Meet the Curators
Phoebe Greenberg’s story begins in the late 1980s in one of the best places to have a life-defining revelation: Paris. The Ottawa native spent the better part of her twenties living in the French capital, filling her days by admiring art and taking courses at I’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq.
Beyond deepening her appreciation for art — which it very much did — Paris changed her belief in how art could be accessed and enjoyed. Inspired by the city’s Fondation Cartier, Greenberg returned to Canada with the conviction that she would bring the world’s best contemporary art to whoever wanted to see it… for free. “I was at an age where rather than wanting to change the world, I wanted to make the world better,” she says.
She achieved that in 2007 by opening what is now the PHI Foundation for Contemporary Art (originally called DHC/ART), a non-collecting art institution and museum in Montréal that’s free to the public and combines art, cinema, and educational talks. Greenberg’s belief that art should be a multisensory experience is present even in the space’s architecture: The building, which feels expansive thanks to a skylight that illuminates all four floors, contains a glass elevator that lets visitors see the space as they move through it. “Because opening oneself to a view also opens the mind,” Greenberg explains.
Since launching the foundation, Greenberg has expanded her own vision.
She also established PHI Centre, a multidisciplinary artistic and cultural hub, as well as PHI Studio, which presents immersive experiences and exhibitions around the world. The list of artists who have exhibited at PHI Foundation for Contemporary Art includes Yoko Ono, Björk, and Joan Jonas.
Creating a successful art institution would have been a significant achievement by itself. But Greenberg has far surpassed that accomplishment; she’s changed the entire way in which art lovers in Montréal can experience a global array of contemporary art. That’s the reason Greenberg is an XLIST Curator, the name we’ve bestowed upon this group of experience makers who don’t just think outside the box. They’ve each made an impact by examining one of their own core convictions and then seeking to deliver experiences that stay true to — and build on — that conviction.
More than edgy in their thinking, they are groundbreaking and able to pull off ventures that seem incomprehensible at first. Joining Greenberg in this group are Paola Prestini (composer and co-founder of National Sawdust), Kim Cook (director of creative initiatives for Burning Man), Shantelle Rodriguez (director of experiential art center Superblue Miami), Hugh Forrest (co-president and chief programming officer of SXSW), and Paul Tollett (co-founder of Coachella).
By definition, a curator is a keeper or custodian of a collection. And that is what each of these experience makers does.
They draw on their impeccable taste to bring together a unique collection of artists, personalities, and ideas in a way that creates a culture-defining experience. They have the ability to take many parts (even ones that don’t seem to have an obvious correlation — an elevator and art, for example) and draw them into one rich experience. To do this, they begin with a philosophy and then create experiences that support it.
XLIST 2023: The Curators
Take SXSW. Founded in 1987 by staffers at the Austin Chronicle, SXSW was, in its first iteration, a music festival that attracted about 700 people to a field in Austin, Texas. Today, it is a must-attend event for people in the film, tech, and music industries, a multi-day extravaganza of concerts, panels, and talks that attracted more than 345,000 attendees in 2023. Many times in its history, critics and industry insiders have declared SXSW “over,” and time and time again, it has come back stronger than before. The reason for its continued success and innovation: Hugh Forrest, co-president and chief program officer, who joined SXSW in 1989.
Forrest believes that the festival has flourished because it was able to pivot and move beyond music. “We cover topics like transportation, health care, food, fashion, style, sports, climate change, cannabis, psychedelics,” he says, describing SXSW’s expansive philosophy. “The North Star is always creativity — bringing together creative people in a city that celebrates creativity.” Forrest was able to reinvent the festival because he remains three steps ahead of what audiences want.
The Curators offer a model for how to build experiential spaces around a philosophy, rather than a brand mandate or financial forecast.
Thousands flock to Burning Man not just to camp in the desert, but to immerse themselves in something communal and spiritually enriching. It is a high-water mark for the kinds of emotional experiences that are possible when the Curators work their magic.
Finally, the Curators are experts at using everything, from memories to the weather to a venue’s architecture, to craft mind-blowing experiences. When they realign the stars, they have the potential not only to touch millions of lives, but — as Greenberg hoped as a young woman in Paris — to make the world better.
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