Museums: Manual to Digital

During my second week at the Phillips Collection I got to deal with both the physical and digital aspects of running a museum. Over the course of the week I cut and assembled various paper materials for the Phillips’ Exhibits Department, Education Department, and Director’s Office. Completing each task gave me a better understanding of each department and their roles in the museum. Later in the week I also started some independent research into museum digital strategy, which gave me a better sense of the actions modern museums are taking to evolve and adapt to the digital age. On top of all of my wonderful work experiences this week, I also got to attend the Phillips Collection’s monthly “Phillips After 5” event with a couple of friends, which let me view the museum from yet another new perspective.

One of my most involved manual projects this week was making maquettes for the Phillips Collection’s upcoming exhibit, Renoir and Friends. Maquettes are essentially stand-ins for the pieces in an exhibit which a curator can use to map out an exhibition. The maquettes that I made were sheets of brown paper cut to fit the measurements of roughly 48 paintings and sketches which will be hung as part of the exhibit. Using the exhibit catalog’s checklist, I found the measurements of each painting or sketch and manually measured, marked, and cut out each corresponding maquette. While the task was fairly simple, it took up the entire day, and left me tired after spending the whole day on my feet. However, I found the process highly rewarding since I knew that my work would directly help the exhibit’s curator in building the exhibition.

This week also involved manual cutting on a smaller scale for the Education Department’s activities for this past weekend’s “Jazz N’ Families Fun Days.” I cut up tissue paper and printed-out pictures of guitars that children and families would use to create their very own album covers as they listened to live jazz music. The special weekend activity served as part of the Phillips Collection’s open house which was held in conjunction with DC JazzFest, a city-wide celebration of one of America’s most iconic and innovative art forms. I loved being able to help promote participation in the event by helping the Education Department with its free and family-friendly activity.

Towards the end of the week I got to work with the Museum Director’s Office to build and bind the books for an important Phillips Collection Board Meeting. At the quarterly board meetings, the Phillips Collection’s Board of Trustees makes important financial decisions which determine the museum’s overall course of direction. Since these meetings need to run as smoothly as possible, board members receive books of information ahead of time which help them make informed decisions. I got to help assemble these books by placing all of the necessary pages in order and binding them with plastic coils. While assembling these books I got to work alongside the museum director’s assistant, who told me a lot about the administrative side of the museum. I found it fascinating to learn about this facet of museums since it is one rarely accessible to the public, and even rarely accessible to my past self as a volunteer and intern. Learning more about the prominent and authoritative roles of Museum Director and Board of Trustees gave me new insight into overarching structure of museum direction and operations.

As for digital operations, this past week I started discussing and working with my supervisor on museum digital strategies. Since museums need to keep up with modern technologies as they evolve, they require new digital strategies. However, as technology has developed so rapidly over the past decade and integrated itself into our daily lives just as quickly, not all museums have been able to keep up, and those who try keep up at different rates using different strategies. After discussing the difficulties and vast possibilities of museum digital strategy with my supervisor, I felt strongly that joining the museum field is more exciting now than ever before since there are so many ways for museum professionals to get creative and use modern technologies to reach wider audiences. As I will be helping my supervisor and one of the museum’s fellows develop a clearer digital strategy for the Phillips Collection this summer, I got to start on some independent research this week by analyzing the digital strategies at other museums. I am sure that my work with digital strategies will be a recurring theme on this summer blog, so stay tuned to find out more!

Finally, I thought I would conclude with the most exciting part of my internship this week, attending my first “Phillips After 5.” The event is held on the first Thursday of every month, and this month the event was jazz themed as a nod to the ongoing DC JazzFest. Guests can purchase tickets in advance (which sell out quickly), while museum members and employees can go for free, and I was lucky enough to score two extra free tickets so that I could attend the event with a couple of my friends who are also working in D.C. this summer. We wandered the galleries as they hummed with guests sipping on wine from the bar and snacked in the festive “Biergarten” inspired by the temporary exhibit, Markus Lupertz. Of course, since the event was jazz themed, we got to listen to some live jazz music in the auditorium and see some amateurs test out various instruments in the carriage house. Most of all, Phillips After 5 was a highly entertaining event for people-watching. I loved seeing how museum members, tourists, and locals just getting off from work interacted with the artwork and activities surrounding them. My friends and I were especially enamored with one dapper fellow who managed to flawlessly pull off his navy pinstriped suit – complete with pocket square. It was fun to experience the event and the museum as a spectator rather than as an intern; it made me appreciate all of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into pulling off such a successful event.

While my second week seemed to fly by, it’s amazing to look back and see how much I have already done at the Phillips. I am definitely growing more comfortable with the space and with the staff, and love getting to do work that I know is positively impacting the museum in all its many capacities. Whether manual labor or digital efforts, I am excited to see what the Phillips has in store for me for week three.


  1. I think this is a very nice opportunity for students to get to know the works in museums and acquire inspiration. I am sure when you look back at this experience in the future you will have specific memories.