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Guide to

Washington, DC's Arts Scene

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Museums & galleries

Many art lovers visiting Washington, DC make their first stop the National Gallery of Art. With paintings, sculpture and graphic arts dating from the Middle Ages to the present, the Gallery is comprised of two buildings containing more than 100,000 works, including the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Western Hemisphere. The Gallery's outdoor sculpture garden displays post-World War II sculptures by internationally recognized artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg, plus an ice-skating rink in winter and an outdoor fountain in summer.

Catch a hot photography exhibition or a showcase of inspiring works by American artists at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, located just one block from the White House. The Corcoran is the largest non-federal art museum in DC and was the first art museum to open in the city. Today it is world-renowned for its permanent collection of 20th-century painting, sculpture and photography featuring works by artists like John Singer Sargent, Claude Monet, Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas.

Considered America's first museum of modern art, The Phillips Collection in Dupont Circle is noted for its Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings, including Auguste Renoir's "The Luncheon of the Boating Party." Works by El Greco, Chardin, Manet, Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso are also part of the collection.

The Kreeger Museum near Georgetown University, with works from the 1850s to the 1970s, can be considered a labor of love. The collection was acquired by the late Carmen and David Kreeger, who only purchased pieces that they could agree on. Their tastes show in works by Picasso, Monet, van Gogh, Miro, Kandinsky, Renoir and many others.

The National Museum of Women in the Arts downtown houses more than 3,000 works spanning from the Renaissance through today. Opened in 1987, it is the world's only museum dedicated exclusively to preserving and honoring the achievements of women in all disciplines, periods and nationalities. The museum also actively promotes women in the arts through various outreach and educational programs.

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden features modern and contemporary art from well-known artists of more than 30 nationalities. More than 60 works fill six "rooms" in the outdoor Sculpture Garden, including traditional figures by Rodin and Aristide Maillol, and abstract sculptures by Alexander Calder and Mark di Suvero.

American art also has a strong presence in the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian American Art Museum is dedicated to the display of American paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs and crafts, including works by photographer Ansel Adams and Impressionist Mary Cassatt. Its sister institution, the Renwick Gallery, showcases American crafts from the 19th through the 21st centuries, and is located across from the White House in a building designed by William Wilson Corcoran. The National Portrait Gallery houses portraits of distinguished Americans, from presidents and politicians to athletes and actors.

Many art lovers visiting Washington, DC make their first stop the National Gallery of Art. With paintings, sculpture and graphic arts dating from the Middle Ages to the present, the Gallery is comprised of two buildings containing more than 100...
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Theater & performing arts

Second only to New York in terms of theater seats, DC’s arts scene thrives on stage, with approximately 65 professional area theaters producing more than 350 productions that run for more than 8,000 performances and play to more than 2 million audience members.

While well-known institutions like the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts are synonymous with DC theater scene, savvy theater-goers are discovering the city's vibrant arts community. The Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, for instance, is widely considered DC's most daring theater company and is known as one of the most influential small theaters in America.

Arena Stage was the first not-for-profit theater in the U.S., as well as a pioneer of the regional theater movement – it was the first to receive a Tony Award outside of New York. Arena Stage continues to pave the area's theater path with Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, a three-theater state-of-the-art complex dedicated to the future of our nation's voices.

The African Continuum Theatre Company works to illuminate the human condition and the African American experience through a variety of productions, while serving as a training ground for emerging professionals. ACTCo is part of the Atlas Performing Arts Center.

A 150-seat black-box theater, rehearsal studio and home of Gallery H, the H Street Playhouse is home to performances by the Theater Alliance - an organization spearheading an attempt to revitalize the area surrounding the Playhouse. Other companies presenting works here include the African Continuum Theatre Company, Essential Theatre Company and Capital Renaissance Theatre.

Signature Theatre, located just outside the District in Arlington, Va., presents Broadway-quality productions and specializes in DC-area and world premieres, festivals and the works of Stephen Sondheim.

Second only to New York in terms of theater seats, DC’s arts scene thrives on stage, with approximately 65 professional area theaters producing more than 350 productions that run for more than 8,000 performances and play to more than 2 million...
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Artistic events
There’s more to the arts scene than major exhibitions and signature collections. Many art galleries in Dupont Circle host First Fridays, extending their hours and serving complimentary wine on the first Friday evening of every month.If you can't...

There’s more to the arts scene than major exhibitions and signature collections. Many art galleries in Dupont Circle host First Fridays, extending their hours and serving complimentary wine on the first Friday evening of every month.

If you can't wait until Friday, The Phillips Collection, also located near Dupont Circle, holds Phillips After 5 events on the first Thursday of each month, featuring live jazz music, a cash bar and themed gallery talks. The Phillips Collection also holds Sunday-evening concerts October through May.

To plug into events and happenings on the local arts scene, check out the Pink Line Project, a one-stop resource for information on DC artists, galleries and exhibitions.
When a new exhibition opens at the Hirshhorn, the museum caters to local gallery-goers with Hirshhorn Afterhours, a late-night kickoff party featuring live music, DJs, cocktails and a hip, sophisticated crowd.

DC’s arts scene comes to life with festivals. Each summer brings a collection of eclectic festivals to the nation’s capital. Tune in to the city’s rich music traditions with the DC Jazz Festival in June. Theater buffs won’t want to miss the Source Festival, a presentation of brand-new original works by both emerging and established artists, and the Capital Fringe Festival, including more than 500 audacious and inventive performances. Documentary film lovers flock to the DC area each June for Silver DOCs, an annual documentary showcase at the AFI Silver Theatre in nearby Silver Spring, Md.

The National Gallery of Art opens the Garden Court in the West Building for its own Sunday concert series featuring classical music selections. The free concerts begin at 7 p.m. Admission is free and seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, the Gallery's Jazz in the Garden series returns, featuring free live jazz performances by local musicians in the Sculpture Garden on Friday evenings.

Both the Kreeger Museum and the Corcoran Gallery of Art combine art and music with their own concert series. At the Kreeger, the David and Carmen Kreeger concert series features young chamber music ensembles and complimentary wine. Visitors to the Corcoran can relax and reenergize at lunchtime by taking in free jazz concerts on the first and third Wednesday each month from July to September.

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