Phillips@THEARC Summer Camp: Making Murals

Manager of Community Projects Laylaa Randera on the Phillips@THEARC Summer Camp.

Over the past few weeks, Phillips@THEARC offered a fun and educational mural-making summer camp. Campers learned how their own art for the public—whether for their immediate community or the broader DC population—can be appreciated. For four weeks, the camp was bustling every day with campers ages 8-13 years. We explored the functions of murals and public art installations, including how art can reshape, uplift, and call attention to a community’s built environment and interpersonal culture.

Campers with the mural behind them and a live painting board in front of them.

Mural artist Tenbeete Solomon, better known as Trap Bob, led the making of the mural. Trap Bob’s brightly colored murals, which are frequently inspired by activism and community issues, can be seen around the city. (Check out her great Phillips100 logo!) Trap Bob guided the campers through designing and painting a mural. Campers sketched out ideas and discussed what they’ve seen in murals around their community. The three themes that the campers chose were: hands, outer space, and abstract.

On Fridays, we went on field trips. On the first Friday we visited The Phillips Collection and spent the day exploring the galleries and doing art activities. Donna Jonte, Head of Experiential Learning, led a tour and developed fun stuff for us to do.

Emma Dreyfuss teaching campers about Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series at The Phillips Collection.

On the second and third Friday, we went on mural tours in DC. Despite the blistering heat, we put our walking shoes on and got to know some of the prolific artists making murals in the city. Cory Stowers, a muralist and graffiti artist, led the tours. We visited the Graffiti Museum in NW DC, and from there went down to U street and Shaw. We also looked at murals East of the River, some of which date back to the 80s.

Cory Stowers leading mural tour East of the River.

The camp counselors led many activities too, including the creation of a model-magic monument park and live painting exercises where we let our creative juices flow and free painted on plywood boards to music.

Campers working on marbled memory books.

Campers working on the mural.

Campers working on the mural.

One of the highlights of the camp was going to the splash park on Wednesdays. With the summer heat, it was a much-needed activity.

A huge thanks must be given to our camp counselors Juliana Walsh, Emma Dreyfuss, Community Engagement Intern Kiara Bennett, Community Engagement Detail Karlisima Rodas-Israel, Building Bridges, and DC Central Kitchen.

The final mural made by the campers will be installed and displayed at THEARC this fall—please come check it out!

The Phillips Mural Summer Camp on a field trip to the museum.

Acknowledging the Land and its Histories

Community Engagement Assistant Alani Nelson reflects on the land, its lost histories, and the journey toward recovery, using Let Them Enter Dancing and Showing Their Faces, Thief by Nicholas Galanin as a starting point.

Nicolas Galanin is an artist of Tlingit and Unangax̂ heritage living in Sitka, Alaska. His practice honors “the land.” Sitka is right outside of the state capital, Juneau, a pivotal site for gold mining during the last decades of the 19th century. After the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, the discovery of gold irrecoverably altered the relationship between the Tlingit Nation and the land. While the Tlingit and the Haida are indigenous to the land that we now call Southeast Alaska, the United States government did not permit them to file land claims during a time of unprecedented economic change. This land has been the stage for a series of historic events marred by the exclusion of those Indigenous people who have been its steward since time immemorial.

Galanin’s Let Them Enter Dancing and Showing Their Faces, Thief, with its almost frenzied expression, greeted me on my first day as an employee at The Phillips Collection. Adorned with a halo gilded in gold, it cut into my view and soon became the reason I would walk roundabout ways to my office or hover for a second too long in the Music Room where it was displayed.

Nicholas Galanin, Let Them Enter Dancing and Showing Their Faces: Thief, 2018, Monotype and gold leaf on paper, 30 x 21 in., The Phillips Collection, Director’s Discretionary Fund, 2021

Shortly after viewing Thief, I asked to lead a spotlight talk on Galanin’s work for one of our weekly virtual meditations. I knew that acknowledging the Indigenous people whose land we now reside on was necessary. While going over my presentation for a friend, they stopped me mid-introduction to let me know that the land acknowledgment, which referenced the Piscataway people, did not include all the communities that are indigenous to the region. I instinctively defended the information laid out before me, but it is good to have friends like mine who do not let much slide. We did the research together on Facetime and learned that this land was once the home of both the Piscataway and Nacotchtank (Anacostan) people. After making the alterations to my land acknowledgment in the presentation, I found myself swiftly adapting to the routine of my new role.

Later in the year, the Phillips’s Center for Art & Knowledge hosted scholars from the University of Virginia for the W. Wanambi Distinguished Lecture at The Phillips Collection. In preparation for the lecture, they informed the Phillips team that our land acknowledgment differed slightly from theirs. Our DEAI team embraced the UVA scholarship and began the necessary work to update our land acknowledgment. As part of their journey toward amending the land acknowledgment, the DEAI team sought out leaders from local Indigenous groups and received guidance on which groups should be included in the museum’s land acknowledgment. This brought me back to my early days here. I reflected on my role and the responsibility that comes with being a museum worker. Leveraging the privilege that comes with being a part of museums that hold histories also entails recognizing the responsibility to share these cultural narratives with the world.

In the spring, Thief moved from the Music Room up to the third floor into a new context and conversation with the works in the exhibition Pour, Tear, Carve: Material Possibilities in the Collection. The corner of the gallery glowed as light danced on the gold leaf of Galanin’s work. And shortly after, the digital wall at the museum’s entrance would glow with a new land acknowledgment front and center:

The Phillips Collection is a community of artistic expressions of diverse people, situated on the ancestral and unceded homelands of Piscataway and Nacotchtank (Anacostan) peoples. The area we know as Washington, DC, was rich in natural resources and supported local native people living there. We pay respect to their Elders, past and present. It is within The Phillips Collection’s responsibility as a cultural institution to disseminate knowledge about Indigenous peoples and this acknowledgment reminds us of the significance of place and the museum’s commitment to building respectful relationships with those who call these lands home today.

Let Them Enter Dancing and Showing Their Faces, Thief is part of a larger series of monotypes. Other titles include Knowledge, Sister, Shaman, Mouse, Fortitude, Xóots, Birth of a Song, Soothsayer, Keet, In Trance, Guwakaan, Descendant, Dance, and Central. Of this series, Galanin says, “Some of the faces being revealed in dialogue with my works are not just dancers, but faces within the society we dance in.”[1] The title of the series recalls an ancestral dance, where dancers enter unmasked with their faces revealed.[2] By representing the characters of this dance   Galanin creates a space for remembering and creating community. He states:

“The goal of colonization is often consumption and extraction, and then it just continues on. But it’s through memory and connection to places—and sharing that memory and connection—that we can demonstrate, share, and educate about ways of being in a world that are healthy for not just us but our future generations.”[3]

The gold leaf that forms a nimbus around the head of Thief recalls the artist’s reliance on the land as a part of his practice and the history that the land preserves. Let Them Enter Dancing and Showing Their Faces, Thief is a work that considers the nature of history-making and the power of expression to illuminate histories.

As we honor the Piscataway and Nacotchtank (Anacostan) land on which The Phillips Collection resides, let us remember the privilege of arts institutions to bring obscured histories to audiences.



[1] Nicholas Galanin – monotypes. Peter Blum Gallery. (n.d.).,the%20society%20we%20dance%20in.%E2%80%9D

[2] Ibid.

[3] Battaglia, A. (2020, March 10). Ancient to the future: Nicholas Galanin aims to change how indigenous art is understood.

The Voice of Museum-Goers

2022-23 Fellow Samantha Williams reflects on her time at the Phillips working on visitor experience and digital engagement.

My time at The Phillips Collection was spent getting to know the voice of museum goers. As the Visitor Experience and Digital Engagement fellow, I collected, organized, and analyzed data to make conclusions on the who, what, when, where, and why of Phillips visitors. It was a 10-month-long exercise in collaborative storytelling with both The Phillips Collection and its patrons.

Visitors at the admissions desk. Photo: Mariah Miranda

My fellowship allowed me to work on multiple interesting projects. But my two main projects included revamping the museum map and survey data diving. When it came to updating the map, I started with simply studying the current museum map and retrospectively looking at previous maps. I enjoyed learning about the different ways in which they were designed. It was like peering into the minds of the museum staff and visitors in years past and discovering what they considered important and necessary. From the maps I took note of potential pain points for visitors and drafted solutions. Additionally, I collected field data via interviews with Museum Assistants and key leadership at The Phillips Collection to gain a good understanding of what visitors today need. I presented my findings and design suggestions to the Marketing and Communication team which helped establish a new map!

Concurrently, I was behind the scenes with data from The Phillips Collection’s surveys. I was assigned the responsibility of compiling the raw data from the General Visitor Survey and the Phillips after 5 Survey. I would run the data collected through a data visualization program where I could clean, organize, and make sense of it all. One of the key things I established through this process was a snapshot of the typical Phillips visitor. The data gave light to whose voice is currently represented and whose voice could be amplified more. This finding will hopefully aid the museum in the future. It provides a baseline by which The Phillips Collection can brainstorm better ways to diversify its space and elevate visitors’ overall experience.

Overall, I am very proud of what I was able to accomplish during my short time at The Phillips Collection. It was meaningful work that can impact prospective and returning visitors’ experiences. The Phillips Collection has been a wonderful institution in which I learned, explored, and grew. Getting to see firsthand what goes on in the background at a museum was amazing. My perception of museums was strengthened through this fellowship and reaffirmed that I want to have a career in the art world!