By Suzan Michalski '18
Washington, D.C. is the heart of the nation — not just politically, but culturally and historically as well. In recent years, the city’s cultural scene has flourished. People are moving in from around the country and the world, and the city has witnessed the opening of many new museums, restaurants, music clubs, and more.
At the heart of D.C.’s performing arts scene lies the Kennedy Center. It is home to the National Symphony Orchestra, a unique ensemble that not only performs classical music with world-famous guest musicians but has also collaborated with a wide range of popular music artists, from jazz musicians to rock stars. The Kennedy Center also hosts theatrical performances ranging from Broadway hits to its own original productions, as well as the Washington National Opera, one of the nation’s leading opera companies. The WNO hosts both classic and contemporary stories, including American produced stories through the American Opera Initiative. The Center also hosts its own Suzanne Farrell Ballet, as well as the Washington Ballet and other companies from around the world.
However, the Kennedy Center should not overshadow all the other venues that flourish in the city. D.C. is home to many smaller clubs where guests can watch various artists and bands perform. Those interested in jazz can pay a visit to clubs such as Blues Alley and Twins Jazz Club. There are also plenty of theatres around the city as well. Shakespeare enthusiasts can go to Folger Theatre and see an innovative and original production of a Shakespeare play. Many D.C. opera companies strive to go beyond traditional opera and experiment with new forms and styles. One new company, UrbanArias, dedicates itself to producing short, contemporary American compositions. Another company, In Series, aims to present classical opera in unconventional and innovative ways, and is also notable for its promotion of Hispanic culture.
Furthermore, Washington, D.C. boasts an extensive system of museums covering the art and history of the nation and beyond. No tourist’s trip to this city is complete without visiting several museums. Art lovers can wander through the National Gallery of Art’s East and West Buildings and see world-famous pieces dating from centuries ago to the present. There are also plenty of smaller museums such as the Philips Collection, a modern art museum notable for displays such as its Rothko room and Renoir’s masterpiece, “Luncheon of the Boating Party.”
For those particularly interested in American art, the American Art Museum features pieces from throughout the nation’s history, from folk art to contemporary American art. Or they can visit the National Portrait Gallery and see portraits of U.S. presidents, icons such as Marilyn Monroe, and other figures from American history. Those who would rather learn about art from across the world can check out places such as National Museum of African Art or the Freer Gallery of Art, which displays Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and other Asian works of art.
D.C. also features not only numerous monuments but museums dedicated to illustrating the nation’s history, such as the National Museum of American History. There are also countless museums dedicated to highlighting the experiences and history of the many groups that make up America, such as the National Museum of African American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Along with these museums, there are many historical buildings that have been maintained for public display. Such sites include the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, the preserved estate of the escaped slave and abolitionist who became one of the most important voices for justice and equality in the nation’s history. Or one can visit Ford’s Theatre, the infamous site of president Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865.
Of course, there are still many more places to visit. The entirety of D.C.’s cultural and historical offerings is broad and everchanging. Visitors and residents alike have access to a wealth of institutions to learn about American art, culture, and history, as well as that from around the world. No matter their interests, everyone is sure to find something fascinating for them to learn and experience.