked them to do the same activity with The Phillips Collection Art Cards, a permanent collection-based card came featuring 54 images that span time, media, and geography.

High School students in Rome work in teams at Palazzo Braschi, in the galleries (left) and with Phillips Art Cards (right)

In the workshop for Italian university students, we discussed strategies to help us see our work differently. How can we help visitors engage with art and each other? We talked about the development of gallery games and other interpretive resources to help visitors interact with art in fun, interactive ways as well as strategies for working with the community to help all audiences meaningfully connect with art.

Museum staff from Palazzo Braschi, Gallery of Modern Art, Napoleon Museum, and The Phillips Collection outside Palazzo Braschi

Also in Rome we participated in a DEAI roundtable where museum professionals from the Napoleon Museum, City of Rome Museum/Palazzo Braschi, and Gallery of Modern Art discussed their work with DEAI. Additionally, we conducted a workshop on Expanding the Narrative: Using Our Collections to Confront Biases. How do we decide what works of art to use for our programming and exhibitions? With many museum collections consisting primarily of white male artists, how do we confront that imbalance head-on and ensure that women and artists of color are not overlooked? The workshop used the development of the Phillips’s Art Cards as a case study to explore how our perspectives, power, and identities influence what and how we display and teach with our collections and exhibitions.

Left: University students exploring connections to Lawrence Carroll’s abstract artworks, Museo Madre, Naples; Right: University students and Daedalus members engaging with Phillips Art Cards, Museo Madre, Naples

In Naples at Museo Madre, a renovated 19-century palazzo in the historic district, we presented two workshops. With a group of university students, we explored the Madre’s special exhibition of large, abstract, mixed-media paintings by American-born artist Lawrence Carroll. First, we demonstrated strategies for meditative engagement. Then, through inquiry, small-group conversation, and sketching, we identified and expressed personal connections to the paintings. As we shared ideas about how we were drawn into Carroll’s enigmatic paintings, we noted repeated window shapes and reflective surfaces, which echoed the architecture of the building and the galleries’ tall, open windows, bringing the outside in. The next day, these university students returned to the Madre to help with a workshop for teen immigrants, members of a community organization called Dedalus that partners with the museum. We introduced them to the Phillips’s Art Card game, using images from the collection to spark stories of their personal journeys to Naples. Translating and abstracting the stories into collages, we created symbols that represented our commonalities as well as our distinct identities.

Daedalus member creating art inspired by Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, Museo Madre, Naples

Stay tuned to hear about our workshops in Turin!