Phillips Collection Rings in 90th Birthday With All-Day Party

By Adele Chapin November 7, 2011, 6:08 PM EST

Photo: James R. Brantley

Phillips Collection 90th Anniversary Birthday Bash
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On Saturday, the Phillips Collection wrapped up a year-long celebration of the museum’s 90th anniversary with “Birthday Bash,” a 10-hour long event open to the public that included free admission to the permanent collection and the new “Degas’s Dancers at the Barre: Point and Counterpoint” exhibition.  More than 4,400 people visited the museum between 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. to check out activities like an art-making workshop, hourly gallery talks, musical performances, and a chance to see ballerinas from the Kirov Academy of Ballet of Washington reenacting scenes from Degas’s masterpieces.

“We decided to do a free birthday bash as a thank you to the community for years of support,” said Keith Costas, director of special events for the Phillips Collection.  For the event, Costas planned activities and performances that related either to the museum’s anniversary and history or to the Degas exhibit. 

“We wanted to cater the day to lots of different age groups and interests,” said Costas.  He envisioned the morning as a time for children and families, with a cupcake giveaway from Georgetown Cupcake to the first 500 guests and an art-making activity on the lower level of the building, providing materials for children to create tissue paper flowers inspired by Will Ryman’s outdoor sculpture of pink roses.  As guests entered the museum in the morning, accordionist Manny Bobenrieth performed Parisian cabaret tunes reminiscent of Degas’ era. 

Costsas also schedule musical performances throughout the day, with the Teiber Trio playing classical masterworks at 1:30 p.m in the Music Room, followed by an afternoon of jazz, with the Tommy Cecil Jazz Quartet performing two hours of classics from the days of Armstrong and Ellington, and then an hour of original jazz from the Yvonne Johnson Trio. A cash bar with wine, beer, and champagne along with light snacks opened at 4:15 p.m., echoing the mood of the Phillips After 5, a monthly event for young professionals. DJ Neville C played a set of Motown and pop hits from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

But it was noon when a crowd sung “Happy Birthday” to the Phillips Collection during the Capital Hearings’ a capella performance.  The ensemble sang a song from every decade of the museum’s existence, from Irving Berlin to Lady Antebellum.  And in celebration of arguably the most beloved works exhibited at America’s first modern art museum, staff members led gallery talks on the hour about Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party,” which was displayed in the original location of the museum’s first gallery, alongside paintings by Picasso, Cézanne, Monet, and van Gogh acquired during the first ten years of founder Duncan Phillips’ collection.

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