A Note from Dorothy Kosinski
Vradenburg Director and CEO
Adapted from “How the Phillips Collection is diversifying the art world,” The Washington Post (May 18, 2018)
Diversity and accessibility have long been absent from museums. The Phillips Collection is speaking up about how to lead the way to inclusion.
Art is a vanguard industry that takes pride in its role to represent progressive ideology and risk taking, and yet the management lacks the representation that is vital to the arts’ dynamism. A 2015 Andrew Mellon Foundation report on diversity in art museums reinforced what is obvious to anyone working in or affiliated with the industry: a preponderance of non-Hispanic white men dominate leadership positions. That says nothing of the lack of ethnic, religious, disability, sexual orientation, or geographic diversity at the executive levels or in Board rooms. The survey catalyzed a movement toward a more diversified art and museum world, and The Phillips Collection is a pioneer of that change.
Responding to the urgency of these challenges, I made it my personal responsibility to secure major funding that allowed us to demonstrate institutional commitment to full inclusion at every level. We’ve appointed a new Chief Diversity Officer, Makeba Clay, as part of our senior leadership team. Makeba is among the first chief diversity officers appointed to an art museum and, in her lead role, she will guide the Phillips forward in pursuit of our mission to serve a multiplicity of artists and audiences. We will establish paid internships and fellowships to help eliminate barriers to entry into the field, and provide a new cadre of young people with the training and skills to establish credentials. Further, we’ve restructured our recruiting practices for staff and trustees to create a more diverse pipeline of candidates and board members.
The Phillips is striving to create an environment where stories of diverse audiences are shared. Since 2013, the Phillips has formalized a philosophy to acquire more works by largely underrepresented groups— including women, minorities, and members of the LGBTQ community. We recognize that this goes beyond an institution’s walls and that the success of this is also rooted in our ability to forge deep and lasting partnerships with external partners across sectors. For the Phillips, this means relevant programming, sustainable partnerships, and a better visitor experience.
Fellow institutions like the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Museum of Latin American Art, the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama, represent strong commitment to progress. However, we cannot let our successes cloud our vision of the challenges that remain. It is increasingly important that museums provide a space where people can connect to one another across perspectives and experiences, and relate to their communities’ institutions. It is precisely in this atmosphere that the Phillips is committed to serving our current and future audiences, cultivating diverse artists and arts managers, and incubating creativity and creation. Our goal is to initiate the transformation of the arts industry in Washington so that it represents the true nature of the city. We challenge other art institutions to commit to opening up the doors to all and encouraging the next generation to pursue the arts.