An Update on Our Journey
The Phillips Collection is committed to diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion
A message from Vradenburg Director & CEO Dorothy Kosinski
One year ago we published our statement in support of Black Lives Matter, prompted by the tragic death of George Floyd and the demand for racial justice that became a broad and multigenerational movement across the globe. It has been a year of grief and anxiety, many of us dealing with the tragedies alone in our homes, as we also continued to battle covid-19. It has been a year of profound loss and division in our country as we watched white supremacists storm our Capitol in January, and growing incidents of violence against the Asian community. The burden of trauma and anger falls heavier on communities of color than others; we acknowledge that and honor the pain and sorrow that you bear.
For museums across the country and around the world, it has been a year of intense reckoning with our exclusionary history and practices, with countless statements addressing diversity issues, petitions demanding change and accountability, staffing changes, and more. COVID-19 illuminated many of the structural inequities that have existed in our country for hundreds of years, and those inequities have been particularly visible in our cultural institutions, which have been and continue to be dominated by white and male leadership.
The Phillips Collection has spent the past year stepping back to reflect while also moving the needle toward progress, under the leadership of Horning Chair for Diversity, Equity, Access and Inclusion Makeba Clay. As I stated one year ago, The Phillips Collection’s foundational mission is to foster empathy and spark conversation, and related to this is our commitment to doing our part to address systemic inequities. We are—and have been—committed to learning, growing, and changing. This year is our centennial year, and has been a momentous occasion to both celebrate our long history, but also critically examine our goals, mission, and priorities. You trust us to chronicle, share, and explain art and art history, so we want you to know how we are reckoning with our country’s history of systemic racism and addressing this in our institution.
DEAI work is a journey; it is never done, and will continue to evolve. The Phillips has acknowledged that we are at the beginning of this journey, and our commitment to DEAI work is steadfast and deeply integrated into our updated five-year strategic plan. And while our work is far from complete, we present here a snapshot of the progress we have made over the past year—both internal and external. This is not intended as a laundry list of accomplishments to pat ourselves on the back—this message is here for accountability and transparency, and perhaps may help other organizations in their own DEAI journeys. We hope you will continue to join us on our journey in the years ahead.
Commitment to Change
Our aim is to become an institution that deeply embodies DEAI values.
- In February 2021, the Phillips announced a $2 million gift from Lynne and Joe Horning—DC philanthropists and longtime supporters of the museum—that endows the Chief Diversity Officer position and furthers our institutional commitment to all aspects of DEAI.
- In October 2020, The Phillips Collection hired a new full time Program Manager for DEAI to support the DEAI department in program management, training and development, and facilitation.
- In February 2021, Dr. Adrienne L. Childs joined the Phillips as Adjunct Curator, consulting on exhibitions, acquisitions, programs, and community outreach. Dr. Childs served as the guest curator for Riffs and Relations: African American Artists and the European Tradition, featured in 2020. Dr. Childs will be the lead curator of David Driskell: Icons of Nature and History.
- Our DEAI and HR departments have developed an equity-centered recruitment process that includes implicit bias training, cross-departmental recruitment teams, inclusive job descriptions focused on skills rather than experiences and include salary ranges, and jobs are posted to a broader range of sites to ensure a more diverse pool of candidates.
- The Sherman Fairchild paid internship program and yearlong paid fellowship program have continued as remote experiences over 2020 and 2021. Each intern and fellow works on in-depth projects, cross-cutting the museum.
- Building on the work of the 2019 Board Diversity Advisory Council, the Board of Trustees formed a standing trustee committee to advance greater representation and inclusion in governance. The goals are 1) Training, Learning, and Development; 2) Board culture and climate, 3) Governance nominations and onboarding, 4) Assessment and evaluation.
- We have named new board members that will bring important new perspectives.
- In the fall, the staff and board engaged in facilitated discussions around shared purpose and values: diversity, empathy, community, inclusion, trust, engagement, accessibility.
- In the fall, staff from many departments and on many levels, collaboratively examined our five-year institutional strategic plan (finalized in early 2020), emphasizing DEAI principles in every goal, and ensuring an equitable process.
- As part of our professional development efforts, two staff members are participating in the Black Leadership Academy sponsored by AAMD and McKinsey.
- In January, we launched the Temporary Detail Assignment Program, which allows part-time Phillips employees to work in other departments, thereby offering opportunities for career growth and bringing new and diverse perspectives to our work.
- The Board Investment Committee has performed an initial review of the current endowment portfolio through the lenses of ESG (environmental, social, and governance) and diversity. The Investment Policy Statement is being revised this summer and will include ESG and diversity considerations in the investment manager decision parameters.
- Across the institution, we are updating our list of vendors and suppliers through a DEAI lens.
Commitment to Learning
The Phillips Collection staff has participated in multiple trainings and workshops in an effort to align our values.
- HR and DEAI updated our policies focused on anti-discrimination and sexual harassment prevention and hosted a virtual training on this subject matter.
- Beginning in April 2020, a series of professional development workshops and trainings have been offered on leadership, resilience, emotional intelligence, empathy, and well-being in the virtual space.
- In November 2020, the staff and board participated in the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) to assess our intercultural competence. The results will help us examine our cultural competence mindset and skills at both the individual and institutional levels. The IDI has provided us with baseline insights and tools that we can use to facilitate cooperative conversations and actions directed toward growth and development.
- In March 2021, we launched a 10-week intergroup dialogue that brings full-time staff, interns, and fellows across the institution together to improve knowledge, skills, and awareness around systemic oppression issues through an anti-racist framework. These weekly dialogues are led by staff who participated in weekly training sessions over several months in the fall and winter.
- In mid-March, we launched Museum 101, a staff-wide professional development series that fosters interdepartmental learning, supports career development, and cultivates community building and engagement.
Commitment to Community
Our exhibitions, programs, and initiatives put the focus on the diverse communities that we partner with/that we serve.
- During the fall, through our Community in Focus project, the museum invited our audiences to submit photographs to create a collective portrait of the unprecedented year.
- Our centennial exhibition—Seeing Differently: The Phillips Collects for a New Century—showcases the breadth and depth of our collection, with special focus on recent acquisitions, and highlighting works by people of color and women. Conversations with our Community Advisory Committee in summer 2020 led to major changes to the exhibition, making it more community focused by incorporating community written personal responses to artworks and broadening the themes. With the Center for Inspired Teaching’s Real World History class, we worked with students to write labels for Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and produce a short documentary inspired by the artwork.
- We added a new component to our centennial exhibition—a juried invitational to feature artists of the greater DC region. Inside Outside, Upside Down features 65 works that address the challenges of the last year.
- The Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC) in Southeast, DC—including the Phillips’s space—closed to the public in March 2020 due to covid-19 and has yet to reopen. To engage with the community, since July we have been distributing 300 wellness kits each month to visitors in the area. We also created Art Kits for elementary school students at Turner, Bishop Walker, and Washington School for Girls that include games and activities.
- We have connected with our community digitally, producing over 200 free virtual programs for all ages over the past year, and also presenting our 80th Season of Phillips Music as free virtual concerts.
We have partnered with various local artist collectives for a series of artist-led workshops, including Red Dirt Studio, Otis Street Arts Project, and the Ragbaby Exchange.
- Our recently announced Centennial Commissions feature three prominent DC artists—Wesley Clark, Nekisha Durrett, and Victor Ekpuk—inviting them to create site-specific works that will become a part of our city this summer and fall.
Commitment to Transparency
This process requires self-examination and offering the museum as a space for conversation and change.
- An interdepartmental group has formed to examine our institutional history and has met several times over the past year to discuss key elements of the framework and process. A one-year fellow will continue this vital research on our institutional history with members of our DEAI and curatorial teams.
- We have begun to examine our collection through a contemporary lens. One example is the reworking of the description for Arthur Dove’s Goin Fishin, which has a long, complicated history that was previously missing from the website description. The process was long and thorough, as curatorial and education staff worked together to research and rewrite the description as accurately and transparently as possible. We plan to closely examine the entire collection with the same thoroughness.
- As of June 2021, the Phillips employs a total of 71 full-time staff. Of that, approximately 46% of staff in leadership roles, including management of staff and departments, identify as BIPOC (compared to 21% in 2013). BIPOC leaders hold management positions in our departments of DEAI, Education and Community Engagement, Facilities, Human Resources, Marketing and Communications, and Security.
- We currently have 17% BIPOC members on our Board of Trustees, compared to 10% at this time last year.
- The collection currently encompasses 15.2% women artists. Our latest collection policy articulates the goal of acquiring, exhibiting, and supporting women artists and artists of color.
- Please check the website for updates on our DEAI work, as well as progress on our strategic plan.