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

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“I want people encountering art on whatever terms I can get those encounters to happen,” Cudlin says. Though an ideal encounter might mean no party—just a viewer, moleskine notebook in hand, taking notes in front of a painting—Cudlin says artists themselves choose to lend their work to Hughes’ events. “You can’t make an artist do what they don’t want to do. If it does seem like they are cheapening their work, they were going to go down that path anyway,” he says. “They were already going to disappoint you.”

Hughes is expressly tired of the backlash from “‘real’ art people,” she says. “If I only cater to ‘real’ art people, then I don’t think I’m accomplishing anything. I don’t know what my mission is, but I think I’m trying to bring more people into the fold, even if it’s a superficial entry point.”


Hughes may well be the perfect point of entry to the arts community: she’s fashionable, but not threateningly so, she never drops art theory, and she’s indefatigably chirpy. Her breezy grin keeps everyone comfortable, from art-scene purists to party-hopping dilettantes. And while the overlap between Philippa and her brand might suggest someone who’s been plotting for years to make the scene, her easy persona hints at how she actually came about it: gradually, as a by-product of other ambitions.

Philippa Bates was born and raised in Richmond, Va. Her dad worked for years as an engineer on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline while her mom refurbished and flipped property. Her parents, now divorced, taught her to cook; she says the only thing that either will still say about the other is that he or she is a great cook. Hughes went to school at the University of Virginia, then got a law degree at the University of Richmond. She loved law school but hated the work that followed. “I kept trying different aspects [of practicing law] to not have wasted that money I spent, but it just didn’t take.”

Philippa married David Hughes in 1992. The pair moved to Washington in 2001, where he established an orthodontic practice. In 2003, Hughes quit her last law-related job, both to help her husband get his practice going and to devote more time to her own creative writing, a pursuit that still nags at her. (She favors short fiction.) She also began collecting art and started inviting artists around. David’s growing practice allowed Philippa to leave her lobbying job at the Investment Council Association of America and begin The Pink Line Project. Her first event—“Press Play,” an April 2007 collaboration with Project 4 Gallery—was a group show at a raw space at 1520 14th St. NW, now home to a tapas restaurant.

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David Hughes says Philippa started without any model to follow. “Is it possible to build an entity of any kind just on the idea of promoting the visual arts at a grassroots level in this city? To my knowledge, what she’s doing now wasn’t being done in the city,” he says. “I don’t think I knew where it was headed. There was a lot of time in the lab, so to speak.”

The Hughes’ marriage split up not long after she started putting on shows, at a time when he was increasingly focused on his practice. (“Our parting was different from a traditional throwing shoes and yelling split,” David says. “Everything was easy except for the art division,” Philippa says.) In June 2008, she moved from the couple’s home in Logan Circle to a condo at 14th and V streets NW. Because she could not show a reliable income stream, he co-signed on the mortgage. With the divorce now final, and Pink Line’s revenues no more clear, her mother is assuming the note. (Her daughter will continue to pay the mortgage.)

David confirms Philippa’s business acumen, saying that she ran the marketing and general accounting for his orthodontist practice early on, when he was focused on building doctor referrals. “She has an entrepreneurial side in her that comes out in the way she buys and sells, whether it’s securities, or real estate, or in the case of Pink Line, lifestyle entrepreneurship,” he says. Years prior, Philippa says, she invested in Apple when stocks were low. She says she lives off those savings now, though The Pink Line Project pays for many things; pretty much all of her meals and her cellphone included. “This place is thanks to Apple,” she says, though David adds that money from the divorce settlement went toward the home.

Like Apple, Hughes’ art events cater to the demographic urban theorist Richard Florida dubs the “creatives.” But as with many trends beloved by this set, it has proven easier to popularize than to monetize. Hughes is sober about the prospect of continuing to finance The Pink Line Project through trading. “It’s very risky to live that way,” she says. “My risk tolerance is probably higher than most people. It’s too stressful.”

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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Mandy, you know I love my books, but I've read only one that's on your To Be Read List odd! I read Rebecca' last year when Steve and I were flying to Missouri for a wnieddg. It was full on intrigue, it was dark, and slightly Gothic and Jane Eyre'-esque. It kept my attention the whole time, from that ninny Mrs. Danvers to the title character, whom I couldn't quite picture in my head. I really enjoyed the beginning of the book and how she went from a sort of babysitter for an older lady to wearing pearls the next day. There are movie versions of the novel; when you finish it, we should watch the same version and compare our thoughts!Right now I'm reading Tinkers' by Paul Harding. It's a small novel that won the Pulitzer in 2010. I've read mixed reviews of the book, which I'm only halfway through. Harding's language is very exquisite and descriptive. I love stream of consciousness writing, which takes a while to get into, but I think it invites the reader into a different place, where describing the history of something as small and functional as a thimble can take you for a ride.Keep reading!Carrie

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