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!

The Phillips and Italy Part I: Cultural Diplomacy and Global Impact in a Virtual World

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 virtual workshops created for the first part of this collaboration in February-June 2021.

The past two years forced us to think differently about the work we do. We had to shift how we work, how we think about programming, and how we develop partnerships and collaborations. Connections to new audiences and new ways of thinking about our work has come out of this difficult time.

In 2021, The Phillips Collection conducted a series of virtual workshops with museums in Italy focused on bringing more intention to diversity and inclusion in audience and program development. Phillips education staff developed interactive virtual workshops to discuss the use of empathy to connect with and grow audiences as well as design thinking to encourage creative problem solving, innovation, and collaboration in programs and exhibition development.

Starting with “The Who”

How can we use empathy to identify an audience we want to reach? It starts by thinking of our audiences as real people. For this exercise, we created a narrative about an audience we wanted to engage. We gave them a name and created a story. We personalized their experience and humanized them. And we got specific. How old are they? Where do they live? What do they do for a living? What do they do for fun? Have they visited the museum or participated in a museum program? If so, what did they think of it? What was their experience like? What impact did it have on them? We created an Empathy Map identifying what they would say, think, do, and feel about an experience with the museum.

We used design thinking to encourage creative problem solving, innovation, and collaboration in program and exhibition development.

Design Thinking:

We continued our exploration of Design Thinking by asking each participant write a problem statement:

What is the problem you want to solve? (Be specific)

___________ needs to do ___________ because of __________

Then a staff member from an Italian museum was paired with a Phillips education team member to come up with 3-5 radical ways to meet the audience’s needs/solve the problem, thinking outside the box.

After four Zoom sessions, each museum implemented the ideas explored in the workshops at their individual museums. We got back together virtually in March 2022 to discuss the work we had been doing.

Stay tuned to learn more about the Phillips’s workshops in Italy.

Archives 101: Finding Aids are the Windows into a Collection

In this series, Phillips Manager, Archives and Library Resources Juli Folk and Digital Assets Librarian Rachel Jacobson explain the ins and outs of how archives work.

Welcome to another installment of Archives 101. So far, we have reviewed what an archival collection is and critical steps in archival processing. Now, let’s focus on describing archival material so that you, the researcher, might decide whether or not to seek further access to an archival collection.

The primary tool to figuring out whether or not an archival collection may be of use to you is the Finding Aid. A finding aid, according to the Society of American Archivists, is a description that typically consists of contextual and structural information about an archival resource. A finding aid should place the archival resources within context that allows a user to decide if they want to explore a collection more thoroughly. The contextual information generally included in a finding aid is:

  • • Title for the collection
  • • Dates, including bulk dates which indicate the period that most of the material is from
  • • Note about what can be found within the collection, usually called a scope and content note
  • • Provenance information
  • • Note about how the material has been arranged, usually called an arrangement note
  • • Description of the formats within a collection and storage information

As was the case with accessioning and arrangement, there is some wiggle room around how finding aids are written. However, this should not indicate that there aren’t documented standards and procedures for an archivist to follow.

The Phillips Collection archival repository is embarking on a new era with the implementation of the archival information management system ArchivesSpace. One of the many helpful things about the management system is that it helps create consistency across finding aids due to format and required fields. It also is the first time our archival material will be in one centralized and searchable database. We’re making progress; getting all our archival holdings into the system is a lofty goal and will take time!

However, the system will make searching through finding aids much easier. Below is a screenshot of some of the archival finding aids in our instance of ArchivesSpace thus far. ArchivesSpace refers to finding aids as collections, which are what the finding aid guides you through.

Peek into our instance of the archival information management system, ArchivesSpace.

After reading the notes and other information that gives you insight into generally what exists within a collection you can take a closer look at the contents.

Take a closer look into the finding aid. Scope and contents notes, dates, and other information give you insight into what you can broadly expect to find from a given archival collection.

By clicking on the “Collection Organization” tab you can see more specifically what the contents of a given collection are. For example, you will find titles of folders and the dates for which the material was created.

If everything still seems relevant to your research inquiry it may be time to request access to a specific folder, set of folders, or archival box.

A look inside one of the folders from the papers of C. Law Watkins (associate director of the gallery and director of the art school). Some of our folders will be accessible remotely, but for most of the material, researchers will still need to look at them in person.

Due to the arduous nature of getting to the point where an archivist is ready to create a finding aid, The Phillips Collection Library and Archives does not yet have nearly all our archival collections described. We are working to catch up with our material. The more we have available to users, the more likely we are to find those diamonds in the rough. Stay tuned for more information about the launch of our ArchivesSpace repository this summer!