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!

Exploring a History of LGBTQ Identity through Art History

🏳️‍🌈#HappyPride! The Phillips Collection is proud to partner with @samesexinthecity to celebrate, honor, and examine Queer art during #Pride and beyond. Explore a history of LGBTQ identity through art history by pairing artists with this facet of their identity.

What is queer art history? There is no particular style, type, medium, or even definition. Instead, we use it to explore art that speaks to the depths of queer life and experience, culture, and norms. The gift of queerness to art is its refusal to be defined. This resistance to dominant culture, and the way that the codes and cultures of queerness provide creative language and resources for artists, is why queer art is so important for art history and museum collections today. To search for queer art and artists in art history means that we question the divide between “high” and “low” art, between truth and gossip, and between public faces and private lives. In doing this, we are expanding the stories that are housed in our museums and shared with the public. 

The Phillips is an institution that has celebrated its untraditional collecting strategies and relationships with artists. Like many other museums in the United States, our permanent collection today features a variety of artists who both identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer; we also feature artists who thought of their identities in different and complex ways. We have artworks that seem to draw upon queer desire, such as Minor White’s Nude Foot from 1947. Charles DeMuth is known just as much for his still lives and nature scenes (as represented in our collection) as he is for his works depicting sailors or homoerotic settings. There are artists such as Joan Snyder, who expressed her desire not to be defined just as a lesbian or lesbian artist alone, yet who has spoken very clearly about the importance of same-sex desire in her life and artwork. Some contemporary artists such as John Edmonds hope to use their artworks as an “archive and excavation of queer black  history.” The Phillips is just at the beginning of its journey to piece together the possible hidden histories of our collection, and we are excited to see what queer history and artists can be excavated!

Left to right: Minor White, Nude Foot, 1947, Gelatin silver print, 10 1/2 x 13 3/4 in., The Phillips Collection, The Dreier Fund for Acquisitions, 2006; Joan Snyder, Savage Dreams, between 1981 and 1982, Oil, acrylic, and fabric on canvas, 66 x 180 in., The Phillips Collection, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gifford Phillips in honor of Laughlin Phillips, 1992