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

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Around midnight on the evening Hughes put on a grand-opening bash at Rosslyn’s brand-new Artisphere cultural center, the trash cans are overflowing with empty Pabst Blue Ribbon cans and Vitaminwater bottles. Cleaning up the mess, just like assembling the crowd, is Hughes’ job. But even as she ponders post-party refuse, Hughes’ connections are on display. D.C. Department of Transportation Director Gabe Klein, a close friend, is among the volunteers picking up late-night garbage. Klein offers to put in a good word for Hughes with Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette after everything is over.

When it comes to swaying the governments that provide large chunks of arts funding, Hughes might actually not need lobbying.

In the District, for instance, one of The Pink Line Project’s more successful public projects was a summer collaboration with the D.C. government to transform the former R.L. Christian Library, at 1300 H St. NE, into a temporary store—the Temporium—where local artists and designers sold their wares. A few months later, the city had turned the innovation into an entire category of funding. A request for applications released by the Office of Planning defined what a Temporium is (“a Temporary Urbanism project that transforms vacant storefronts or spaces into a temporary retail space for local designers to exhibit and sell their work”) and outlined the H Street project’s successes (“Future Temporiums should meet similar benchmarks”). One grantee will be selected to build their own Temporium in December 2010.

Hughes is bemused that the government would put out a request for proposals to recreate her project. “I think it would be better for them if they had their own branding on it,” says Hughes, somewhat miffed. “It’s bad for them if they’re trying to achieve their own goal in temporary urbanist projects.”

Last year, Hughes became a commissioner on the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities—a title she now lists directly under “chief creative contrarian” on her Pink Line e-mail signature. The position gives her some input on a number of funding, grant and public art projects undertaken in the District. People in the art scene have asked why she hasn’t been made the commission’s chair. “I think the situation is too political and bureaucratic and I think I can make more of a difference on my own, working on the ground so to speak,” Hughes says.

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The appointment has its critics, too. “I cannot say I understand why she is on the D.C. arts commission, other than that she has lots of energy, loves to party, and seems to be doing a very good job of bringing the young art community together,” sniffs collector Lorie Peters Lauthier, who attended the upscale Corcoran party. Hughes finds herself cultivated by government on the other side of the river, too. Arlington County’s cultural affairs division tasked her with organizing one of the opening weekend parties for Artisphere—a county-sponsored megaproject that needed some buy-in from the twenty- to thirty-something set. Hughes delivered by bringing Brightest Young Things on board as co-host and, promising all-you-can-drink PBR and balloon-based performance art, sold some 900 advance tickets at $20 a head. More than 1,400 guests came in all.

The Artisphere party cost just south of $21,000 to produce. Of that, The Pink Line Project and Brightest Young Things spent roughly $4,000 on booze, $6,000 on talent, and $4,500 on security. Arlington Cultural Affairs gave the hosts a $5,000 sponsorship, meaning that all told, The Pink Line Project and Brightest Young Things netted between $5,000 and $6,000 each. Hughes estimates that it cost each of them 300 man hours.

Cynthia Connolly, director of visual arts for the Artisphere, says that she was first attracted to Hughes because she’s a surfer. “I heard about this woman named Philippa who collected art and surfed,” says Connolly. “Who the hell in D.C. collects art, is a younger woman and surfs?” A photographer and D.C. stalwart since 1981, Connolly is the visual art scene’s Ian MacKaye—something of a purist with a long memory and connections with anyone who produces art here.

The 4,000-square-foot Terrace Gallery, over which Connolly presides, is one of the Artisphere areas where drinks aren’t allowed during the opening party. As The Pink Line Project has expanded from small art talks to art-scene galas, its reputation in the art scene has both waxed and waned. Connolly registers some doubts about the merits of mixing art shows and parties so explicitly. “I find it offensive sometimes. I find creativity really important and nurturing the creative mind really important, and I feel like it needs respect. I sometimes feel that in a party atmosphere, things can become in a way not respectable to the art,” Connolly says, as Hughes’ party swells in the hold outside her booze-free space. “The art becomes a vehicle to make the party happen, and the party supercedes the art.”

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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