My Washington: Dorothy Kosinski

by Virginia Coyne

The Director of the Phillips Collection celebrates 10 years leading America’s first museum of modern art.

Dorothy Kosinski is the Vradenburg Director & CEO of The Phillips Collection.

Washington Life: There are so many museums in Washington, many of them free. Why should people visit the Phillips Collection?
Dorothy Kosinski: Duncan Phillips, our founder, wanted it to be “an intimate museum combined with an experiment station.” The intimacy created by the architecture and the collection provides something special and unique to this institution—a very personal experience with the art and the house. The permanent collection is always free during the week, Tuesday through Friday. As for other entry fees, this is very personal to me. I believe strongly in the philosophy of art for all, and I work hard to eliminate barriers to access and to try to get people of different ages and income levels engaged with our institution. Ultimately, it’s not a fair comparison because we don’t receive the same federal funding that allows some of our fellow institutions to be free, so we do have to charge admission to support our work and services.

WL: In this digital age, are you able to attract young people?
DK: Across the country, art museums are increasingly challenged attracting visitors under the age of 30. So, this is a big priority for us and something we are working on in a few ways. Our doors are open to students with free admission all days of the week, including weekends. Additionally, we are offering free admission to everyone 30 and under this summer. This promotion is an experiment in breaking down barriers of entry to gauge response, and to gather the numbers and data that will guide our institutional decisions, so that we may reach audiences better. We want everyone to enjoy the museum as much as we do.

Founders and art collectors Duncan Phillips and Marjorie Acker Phillips turned their Georgian Revival house into a museum in 1902. The Phillips Collection in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C. is comprised of three buildings: the original Phillips house which was built in 1897 (seen here) and two annexes, which were added in 1960 and 2006, respectively.

WL: How has the museum changed under your leadership?
DK: We have created bold and dynamic new partnerships with the University of Maryland and the Town Hall Education Arts and Recreation Center (THEARC), both of which support our goals of getting outside our walls and making art accessible to all by connecting with communities across D.C. and beyond, extending our arts, wellness and education programs to a broad range of people of all ages. I have also made it my personal responsibility to create a museum atmosphere that rises to the highest standards of accessibility and inclusivity. To do this we recently launched a museum-wide diversity initiative to better serve our audience.

WL: What else would you like to accomplish?
DK: I’m delighted that in 2021 we will celebrate the museum’s centennial. My role is to ensure that we continue to flourish in the next 100 years and to make sure that we have the financial support to do that. We like to say “The Phillips Collects.” That’s an expression we use to underscore that the museum is not trapped in amber and as much as our limited resources and gifts and bequests allow, the collection continues to grow. We look forward to highlighting new acquisitions during our 100-year celebrations.

WL: What is your favorite piece of art in the museum?
DK: This is a psychological trap because there are so many works that I deeply appreciate for different reasons. That said, if I had to pick one that I deeply adore it is “The Ham” by Paul Gauguin. This is a piece that is just beautifully painted but of such a humble subject.

“The Ham” by Paul Gauguin (1889) is Kosinski’s favorite piece in the museum.

WL: Name some of your favorite places in the city.
DK: Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown. The architecture and landscaping at this beautiful museum are unmatched. Tryst cafes (including the one in the Phillips!) have the best coffee in town and are a great place to start the day. The talent and variety seen onstage at Studio Theatre in the 14th Street corridor is truly world class. Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center. There are incredible (free!) performances every day at this national treasure.

A version of this story appears in the June 2018 issue of Washington Life Magazine.

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