Fueled by Connection

Development Intern Lucy Phillips reflects on her internship over the summer.

The work of The Phillips Collection is fueled by connection.

In my final week as a Development Intern, I met with Anne Taylor-Brittingham, Deputy Director of Education and Responsive Learning Spaces. Anne explained that the intent of her work is to help visitors find a personal connection to the art. I gained tremendous, meaningful experience and insight during my summer at the Phillips, but this particular conversation gave me the clearest perspective on the impact of my work. No matter the project I was assigned—from researching French corporations, to soliciting support for future exhibitions and summarizing for donors the impact of their contributions to the Frank Stewart’s Nexus exhibition—the intent was to connect people to the art and the mission of the Phillips.

In preparing for the final presentation of my internship, I recalled all the ways the idea of personal connection had impacted my work. One project focused on identifying corporate prospects for a French Impressionist exhibition debuting at the Phillips in 2024. My task was to find companies that demonstrated an interest in the arts, French heritage, or a presence in the DMV and, once identified, prepare a solicitation strategy for support of the exhibition. As I look back, it’s clear that the answer was always personal connection. Understanding company history, mission, and culture helped me understand how to connect. For some it was education and for others it was diversity and social progress. Regardless, to forge a connection with The Phillips Collection, I had to start with learning about them.

Visitors enjoying Frank Stewart’s Nexus during Phillips after 5: All that Jazz. Photo: AK Blythe

The importance of personal connection came into even sharper focus throughout a stewardship report project for Frank Stewart’s Nexus: An American Photographer’s Journey, 1960s to the Present. The materials I created provide a comprehensive recap of the exhibition to engage donors, maintain relationships, and express gratitude—and will also be used throughout the department as a template report for future exhibitions. A scan of the public programs associated with the exhibition makes clear that the Phillips emphasized bringing the exhibition to life beyond the walls of the museum. From portfolio reviews with the artist himself, to a Phillips after 5 in partnership with the DC Jazz Festival, these programs were designed draw visitors in and create deeper and more personal connections to the exhibition. Through this project, I was exposed to and inspired by the work of the Education department, the Marketing and Communications team, and countless other colleagues that brought the exhibition to life through interdisciplinary collaboration.

The key takeaway from my summer internship? The work is fueled by connection. It’s not solely about the masterpieces hanging on the walls. It is about everything else—how these works inspire conversation, progress, learning, empathy and, most importantly, how we connect.

Meet Our 2023 Summer Interns

Our 2023 Summer Interns share what they worked on this summer. We are grateful for their hard work!

Clare McElhaney, Smith College

Clare McElhaney: Library & Archives Intern
Supervisors: Juli Folk & Amanda Acosta

Clare McElhaney recently graduated from Smith College, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in History with double minors in Italian Studies and Archives. Passionate about uncovering and preserving history through archives, she worked as the Library and Archives Intern with the Manager of Archives and Library Resources Juli Folk and Digital Archivist Amanda Acosta. Working with both physical and digital material, she completed a number of projects involving the Exhibition History Files, Member Publications, the Juley Photograph Collection, and various Artist Vertical Files. Her largest project combined previously processed and unprocessed boxes, vertical files, and binders in order to collect and select Exhibition Pamphlets from the 1920s to the present for digitization so that they will be available for future research.

Grace McCormick, American University

Grace McCormick: Curatorial Intern
Supervisor: Elsa Smithgall

Grace McCormick is in her second year at American University’s Masters in Art History Program specializing in American art. Previously she received her BA from Syracuse University in Art History and Newspaper and Online Journalism with a minor in Museum Studies. With her degrees, she has merged her passion for visual art and storytelling. As a museum professional, she works to create meaningful exhibitions that engage with inequality while centering neglected or overlooked voices in this work. To this end at the Phillips, she has been working as a Curatorial Intern with Chief Curator Elsa Smithgall on an exhibition of artwork by William Gropper. She has put together a comprehensive bibliography on Gropper and his work, drafted loan requests, and assisted in developing the curatorial rationale for the show. Grace will be finishing her degree this year upon her completion of her thesis exploring the installation Mickalene Thomas: A Moment’s Pleasure (2019-2021) as a new form of institutional critique that does not focus on what a museum has not done in the past, but rather re-conceptualizes what it can be moving forward. Grace will be starting a new position at The Phillips Collection as a Visitor Services Associate.

June Nam, University of North Carolina

June Nam: DEAI Intern
Supervisors: Yuma Tomes & Shelby Bergstresser

June Nam majored in nursing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her parents are artists, and naturally, she was surrounded by Korean moon jars and stacks of ceramic bowls in her home. Her interest in the arts never stopped, even while in nursing school. She ran across campus to attend any creative art classes she could fit in between her shifts at the hospital. After working as a nurse through the pandemic, she wanted to explore other avenues of interest. Bringing her to the internship program at the Phillips in the DEAI department, working with Shelby and Yuma. She has a great interest in Korean art, specifically creating a better process for entry of Korean art in museums, broadly making the proposal processes of artists and exhibits more inclusive and accessible, and bringing Korean American narratives into more spaces.

Kiara Bennett, Towson University

Kiara Bennett: Community Engagement Intern
Supervisors: Donna Jonte & Laylaa Randera

My name is Kiara Bennett. I am working as the Community Engagement Intern this summer. I am from Prince George’s County, Maryland. I am completing my last semester at Towson University as an Art Education and Fine Arts double major. I love to paint, travel, and visit various museums in my free time. Museums have always been a safe space for me since I was a child, so having this experience to further my career in museum education was a dream come true. This summer I helped with weekend Family Programs, assisted with art activity programs for Iona Senior Services, and shadowed multiple educational tours. I also worked at The Phillips Collection Summer Camp program for children at THEARC. During the program, I assisted the children with completing a mural for THEARC and taught my own art lesson about how to create stained glass window designs, inspired by Nekisha Durrett’s Airshaft (2021) located on the bridges of the Phillips.

Lucy Phillips, American University

Lucy Phillips: Development Intern
Supervisor: Miranda Burr

Lucy Phillips is a rising junior at American University, majoring in Art History and Statistics. This summer she worked as a Development Intern with Corporate Relations Officer Miranda Burr, gaining a meaningful understanding of The Phillips Collection’s fundraising and donor relations activities. More broadly, her internship exposed her to trends and strategies for arts philanthropy. During her time at the Phillips, Lucy researched prospective donors, personalized proposals, and distributed corporate sponsorship solicitations for a future exhibition. Lucy also created a comprehensive stewardship report for Frank Stewart’s Nexus–a lynchpin for driving enhanced donor engagement, relationship management, and appreciation that will be used as a template for future exhibitions.

Cecilia Moore, University of Virginia

Cecilia Moore: University of Virginia Curatorial Intern
Supervisor: Vesela Sretenovic

Cecilia Moore is a rising senior at the University of Virginia, where she studies Art History and Spanish Literature & Culture. At the Phillips Collection, she interned under Director of Contemporary Art Initiatives and Academic Affairs Vesela Sretenović. Over the course of the summer, she worked on several projects across departments and gained first-hand experience in museum practices and arts administration. These projects included streamlining the website of the Center for Art and Knowledge, conducting research on potential loans for upcoming exhibitions, and assembling an archive of past contemporary art projects at The Phillips. After she completes her undergraduate degree, she hopes to attend graduate school and pursue a career in museum curation.

Nikki Ghaemi, George Washington University

Nikki Ghaemi: Public Programs Intern
Supervisor: Ashley Whitfield

Nikki Ghaemi is a junior at George Washington University where she is majoring in art history and journalism. This summer, she worked as a Public Programs Intern under Head of Public Programs Ashley Whitfield. Nikki worked at numerous programs this summer, designed an activity for Phillips after 5 in August, and participated in a meeting brainstorming ideas for future Phillips after 5 activities. She advocated for greater engagement of Native American contemporary artists and proposed a program to celebrate Native American Heritage Month later this year.

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!