The Philippa Collection D.C.'s top arts patron ponders a future without gallery parties

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Photo by Darrow Montgomery

Just off an alley behind 52 O St. NW, Philippa Hughes is hosting her 42nd birthday party. It is in most respects a typical Philippa party.

The warehouse interior is painted white, marked here and there by artful graffiti. Inside the space, a studio called the Wonderbox, a DJ in a seemingly sprayed-on navy cocktail dress spins top 40 hits—more of them than a warehouse party would seem to demand. A 9-foot-wide roll of thick, black paper hangs from the ceiling, serving as a portrait backdrop for guests who mug for professional photographers.

The night’s event is as much by Hughes as it is for her. This is what Hughes does: She throws Philippa parties. A Philippa party is a mash-up of two endeavors that used to be reasonably distinct: meet-ups for young professionals, the sort promoted by the Going Out Gurus or Things To Do DC or any of the other hype machines she has eclipsed, and DIY art shows, which Hughes has turned into unlikely vehicles for local renown. Since 2007, she has built up her brand, The Pink Line Project, by pushing art, artists, and arts events on a network that has grown to include some 5,000 people.

In some ways this Philippa party is more than typical—it’s redundant. On an improvised platform set between the ceiling and the top of a utility closet, two dancers from a group called the Glade Dance Collective perform. Wearing white leotards, the pair envelop themselves in a stretchy white fabric, thrashing about like a throbbing cocoon. It’s likely that most of the attendees saw this performance back in August at the End of Summer White Party that Hughes hosted at the Phillips Collection. Later, Grammy-winner Christylez Bacon, also fresh from a performance at another Philippa party the previous weekend, will sing a duet with a new singer Hughes has just discovered, Aaron Thompson.

The crowd doubles from 50 to 100 between 8 and 9 p.m. The acts may be familiar, but few of the regulars have been to Wonderbox before. “It’s always a new space with Philippa,” says Jason Bond Pratt, one of the founders of the online art-scenester collective Brightest Young Things. Pratt says Hughes always beats them to the new spots. “We’ll see it and be like, ‘Damn!’”

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Which explains why Hughes, in a relatively short period of time, has managed to turn herself into Washington’s most influential arts patron, able to bring out significant crowds in a city whose arts community ranges from lingering DIY types that bristle at society to older, moneyed folks uncharmed by informality. Hughes has gotten a lot of fawning press over the years, and more than a few barbs from people on both ends of the art-scene spectrum who intimate that she’s a lightweight. What she hasn’t gotten, though, is any serious competition for the title of D.C.’s top gallery-party hostess.

Of course, Hughes isn’t the first person to combine socializing with art—and make a name doing so. But while she shares the guerilla aesthetic of predecessors like those around the Decatur Blue and Signal 66 collectives, known for events in the same sort of warehouses as the one where Hughes’ birthday party was held, the Philippa work ethic is more Protestant than punk. And Hughes’ social and economic aspirations are distinctly higher. Her events draw crowds to museums and galleries as well as warehouses and collectives.

In 2007, The Pink Line Project—the formal name (and LLC) under which Hughes throws pop-up gallery shows, art walks, panels, fundraisers, salons and other Philippa parties—hosted 10 events. She did 19 in 2008, adding collaborations with DCist and Brightest Young Things. She nearly doubled the figure in 2009, with 35 events including celebrations for the National Cherry Blossom Festival (“Cherry Blast”) and an after hours party at the Hirshhorn Museum. In 2010, she says she’s hosted 36 Philippa parties to date, about one a week—though she notes she might have forgotten an event or two. She threw a party to open Digital Capital Week, a Mad Men–esque party at the Textile Museum, and a Labor Day soiree at the Phillips.

“Big is important in the sense that it gets attention,” says Hughes, who throws big events. “Getting attention is important. It gives you a platform for saying what you really want to say.”

Hughes is less certain, though, about what that thing is she wants to say. Success has exposed Hughes to attacks from both high and low. She also has the bottom line to think about. She does not draw a salary from her work, and she says she needs for The Pink Line Project to start paying its own way. The lifestyle has taken its toll on her person. In April—a month in which she hosted Cherry Blast and an event at the Textile Museum (“Hapi Hapi Hour”)—within a week of one another, her arms broke out in a rash. Her doctor told her it was stress-induced.

How to Throw Your Own Philippa Party

Hire Bluebrain

Bluebrain

A pointy-headed musical duo that can do as much with a concept and a video projector as they can with vinyl and turntables, Bluebrain is a plug-and-play act ready for the gallery or the warehouse. Alternate: Christylez Bacon

Invite Adrian Parsons

Parsons

An artist-type, musician-type, fashionable-type figure who appreciates the art of partying. Parsons runs with the Worn magazine and Brightest Young Things sets, but he also makes the gallery openings. Alternate: Kristin Guiter

Get PBR Sponsorship

PBR

Follow Hughes’ lead and befriend PBR’s creative-class outreach guy, Dan VanHoozer. VanHoozer can save you the schlep of a Costco run, eliminating the complex politics of drink selection. Alternate: Shiner Bock.

Bring the Gaitáns

Gaitans

Alberto and Victoria F. Gaitán will no doubt show up for discussion panels. As artists beloved in the community, they bring skills (he’s a tech wizard, she’s a portrait photographer) as well as credibility. Alternate: Andrea Pollan and Jeff Spaulding.

Don't Sweat the Location

Location

Your 14th Street condo, the Hirshhorn Museum, Textile Museum, the Freer and Sackler galleries, Comet Ping Pong, any old place will do. Alternate: Some other museum that isn’t busy that night.

Know an Administrator

Administrator

Jeffry Cudlin will not only bring you into the Arlington Arts Center family, he’ll also commission you for his own wonky projects—and even dress like you. Alternate: There’s no other Jeffry Cudlin.

Forget Artistic Purity!

Party Pooped: The real problem with D.C.'s elaborate art fiestas? They're boring.

Our Readers Say

Hey Vince Gray: Keep Gabe Klein at DDOT! That is all. Is there a FB campaign for this yet? Someone needs to start it.

And btw, they are just parties with some art and music sprinkled on top, everyone needs to calm down with the dissertations on all things pinkline related. haters are gonna hate. drink enough free PBR and its a good time.
Izette Folger seems to be a snob. I say you look at art the way you look at it. I don't have to have an MFA or be a rich collector to like something or enjoy "art". Art establishment, please reach back and pull the stick out of your tight, moneyed, intellectual asses.
I was excited to see Ms. Hughes on the cover of the City Paper, and then found myself wondering why Ms. Capps and Mr. Fischer chose to write such a pathetic pieces, slighting someone who has shed blood, sweat, and tears to make art fun, unpredictable, and accessible to all parts of the District. Philippa's work makes DC a better place to live, especially for those who live East of Rock Creek Park.
what kind of sales has phillipa generated for artists?
when she says"“I want people to stop thinking of me as a purveyor of objects. I’m not trying to sell anything,",
i wonder what is actually in it for the artists?
Booooorrrrrriiinnnnnnng. Who cares? Seriously -- a whole city to cover, and this is what you slap on the cover? WCP, you're killing me with this snoozer! Can we please get something more interesting this week?
collector - that's exactly the point. if benefiting artists amounts to 'exposure' plus the hours of underpaid labor artists spend working to help make one of these parties a success, you almost begin to wonder what the point is. Hughes's audience of young professionals enjoy the concept that they are enlightened urbanites who 'appreciate' art, but they don't have the mental capacity to recognize that no matter how many of these parties they attend, they're not actually supporting artists' efforts with their paid admission to an open bar party.

and for the arts people who are just fine with what pinkline does, it's vaguely misguided to just say that Hughes does so much, it's only a matter of others stepping up to compete with her in order to diversify the scene. it's that people who are not oriented towards the arts in DC think pinkline IS the DC arts scene, and her brand is so quantified at this point, you basically just expect a similar cast of characters in a different location every time. Maybe one day these promoters will see that a good art scene is one where art administrators empower artists take ownership of the image of DC's art scene, and help them to do so instead of cannibalizing all of the attention and resources for their own projects.

We need groups like to pinkline to promote the best artists and artwork being made in the area so that people who may not interested in art are talking about art together, not the party where it was. who are dc's breakout artists? let's talk about them!
Hughes is a parvenu, a sort of Michale Salahi of the art scene. She has about as much credibility as one might expect from a "surfer" from Richmond. She kind of pushed her way into the nascent Logan/14th St. art scene, copied other people's ideas, muddled about a bit, and moved on. Little was left better in her wake.
I found her utterly incredulous when actually trying to discuss art with her. She is simply a nouveau riche bored housewife who happened to move into a neighborhood where an art scene was trying to emerge. Next!


"they don't have the mental capacity to recognize...." Peter, you sound overly negative and crotchety. Dismissive statements like the ones you made don't do much to stimulate the kind of conversation you suggest should take place at the end of your comment.

I know of party attendees who do go on to buy art/music directly from the kinds of artists who are exposed through these types of events. That's a very direct form of supporting the arts. Others have attended artist talks and lectures as they grow their awareness of particular artists and the scene beyond the party.

Some artists who work with Philippa Hughes by collaborating with her on events go on to promote their work independently through their own events. She can be a great resource and openly provides assistance to people she supports behind the scenes. Other artists may be so involved with their creative work that they welcome the efforts of party promoters to do what they themselves absolutely do not enjoy.

It's great that people are examining various elements of the D.C. art scene but the conversation is better served without the hostility and negativity.
I attended one of the salons in Philippa's apartment, and it was one of the most unique experiences I've had in D.C. To call her a lightweight is missing the point--she's not trying to be an art history professor! Have to say though, I thought this article could have been punchier.
Philippa is meeting an unmet need for younger people interested in contemporary art but who are put off by the inaccessibility of much of the art "establishment". Of course some of the trust fund "collectors" (air quotes) and the "daddy paid for my art history degree" (more air quotes) crowd would be protective of their exalted status and resent the popularity of what Philippa has accomplished. Art museums readily acknowledge the advanced age of their visitors/members is a real problem, not to mention lack of diversity, and anyone who can bring in younger professionals who come for the party but stay for the art should be highly praised. And to the critics who complain about mixing parties with art, I better not see you partying it up next month at Art Basel Miami (which is ALL ABOUT THE ART, right?).
The way I see it Hughes is being heard. She is being seen. She has parties at the museums. This is a lot more than I have ever gotten in my 35 years as an artist. Hey she is on the commission of the arts in DC and Virginia. Both organizations would not accept my art or even ask me to any functions. Let her do what she does and I like her for whatever she does.
Best,
Diana Gamerman

It's always sad to see people try to tare down a successful woman. I'm not suggesting the authors of this piece are doing that - my take away is that they themselves are trying to figure out Philippa and are perhaps trying to put her in a box of some kind.

Those that were interviewed and negatively spoke about her seem to be sadly jealous or dangerously out of touch.

The reality is this in my mind: Philippa is very interesting. She's grabbed hold of 'something' that is volatile, creative and hard to define. Most people can't deal with volatile, creative, or hard to define - let alone grab hold of something like that. Philippa will find the innovative path, and leave in her wake inspired artists and DC residents who are better off for the hard work she's done.
Ms. Hughes clearly means well. However, she is way overexposed, bordering on being a cliche. That same expression in self-posted pictures begs us to look, but we've seen 'that girl' way too many times.
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