From greatly expanded museums of spy craft and contemporary art to a soon-to-reopen Washington Monument and new venues for dining and entertainment, the Nation’s Capital entices first-time and seasoned visitors alike to discover D.C.
On the Museum Front
The first time I visited the International Spy Museum (SPY) in Washington, D.C., soon after its 2002 opening, I was so fascinated by pistols hidden in lipstick containers and carrier pigeons that transported secret messages that I nearly ran out of time to see the many other fascinating exhibits on espionage. I won’t let that happen again when I tour the relaunched SPY, opening May 11 in a newly built facility at L’Enfant Plaza. At 140,000 square feet, the steel and glass building—designed by the architects who created the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Millennium Dome in London—is double the size of the museum’s first rendition and offers 30 percent more space for permanent exhibitions.
Illustration of the new SPY Museum
Photo Courtesy of Gallagher & Associates
One of the highlights of the new SPY is an interactive exhibit that focuses on the search for Osama bin Laden and why it took so long; visitors at individual kiosks take on an intelligence persona and are asked to make decisions about the search as new intel comes in.
An exhibit about a divided Berlin re-creates a border checkpoint and an office of the Stasi (the East German secret police) with all original artifacts, while yet another explores cyber threats to national security. spymuseum.org
For several years now, families with children have been awaiting the reopening of the National Children’s Museum, which has operated intermittently since opening in 1974 as the Capital Children’s Museum. A three-year run at National Harbor in Maryland ended in 2015 with the promise of a bigger, better, worth-waiting-for museum to come. At press time, an October opening was anticipated for that museum, which will occupy 30,000 square feet at Woodrow Wilson Plaza, adjacent to the Ronald Reagan Building.
Exhibits will focus on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) education. The museum’s centerpiece will be a 50-foot climbing apparatus called “The Dream Machine,” providing “the chance to float, explore and dream of the impossible”—all while confronting hidden physics challenges. Other permanent exhibits will include Innovation Sandbox, featuring interactive digital experiences, and the Nickelodeon-funded Art + Tech, which explores digital and analog technologies that encourage creativity. nationalchildrensmuseum.org
Photo by Maria Bryk/Newseum
In the see-it-while-you-still-can category, the oft-lauded but financially struggling Newseum recently announced the sale of its stunning Pennsylvania Avenue building. That’s the bad news. The good news: the Newseum will continue to operate through 2019. If you want to see the Newseum in all its glory, with its host of fascinating exhibits on news-gathering and -reporting, you’ve got eight months left to do so. newseum.org
If you haven’t yet been to the much-expanded and still-free Glenstone Museum in D.C.’s tony suburb of Potomac, Maryland, the warmer weather provides the perfect excuse to check it out. The new 204,000-square-foot building called the Pavilions, which opened in October, is as attention-getting as the contemporary art inside. Designed to integrate seamlessly with the landscape, the Pavilions features floor-to-ceiling windows looking inward to an 18,000-square-foot water court with a floating patio and outward to nearly 300 acres of surrounding nature. Ten major sculptures dot the paths that wend through woodlands and meadow. glenstone.org
Cycnus by Cy Twombley
Photo by Ron Amsturz/Courtesy of Glenstone Museum
After just over two years in operation, the 430,000-square-foot Museum of the Bible, which sits two blocks from the National Mall, welcomed its millionth visitor this past winter. That’s also when the museum veered away from its original donation-recommended admission policy and began charging set admission fees. (Discounted rates are available online.) Coming August 24 (through September 2020), the exhibition The Picture Books of the Past: Reading an Old Master Painting features some 60 Renaissance artworks. museumofthebible.org
The new $125-million Fossil Hall at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History on the National Mall—the largest building renovation in the museum’s century-plus history—has been five years in the making, and it’s finally ready to open June 8. The centerpiece of the exhibition hall is a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton sure to inspire budding paleontologists. It’s featured alongside more than 700 specimens of dinosaurs, plants, animals and insects, including some never before exhibited at the museum. naturalhistory.si.edu
Rendering of new exhibit space at the National Air and Space Museum
Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall has begun a major “reimagining” that’s expected to take seven years and cost $900 million. The promise is a complete transformation of the building, all 23 galleries and the presentation spaces. The museum will remain open during the renovation, with individual exhibits closing and reopening as they’re completed. The majority of the now-closed galleries are on the west side of the museum, and they are expected to reopen in 2022. airandspace.si.edu
In late fall, the Smithsonian announced plans for its American Women’s History Initiative, dubbed Because of Her Story. The goal is to be “the nation’s most comprehensive undertaking to document, research, collect, display and share the rich, complete and compelling story of women in America.”
1870 photo of Sojourner Truth by Randall Studio, National Portrait Gallery
Photo courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
That sharing of women’s stories has already begun, with several such exhibitions currently open in Smithsonian museums and others still to come. Some of those exhibitions will be keyed to the 2020 centennial of women gaining the right to vote. For example, the National Portrait Gallery’s Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence, through January 5, 2020, examines the contributions of women activists in antislavery and suffragist movements. The National Museum of American History takes on women’s ongoing battle for a more equitable distribution of household labor in All Work and No Pay: A History of Women’s Invisible Labor, open through February 2020. For more on the Smithsonian’s American Women’s History Initiative, visit womenshistory.si.edu; to find exhibitions related to the initiative, go to si.edu/whats-on.
Of Monuments and Memorials
An iconic symbol of the Nation’s Capital, the Washington Monument has been closed for more of the past decade than it has been open. First there was the August 2011 earthquake damage that closed the monument until May 2014. Then in August 2016, it was closed for elevator repair and entrance updates. But soon, visitors will once again be able to ascend by elevator 500 feet to near the top of the monument for views as far as 70 miles away on clear days. The National Park Service estimates that the Washington Monument will reopen this spring. nps.gov/wamo
Construction progresses on the National Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, which is expected to be dedicated May 8, 2020. The Frank Gehry-designed memorial, located in a four-acre urban park at the base of Capitol Hill, will include heroic-sized bronze sculptures, a steel tapestry depicting the beaches of Normandy, and stone bas reliefs touching upon Eisenhower’s achievements. eisenhowermemorial.org
With groundbreaking scheduled for September 21, the Smithsonian’s National Native American Veterans Memorial is slated for a November 11 (Veterans Day), 2020, dedication. The first memorial to recognize the contributions of Native Americans, who serve in the United States Armed Forces at a higher per-capita rate than any other population group, it will be located on the grounds outside the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall. The design accepted for the multisensory memorial, Warriors’ Circle of Honor, was submitted by artist and Marine Corps Vietnam veteran Harvey Pratt, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho nations. It features an elevated stainless-steel circle resting on an intricately carved stone drum. americanindian.si.edu
Harvey Pratt, Warriors' Circle of Honor artist
Photo by Neil Chapman
It’s been more than 100 years since the end of The Great War, and yet the U.S. Capital has no national World War I memorial. That will soon change. Urban Pershing Park near the White House is being readied for the construction of the National WWI Memorial, with a planned dedication on November 11 (Veterans Day), 2021. The centerpiece of the memorial—a monumental bronze bas relief sculpture—will be a series of images depicting a soldier leaving home, fighting and being injured in the war, and returning home; it is fronted by a pool of water with a floating walkway to allow viewers to approach the tableau more closely. ww1cc.org/memorial
Rendering of the National WWI Memorial, to come in 2021
Photo courtesy of the U.S WWI Centennial Commission
Dining and Other Diversions
The Kennedy Center is gearing up for the September 7 opening of the first-ever expansion in its 47-year history. The project, given the moniker The REACH, seeks to break down boundaries between audience and art by providing new ways for visitors and artists to interact and engage with each other and with The Kennedy Center. In concrete terms, that translates into a 4.6-acre project that features 72,000 square feet of new interior space—a 20 percent expansion of The Kennedy Center’s existing interior public areas—and a doubling of the outdoor space. With the addition of three interconnected pavilions, The Kennedy Center now has 11 highly flexible spaces that can be used for the creation of art, performances, events, classes and more.
The expansion brings with it an outdoor stage and a video wall for hosting concerts and film screenings. Some 130,000 square feet of landscaping, gardens with walking paths, and lawns provide space for art installations, performances and recreation. kennedy-center.org
The Wharf in Southwest Washington opened to much ballyhoo in October 2017, but the newest neighborhood in the Nation’s Capital isn’t done yet; Phase 2 is set to open in 2022. The initial phase delivered not only residences and hotels but also considerable entertainment value, with more than 20 restaurants and food concepts; shops; entertainment venues such as 6,000-person-capacity The Anthem and the more intimate Pearl Street Warehouse; and four public piers designed with a multitude of diversions, including free kayak and paddleboard launches, swings, fitness classes, a seasonal ice rink, concerts and festivals. It’s all along one mile of Potomac River waterfront a few blocks south of the National Mall.
The Wharf’s Recreation Pier
Photo courtesy of Hoffman-Madison Waterfront
The soft opening in June of La Consecha Latin Market in the Union Market District will have more than a dozen restaurant and retail businesses in operation, with others to come by September’s grand opening. More than just a spot for dining or shopping, the market also will feature cultural programming and even free classes in English and Spanish. La Cosecha’s developers are partnering with Latin embassies and cultural and community groups to bring art exhibits, film screenings, live performances and other expressions of Latin culture to the market. lacosechadc.com
Whew! Even with this long list, we probably missed a few bits of what’s new, but you get the idea: Washington, D.C., is moving onward and upward.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2019 edition of AAA World.