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PHI Sessions: Probing the Potential of Cultural Institutions

  • PHI


The primary intention of PHI Sessions 2021 was to launch and foster a collective project that might open up new networks and channels for exchange and collaboration to help continuously develop our understanding of the potential of cultural institutions. Our hope is that the research subjects that emerged from the event, and the hypotheses and experiments produced by the Work Groups, will keep the ideas brewing and conversation going. 

As a way to continue exploring the subjects, discussions and ideas generated by PHI Sessions 2021, we will create an iterative and evolutive Digital Publication. The Publication will serve as a way to extend the examination of subjects to different modes and media, and act as a repository for the continued documentation of ‘research findings’ and the novel questions that arise from them. Dynamic and nonlinear, the Digital Publication will consist of subject-specific texts and provide a space for the sharing of the hypotheses, their ongoing development, and the results of experiments that have been pursued over time.

Phisessions eventphoto

The Sessions Toolkit

We invite you to participate in the project through the organization of a Work Session to develop hypotheses and experiments related to the subject(s) that emerged from the original PHI Sessions 2021 event. You are encouraged to submit your resulting ideas and proposals for potential inclusion in the digital publication, and testing within the cultural field.

This document outlines instructions for how to carry out a Work Session, whether you are an artist, an independent cultural worker, working in a cultural institution, an academic researcher and/or someone interested in the role and potential of cultural institutions.

Ideas and proposals generated by the Work Sessions are to be submitted by May 30, 2022.

The Research Subjects

The Day 1 Sessions generated a rich array of reflections, speculations, warnings and ideas about the status of the cultural institution. The myriad of considerations precipitated and/or accelerated by our cultural moment were rendered vividly, while open-ended questions that demand further exploration emerged across the conversations and perspectives.

We have distilled the following Research Subjects from the Day 1 conversations, identified to help orient the continued exploration of ideas on Day 2 and beyond.

The Recordings & Participants

Welcome and Introduction by Cheryl Sim

Grounding Session: Where are we now?

Hosted by Ken Lum with Yesomi Umolu and András Szántó

This series of conversations are presented in a ‘talk show’ format with the host engaging in one-on-one conversations with three guests. Grounding and foundational, these conversations offer broad and contextual, survey-level information to offer a general sense of the areas of exploration and concern before us.

Framing questions:
- While the pandemic has affirmed that the experience of art and culture is essential to our well being, what about the role and purpose of cultural institutions? What are the new terms of ‘essential-ness’?
- What are the emerging cultural shifts that represent compelling opportunities for the role and relevance of the cultural institution?
- In light of these potentials, how can we re-imagine the notions of ‘responsibilities’ and ‘spaces’ of the contemporary cultural institution?
- How are sustainability and relevance interlinked for cultural institutions now?

Intro + Grounding Sessions - Where are we now?

Deep Dive Session 1:
The emergent commitments and responsibilities of the cultural institution

Moderated by Kama La Mackerel with Calum Bowden, Haley Mellin, Monica O. Montgomery, Carmen Papalia

This session will explore new opportunities for institutional agency and action in the face of emerging societal forces. Building on fundamental institutional missions, are there new ways of conceiving the range and character of commitments and responsibilities that could reinforce sustainability and relevance?

Key territories for discussion: diversity, inclusion, accessibility, equity, environmental sustainability, governance, community participation and building, etc.

Emergent commitments and responsibilities of the cultural institution

Deep Dive Session 2:
Reframing the ‘spaces’ of the cultural institution

Moderated by Jepchumba with Jasmina Cibic, Ella den Elzen, Skawennati, Richard Fung

This session aims to provoke new ways of framing the notion and qualified importance of ‘institutional spaces’—interrogating the binary of the digital and the physical; questioning boundaries (beyond geography?) of public and community space(s); questioning conventions of spatial hierarchies, et al.

Key territories for discussion: digital space, physical space, public space, communities beyond geographies, democratization of space, ‘creation’ of space, indigenization of space, accessibility, etc.

Reframing the ‘spaces’ of the cultural institution

Summary Session and presentation of Research Subjects
By Cheryl Sim and Talia Dorsey

The day ends with a Summary Session through which the critical Research Subjects identified through the conversations of Day 1 are summarized and offered as departure points for experimental development in the Work Sessions on Day 2, one week later.

Summary Session and presentation of Research Subjects

Summary Session – Day 2
Hosted by Cheryl Sim and Talia Dorsey

Day 2, which took take place one week after Day 1, consisted of time for self-directed Work Groups to probe one of the Research Subjects identified through the Day 1 Sessions in the form of closed Work Sessions. The goal of these sessions is to translate the selected Research Subjects into a series of concrete hypotheses and sketches of actionable experiments/ideas/proposals that could be adopted or undertaken by agents or institutions within the cultural domain as a means of furthering inquiry into the subjects.

M’Lisa Colbert, Laurence D. Dubuc, Joyce Joumaa, Laurent Vernet, Amanda Vincelli

Amanda Beattie, Zoe Compton, Charlotte Jacob-Maguire, Emily Jan, Kim Johnson, Prakash Krishnan, Marie-Hélène Lemaire

Nicole Brabant, Jenny Fisher, Justin Ramsey, Haema Sivanesan

Work Sessions Summary Session

Conversation Session Participants

The Project

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Underpinning the event are two foundational questions:

  • Understanding that art and culture are essential to our social fabric and collective well-being, what are the emerging roles for cultural institutions to (re)assert their own ‘essential-ness’ in support of this fundamental dimension of everyday life?

  • How can institutions ensure the sustained capacity to play these roles, and conversely how might these roles contribute to broader sustainability priorities and social progress?

Intersecting these conceptual interests is a series of practical intents:

  • To share our collective knowledge, which includes the lessons of the pandemic, to imagine new means of catalysing a vibrant and invigorated arts and cultural sector as a connected ecosystem — unto itself and in concert with broader societal movements and socio-cultural shifts

  • To treat as fundamental, notions of serving our audiences, furthering the development of community engagement and nurturing the art and cultural ecosystem at large

  • To engage a range of actors and publics in the conversation that operate within, but also beyond, the boundaries of institutional practice

  • To approach the subjects through forward-looking speculations and provocations to uncover new questions and territories ripe for further inquiry and exploration

  • To identify new tools and practices through which inquiry and knowledge can be collected, shared and perpetuated, and in turn the means of supporting their use

  • To engage in a collective (and ongoing) project through which new visions can emerge, and in turn, through which network(s) of practitioners operating in the arts and cultural sphere can be reinforced

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

  • Council of Arts


Marc Quinn The Selfish Gene 2007 a3 1


Marc Quinn

October 5 January 6, 2008

Gathering over forty recent works, DHC/ART’s inaugural exhibition by conceptual artist Marc Quinn is the largest ever mounted in North America and the artist’s first solo show in Canada

Exhibition Contemporary Art
Re enactments feature



February 22 May 25, 2008

Six artists present works that in some way critically re-stage films, media spectacles, popular culture and, in one case, private moments of daily life

Exhibition Contemporary Art


Sophie Calle: Take Care of Yourself

July 4 October 19, 2008

This poetic and often touching project speaks to us all about our relation to the loved one

Exhibition Contemporary Art
Gesture 01


Christian Marclay: Replay

November 30 March 29, 2009

DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art is pleased to present the North American premiere of Christian Marclay’s Replay, a major exhibition gathering works in video by the internationally acclaimed artist

Exhibition Contemporary Art
16 Shalechet Red In Circle


Michal Rovner: Particles of Reality

May 21 September 27, 2009

DHC/ART is pleased to present Particles of Reality, the first solo exhibition in Canada of the celebrated Israeli artist Michal Rovner, who divides her time between New York City and a farm in Israel

Exhibition Contemporary Art
Survivre feature


Living Time

October 16 November 22, 2009

The inaugural DHC Session exhibition, Living Time, brings together selected documentation of renowned Taiwanese-American performance artist Tehching Hsieh’s One Year Performances and the films of young Dutch artist, Guido van der Werve

Exhibition Contemporary Art
Ahtila couverture


Eija-Liisa Ahtila: Int. Stage-Day

January 29 May 9, 2010

Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s film installations experiment with narrative storytelling, creating extraordinary tales out of ordinary human experiences

Exhibition Contemporary Art
2007 For Chicago 001


Jenny Holzer

June 30 November 14, 2010

For more than thirty years, Jenny Holzer’s work has paired text and installation to examine personal and social realities

Exhibition Contemporary Art
Explore everything Explore everything