THE PHILLIPS COLLECTION in Washington, D.C., named a new chief diversity officer. Yuma Tomes, a psychologist whose experience includes teaching, research, and academic administration, was appointed Horning Chair for Diversity, Equity, Access, and Inclusion. Tomes joined The Phillips Collection in February from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, where he had been serving as chair of the Department of Psychology and Philosophy.

Tomes’s background in psychology was emphasized in the hiring announcement. Dorothy Kosinski, Vradenburg Director and CEO of The Phillips Collection, said his expertise in the field will add a new dimension to the museum’s diversity and inclusion work.

“Our chief diversity officer position led the field when it was established in 2018,” Kosinski said in a statement. “Dr. Tomes’s expertise in psychology is another way for the Phillips to guide in the museum field. Especially in the face of the difficulties we all have grappled with in recent years, his skills are much needed and will provide a new lens for our DEAI work. Moreover, his deep experience in fostering community outreach, developing sensitivity toward multicultural concerns, and advancing diversity initiatives will have a profound and positive impact.”

Phillips Collection Director and CEO Dorothy Kosinski said Yuma Tomes’s background in psychology will add a new dimension to the museum’s diversity and inclusion work.

COUNTLESS ART MUSEUMS have hired chief diversity officers in the wake of the racial reckoning that occurred in the summer of 2020. After Breonna Taylor and George Floyd were killed by police, protestors flooded America’s streets calling for racial justice and police reform. The clarion call resonated in U.S. cultural institutions where staff members began to speak out about their experiences with longstanding racism, white supremacy, and toxic work environments. In response, many art museums went into reactionary crisis containment mode, pledging to evaluate their institutional culture, drafting equity and inclusion strategies, and adding diversity professionals to their ranks.

The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., was ahead of the curve, having hired its first chief diversity officer in 2018. The move was part of a planned strategy initiated in 2016. Makeba Clay inaugurated the chief diversity position, which is now endowed with $2 million gift from Lynne and Joe Horning.

At the same time, The Phillips Collection lags behind many of its counterparts on the curatorial front, having never hired a full-time Black curator since its founding in 1921. This still remains the case, although in 2017 Adrienne Childs become the first Black curator to organize an exhibition at the museum when she began working in a guest curator capacity on “Riffs and Relations: African American Artists and the European Modernist Tradition” (2020-21). Childs has since been appointed an adjunct curator at The Phillips Collection.

Currently, the museum is seeking to expand its curatorial team by hiring a curator-at-large whose work will focus on “encompassing different global perspectives and engaging with a multiplicity of narratives that transcend Western European modernism.”

MEANWHILE, TOMES SUCCEEDED CLAY, who departed The Phillips Collection in October to join the Pew Charitable Trusts as vice president of inclusion, diversity, and equity, a newly created role.

Bringing two decades of experience, Tomes’s portfolio spans community engagement and multicultural initiatives in academia and educational psychology. Prior to his work at Sam Houston, Tomes was chair of the School Psychology Doctoral department at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, where he also served as a tenured full professor.

Tomes earned a BA degree in development psychology from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, an MA degree in school psychology from Appalachian State University, Boone, N.C., and a Ph.D. in educational psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

At The Phillips Collection, he has ambitious plans. In a statement, Tomes said: “…I hope to establish safe spaces that champion fairness and anti-oppression, positioning The Phillips Collection as a museum of artistic expression, community health, and well-being for the region and throughout the country.” CT

 

UPDATE (03/21/22): Revision reflects that Adrienne Childs began working on her “Riffs and Relations” exhibition in 2017, before the tenure of Makeba Clay, the first chief diversity officer at The Phillips Collection. The fact that the museum is currently looking to hire a curator at large was also added.

 

IMAGE: Portrait of Yuma Tomes. | Courtesy The Phillips Collection

 

BOOKSHELF
Founded in 1921, The Phillips Collection marked its centennial with the publication of “Seeing Differently: The Phillips Collects for a New Century” in 2021. The volume includes several essay contributions and conversations with artists, John Edmonds, Whitfield Lovell, and David C. Driskell, among others.

 

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