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

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“Philippa brings Philippa,” says Norma Kaplan, chief of Arlington’s cultural affairs division, contentedly delivering forth on the different ways younger and older generations approach the nation’s cultural centers. But as she speaks, the party starts to get out of hand. It is, in fact, a youthful person—Pink Line Project intern Becca Gurganious, who Hughes says “pretty much runs my life and my business”—who first brings the trash situation to Hughes’s attention. Gurganious puts Hughes to work collecting garbage at about 11:30 p.m., even as skinny jeans and cocktail dresses continue to stream in.

“You can’t have a mega party like that and be ready to open at 10 in the morning the next day,” said Hughes in retrospect. “If you’re the Washington Hilton, you do that sort of thing. We should have waited a month.”

“This is the dark side of the party: scrubbing the floor in your party dress,” said Brightest Young Things chief Svetlana Legetic, after the fact. She and Hughes cleaned until 5 a.m. to ready the Artisphere for its open house the next day.


After organizing an average of an event a week thus far this year, Hughes says she has nothing scheduled after this coming weekend. She’ll continue the Salon Contra discussions in November and December, which she loves as much as artists seem to, and she mentions Cherry Blast next spring as a program she knows she’ll want to renew. Beyond that, she says, her hiatus could extend longer.

After Pink Line-related stress led to the rash outbreak, Hughes also lost the services of her three interns, who moved on to seek gainful employment. This and an incident in which Hughes says she snapped at Cultural Development Corporation manger of visual arts Karyn Miller—an incident Miller says she does not recall—led Hughes to do some serious thinking.

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In fact, she’d already responded to some of the critiques about the admixture of high art and low entertainment. She’s become more selective. Hughes says she receives at least an e-mail every day from an artist asking for a place in an event. She says she turns down plenty of things. “D.C. is one of those social charity ball type places. There’s always a silent auction,” Hughes says, “fashion for cause, fashion for poverty,” again hanging big air quotes around these phrases. She avoids aggressively seeking corporate sponsorships for fear of winding up as an event planner, a title she despises.

The bigger issue is Hughes’ growing realization that she has made Pink Link Project successful by every metric but one: its finances. The big events make money, but they’re a poor return on her investment. “That’s why I’ve got to try to figure out a better business model. Because the financials of these huge events are not particularly great, I think of them partially as branding opportunities for Pink Line Project”—a loss-leader for a more sustainable project down the road.

But there’s no going back, though: She received notice this month that she’s lost her Virginia state bar membership because she stopped paying her dues. She posted the notice on Facebook with a status update: “I’m officially an ex-lawyer!” What she’s planning next may not be The Pink Line Project at all. To help her build out her strategy, Hughes has enlisted a brain trust. Her new advisory board includes Scott Royster, a venture entrepreneur; Ted Bilich, whom she helped to launch Creative Arlington; and Steve Goldenberg, a photographer who started a business processing online college applications. By the beginning of next year, she plans to have a plan in place to relaunch her website, dispel any notion that she’s an event planner, and profit. “I don’t think it would be smart for me to get rid of Pink Line Project,” Hughes says, “but I could actually see it taking a smaller role.”

Ultimately, she says, she’d enjoy a job that allowed her to focus on her own art. “How can I get to the point,” she asks, “where I can do the very thing I’m sort of preaching to others?”

“I want people to stop thinking of me as a purveyor of objects. I’m not trying to sell anything,” Hughes says. “It’s not really about art and objects. In all parts of my life, I’m more of a collector of people. When something happens, when the right fit arrives, I know who I can call on.”

Correction: The last name of Brightest Young Things founder Svetlana Legetic was originally misspelled in this article.

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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