“Is the Philbrook known for what it is or what it does?” Rand Suffolk posed this question to Tulsa, OK residents when he assumed the directorship of the Philbrook Museum of Art in 2007. He found that Tulsans knew the Philbrook for its beautiful villa and gardens, but not for its programs or even its collection. This “unscientific” but revealing survey helped Suffolk and his staff create a Philbrook that is wholly focused on using its collection, villa and gardens for the benefit of Tulsa and its citizens. “We challenged ourselves to be more compelling, relevant, and engaged in the life and direction of our city,” according to Suffolk.
The organizational shift at the Philbrook led to greatly expanded community programming, such as MyMuseum, a free gallery program for children, and Second Saturdays, a monthly free day that includes outdoor and indoor activities for all ages. The Philbrook also partners with over 20 local and regional organizations from the opera to the food bank. After the 2008 recession, budget cuts made planting a traditional garden full of annuals a challenge. To address this challenge, garden staff created a French decorative vegetable garden called a potager. The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma then harvested nearly 1800 pounds of vegetables from the Philbrook’s potager for needy residents; the following year the Food Bank harvested 2,800 pounds from the garden.
More information on the Philbrook’s community-focused vision and programming is available on the Philbrook's website and in the book Magnetic: The Art and Science of Engagement. In Magnetic, authors Anne Bergeron and Beth Tuttle use six museums to demonstrate how “powerful internal alignment and compelling vision…attract loyal and engaged audiences.” Magnetic is available from The AAM Press.
Image: Serving over 20,000 families throughout Oklahoma, Philbrook MyMuseum introduces children, ages 4-12, to all aspects of the Philbrook collection with free art supplies and engaging art cards meant to assist caregivers as they interact with both child and work. © 2014 Philbrook Museum of Art