BNG Team

Jennifer Phillips

Meet the BNG Team

Get to know the team behind the 2022 Best of Bermuda Award. As a small but nimble team of five staff, we all wear many hats. Our membership has grown over the past year and with a relatively new team in place we thought that we would introduce ourselves to you. In celebration of being named Best Museum by The Bermudian, we will be profiling each of our staff members over the next few weeks. This week, we meet Jennifer Phillips.

The longest serving staff member within the current team, Jennifer has played a key role at the Bermuda National Gallery since 2015 when she joined as Office Administrator, in which capacity she oversees BNG’s Membership Programme and the use of the gallery for private events.

Jennifer splits her time between the gallery, where she spends 3 days a week, and several other roles within the arts, including that of Chair of the Bermuda Arts Council (a position that she has held since 2018), where she oversees the distribution of funding to local artists and arts organisations as well as the BAC’s annual awards ceremony. She is also a member of the Bermuda Festival advisory committee.

Passionate about the performing arts, Jennifer trained as a ballet dancer with the Jackson School of Performing Arts from the age of 4, later joining the National Dance Theatre of Bermuda and United Dance Productions. She performed both locally and internationally for many years and was one of the first members of the Bermuda Dance Company. An experienced stage manager, Jennifer has worked closely with the Department of Culture on the annual Premier’s Concert for over a decade. She recently joined the board of the Bermuda Tourism Authority.

We caught up with Jennifer to discuss how assisting BNG with their Art of Music series led to a full-time role at the gallery, how the museum spends a staggering $70,000 per year on electricity and why funding is so crucial.

Top: Jennifer Phillips photographed by Meredith Andrews. Above: The BNG team, from left to right Jennifer Phillips, Office Administrator; Eve Godet Thomas, Director of Programming and Engagement; Peter Lapsley, Executive Director; Rehana Packwood, Education Officer; Lara Hetzel, Volunteer and Operations Officer.

What does a typical day at the gallery look like for you?

It is difficult to define my “typical” workday, as there are so many different areas of daily operations at Bermuda National Gallery. I always say that my title of “Office Administrator” barely scratches the surface of what I do! I am the Membership Officer and Rental Coordinator. I also do bookkeeping and proofreading. On any given day you could also find me documenting incoming artworks or giving a tour of an exhibition!

My role is part time – I work three days per week, on Monday/ Tuesday/ Friday.  Generally, on Monday mornings I start by recording any funds that have come in during the previous week from general gallery admissions, merchandise sales, membership renewals, event sign-ups (this could be anything from yoga classes to summer camps or art lectures), or donations. After that, it really depends on what’s going on at the time – my day during our membership renewal period will look very different than when we are in the middle of an exhibition changeover, for example.

What part of your job do you enjoy the most and why?

I enjoy the multi-faceted nature of my job. Having so many different things to do keeps it interesting. I am quite analytical by nature, but am also a creative, so it is wonderful to be working at a place where working on a computer can be counterbalanced by spending time in a museum full of ever-changing exhibitions of all genres of visual art. I also like the fact that we are a small team. We collaborate on many projects, and each person’s input is valued.

Jennifer leads a tour of Flotsam & Jetsam: The Cost of Modern Living by Meredith Andrews as part of an International Women’s Day event.

What would people be most surprised to know about your role?

My relationship with Bermuda National Gallery began a few years before my official employment started. I was (and still am) a freelance stage manager and I was initially hired as an independent contractor to provide organisational and tech support for several music events that were being held in the gallery.

Pre-COVID, BNG had a robust Art of Music programme. We’ve invited international musicians to Bermuda, and we’ve collaborated with local musical artists for a series of Friday night Happy Hours. We’ve also hosted some very successful initiatives interpreting the exhibitions – local musicians were asked to choose an artwork that spoke to them, and create an original piece based on that artwork. The resulting performances in the gallery were really inspiring and a lot of fun! It’s something that we hope to be able to launch again soon now that restrictions are easing.

My contribution to these events is what led to my being invited to join BNG as a permanent member of the team. Although my role today is very different, advising on the inclusion of performance arts is still a part of it. For example, together with Alan C. Smith, I helped to organize the poetry response to Gherdai Hassell’s exhibition I Am Because You Are.

Dr the Hon. Ernest Peets, Minister for Youth, Culture and Sport, Gherdai Hassell, Jennifer Phillips and Peter Lapsley, Executive Director of the Bermuda National Gallery at the opening of I Am Because You Are.

What is something that most people don’t know about BNG?

People often don’t realise that we are a charity, and that we depend on donations from the community to stay afloat. The fact that we have the word “National” in our name sometimes gives people the impression that we are a government-funded entity. Although we do receive a small annual grant through the Department of Culture, this is directed specifically towards the preservation of the National Art Collection and only covers a tiny portion of our overheads.

To put costs into perspective, our electricity bill averages over $70,000 per year! This is why our membership drive (which takes place every spring) and annual appeal (which takes place each fall) are so important – they are the two main income generators on our yearly calendar. They have become even more crucial since 2020 when we were forced to cancel our annual black-tie gala, which is traditionally our biggest annual fundraiser. We are planning to host an in-person event this fall, hopefully in the BNG Sculpture Park, but with no one currently dedicated exclusively to fundraising, it puts a lot of strain on the small team.

We are extremely grateful to private companies and organisations who appreciate the value of what we do, and support BNG’s initiatives through various grants and sponsorships. It is their support that allows us to deliver world-class art exhibitions and culture programming to Bermuda.

Titus Kaphar creates Tax Collector for the 2011 exhibition Re-Interpreting the European Collection. On opening night, dressed in character, he anonymously entered the gallery and sliced into the canvas of a pastiche he had created of Gainsborough’s Portrait of Thomas John Medleycott, held in the BNG Collection, before discarding both the materials and the workman’s outfit and emerging as himself, the artist.

What is your favourite piece in the BNG collection and why?

The BNG collection covers such a broad range, it is impossible to choose a favorite!  My father, BNG Chairman Gary Phillips, is a collector of Charles Lloyd Tucker paintings, so I do like Flatts Hill and Blue Period (Flatts Hill), which are in BNG’s permanent collection.

In celebration of BNG’s 30th Anniversary, earlier this year we exhibited our Collection of African Art, and I really like the bronze face mask attributed to the Senufo peoples in the Ivory Coast. I’m attracted by its details, which are incredibly intricate and delicate.

Tax Collector, a performative piece that Titus Kaphar did for the 2011 exhibition Re-Interpreting the European Collection exhibition is a favorite of mine. Sadly, we don’t own it, but the fact that we – a small institution on a tiny island – have featured such prominent and current artists as Titus Kaphar (you may recall his painting for the June 2020 Time magazine cover) speaks to BNG’s reach.