November 29, 2012
Events Nov. 30-Dec. 2: Africa’s Space Programs, the Middle East’s Diva and Ang Lee’s Wedding Banquet
Friday, November 30: Africa and the World’s Space Programs
In conjunction with the African Art Museum’s out-of-this-world exhibit “African Cosmos: Stellar Arts,” astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell discusses Africa’s involvement in the world’s space programs. Starting from the continent’s early history charting and investigating the stars, McDowell tracks a long relationship into modern times. Though Ghana’s Space Science and Technology Centre, for example, only has a handful of employees, the country is optimistic about its future in the industry. According to the BBC, countries like Nigeria and Ghana are hoping to use their space centers for “natural-resource management, weather forecasting, agriculture and national security.” Free. 4 p.m. African Art Museum.
In the midst of the Sackler’s 25th anniversary celebrations, the gallery has found time to host the “next great diva of Arab music,” Karima Skalli. Joined by Hanna Khoury (violin), Kinan Abou-afach (cello), Hicham Chami (quanun), Kinan Idnawi (oud) and Hafez El Ali Kotain (percussion); Skalli will perform traditional and contemporary favorites from the Arab Peninsula in honor of the gallery’s groundbreaking exhibit, “Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” Free. 7:30 p.m. Freer Gallery.
Sunday, December 2: The Wedding Banquet
Another Ang Lee classic, The Wedding Banquet, tells the story of a gay Taiwanese man living in New York who finds himself in the middle of his own wedding celebrations after agreeing to marry a woman to secure a green card for her. Like many of his films, Lee succeeds in showing the tensions and strengths family inevitably brings. The comedy was a surprise hit for Lee, delighting audiences when it came out in 1993. Nearly ten years later, it still resonates. The series of screenings continues on Dec. 7 with Lee’s even more famous, Eat, Drink, Man, Woman. Free. 3 p.m. Freer Gallery.
November 20, 2012
If you think your house is going to be packed for Thanksgiving, imagine the crowds at a Smithsonian museum. According to the Washington Post, the museums had 418, 000 visitors over the holiday weekend in 2010. Though that number dipped in 2011, the institution is still gearing up for a full house.
To help visitors navigate their way through the 19 museums and National Zoo, Smithsonian will be fielding questions before and during the holiday on its Twitter page. Just follow @smithsonian and use the hashtag “#TgivingVisitTips” to stay up to date. Veteran visitors will also post their own tips with the hashtag, including, “1) eat at
@SmithsonianNMAI 2) take a pic at @NMAAHC site for posterity 3) comfy shoes” by Erin Blasco.
Here are some of our own insider tips, from our Greatest Hits guide (now available on your smart phone!):
Smithsonian Institution Building, The Castle: Your first stop for all things Smithsonian, the Castle is home to the information center where you can scope out all the current exhibits around the Mall, including the Castle’s own exhibit, “Experience Civil War Photography: From the Home Front to the Battlefront.” You can also pay your respects to the founder, James Smithson, who lies at rest in the crypt in the building’s foyer.
National Portrait Gallery: With several new exhibits and a host of permanent favorites, there’s plenty to take in at the gallery (like Alexander Gardner’s famous cracked glass plate portrait of Abraham Lincoln), including the building itself. On the third floor in the Great Hall, is an architectural gem that shouldn’t be missed. The yellow, blue and red stained-glass windows in the octagonal dome, dating to 1885, cast lush hues on sunny days.
American Art Museum: Housed in the same building as NPG, is the American Art Museum, which just opened its splendid new exhibit “The Civil War and American Art,” which is sure to draw crowds. The museum even had its own role in the Civil War: On the third floor near the Woman Eating sculpture, the initials C.H.F. are scrawled on the wall. The work of some hipster tagger? No, the graffiti artist also put a date: “Aug. 8, 1864.” Likely it was left by a patient; the building was a Civil War infirmary.
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: Not quite on the Mall, the Udvar-Hazy Center (in Chantilly, Virginia—near Dulles Airport) is home to a world-famous collection of aircraft a space vehicles, including the Air France Concorde and the space shuttle Discovery. After seeing those beauties, tell the kids to check this out. Look for seven hidden oddities in the model of the mother ship made from the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. These were internal Hollywood jokes that weren’t part of the script. Hint: One is R2-D2 from the movie Star Wars.
Air and Space Museum: The world’s most-visited museum, Air and Space has everything from moon rocks to the Wright flyer. But how did they get it all in there? Look closely at the large window on the west side of the building. The glass slide away like giant garage doors.
American History Museum: Next up from the big three, American History, where even celebrities like Parks and Rec‘s Councilwoman Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) like to hang out. In addition to the brand new exhibit “FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000″ with Julia Child’s kitchen, you’ll also want to stop by the first floor for the Dolls’ House. Inside the house, inhabited by Peter Doll and his family, Christmas decorations are kept in the attic. Each holiday season, curators retrieve the tiny tree and wreaths and decorate the house.
Anacostia Community Museum: After an extensive research process, the museum recently opened its exhibit “Reclaiming the Edge: Urban Waterways and Civic Engagement” as part of its efforts to reach out to the community. Comparing waterways in L.A., Pittsburgh, Louisville, London, Shanghai and here in D.C., the exhibit is full of artworks and informative displays. Check out the playful piece Talking Trash, kinetic sculpture of fish made from plastic water bottles.
Natural History Museum: The grand dame of the big three museum, Natural History is famous partly for housing the “cursed” Hope Diamond. But it’s not all sparkle and shine. Heard of donating your body to science? Professor Grover Krantz volunteered to be put on display at the Smithsonian–with his dog. “I’ve been a teacher all my life, and I think I might as well be a teacher after I’m dead,” he said. Find the pair on the second floor.
American Indian Museum: What better time to visit the American Indian Museum than November, American Indian Heritage Month? In addition to its award-winning cafe and engaging exhibits, it has a treat for those who know where and when to look. Watch for the lovely play of light in the Potomac Atrium. Eight prisms on the south wall project refractions on the floor. See them at the peak of their brilliance between 11 and 2. On the summer and winter solstice, the light lines up precisely.
Freer Gallery: Amid the jades and bronzes from Asia, a fierce fight is playing out. The two birds depicted squawking in battle on the back wall of Whistler’s Peacock Room represent a real-life contretemps between the artist and his patron over a disputed fee for the artwork.
Sackler Gallery: With a new blockbuster exhibit, “Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Sackler is as busy as ever. This year, the Sackler celebrates its 25th anniversary of the 1987 gift of some 1,000 works of Asian art from Arthur M. Sackler (1913-1987), a New York City physician.
Hirshhorn Museum: Contemporary art lovers will be filling the circular gallery space to check out Barbara Kruger’s installation and the new exhibit, “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” But you’ll be headed outside. Ready for a little covert operation? Check out the sculpture Antipodes just outside the front door. The piece has two encoded texts, one related to C.I.A. operations and the other in Cyrillic related to the K.G.B.
Museum of African Art: The current exhibit, “African Cosmos: Stellar Arts” is out of this world, combining science and the arts over time. Our insider tips combines its own bit of science and art. Check out the sculpture of Toussaint Louverture. It is made of a mysterious substance that the artist also used to waterproof his house.
Renwick Gallery: Just a few steps from the White House, the Renwick is a must-see in its own right, listed as a National Historic Landmark. Up the stairs is one of the city’s premier galleries, the Grand Salon, modeled in the French Second Empire style.
National Postal Museum: A stamp collection that can’t be beat, including the first ever U.S. government-issued stamp from 1847, is just the start of the Postal Museum. This building was designed by Daniel Burnham, the protagonist of the best-seller Devil in the White City.
National Zoo: In addition to the cuddly cuties on display, the Zoo is also launching this year’s seasonal display, ZooLights, Friday, November 23. As you wander through the animals, listen for the morning songs of the white-cheeked gibbons. They can be heard up to one mile away.
Don’t forget to download our Visitors Guide and Tours app. We’ve packed it with specialty tours, must-see exhibitions, museum floor plans and custom postcards. Get it on Google Play and in the Apple Store for just 99 cents.
November 14, 2012
Even if Mozart’s generation had worn porkpie hats instead of powdered wigs, pianist Jason Moran doubts he would have opted for a classical music career over jazz.
Though he finds the European classical music that he has studied since age six artistically beautiful, it doesn’t move him emotionally the way jazz does, he says. Jazz, America’s classical music, has a sound he can relate to, a cultural history he can identify with, and role models, who have inspired him since he was a teen growing up in Houston.
“For me Thelonious Monk became the mountain top,” he says.
Now as Artistic Advisor of Jazz at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the MacArthur Genius Award winner is drawing on those memories to make jazz both personal and emotionally engaging for a new generation.
Making music relevant so that it touches people where they live was a focus of a recent Kennedy Center happening, “Insider Event with Jason Moran,” that offered insight into Moran’s aspirations for jazz music and education programming at the Kennedy Center, a role previously held by his mentor, the late jazz pianist Billy Taylor.
“Billy would ask, ‘are you making people dance? Are people listening to your music, Jason?’” he recalls Taylor saying to encourage him to stay attuned to the needs and feelings of his audiences.
If music is a universal language, Moran is an articulate, multi-linguist, providing the right sound for the occasion. At the historic groundbreaking on the Mall for the National Museum of African American History and Culture in February 2012, Moran performed as the jazz artist of choice. Throughout the Kennedy Center discussion, his words and thoughts flow effortlessly between his responses to interviewer Willard Jenkins and the piano Moran plays to musically punctuate points.
“Music is more than notes. It’s emotions,” says the 37-year old. Younger audiences crave emotional engagement in their learning. People remember music that touches them, is generationally relevant, and emotionally stimulating. He offers examples.
After his grandmother died, he says he paid homage to her spirit musically at a family gathering, playing Duke Ellington’s tune Single Petal of a Rose. As the artist spoke, the room filled with the sound of the beautiful, haunting melody as Moran’s improvisations evoked memories of his grandmother.
“I knew which notes I played were making my aunts cry,” Moran remembers. He talked to his family by letting the music speak words his voice couldn’t.
On election night, he hosted a party at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. Revelers talked and watched the returns on a big screen while grooving to live, jazz infused with everything from blue grass to electronic mix music to old campaign songs like “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet or Crazy, which was Ross Perot’s theme song,” Moran says, playing the tunes.
The idea was to create a memorable experience that made jazz, campaign music, and political tidbits a winning combination.
Another recent jazz program featured the band Medeski, Martin and Woods offering a millennial happening as more than 300 people stood for hours in a mosh pit environment connecting with jazz infused this time with rhythms from funk to hip hop. An “older” patron who attended wanted a chair, says Moran, but still got the point.
A recent music event invoked the spirit of vaudeville and bygone jazz club scenes when Woody Allen played the Village Vanguard and Miles Davis shared a bill with Richard Pryor. Billed as an ode to jazz and jokes, comedian David Allen Grier hosted the program that used comedy as a connector to the music.
With cultural tastes that run from Fats Waller to hip hop, Afrika Bambaataa and Jaki Byard to his wife Alicia, an accomplished opera singer, Moran says he views himself as a “musical tour guide” offering people “musical history that is very personal and engaging.”
If he has his way, jazz programming at the Kennedy Center will become a musical tour de force, reflecting the multiple joys and sorrows that comprise the lives of everyday peoples.
October 18, 2012
Friday, October 19: Music of the Stars
Though sound waves cannot travel through the vacuum that is outer space, that doesn’t mean scientists aren’t moved to music while studying the skies. Ask astrophysicist Katrien Kolenberg from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Along with other researchers, Kolenberg participated in the 2008 Dance Your PhD event where participants presented their theses as interpretive dance. Not quite sure how a paper titled, “A spectroscopic study of the Blazhko effect in the pulsating star RR Lyrae” would look in motion?
Kolenberg will be at the African Art Museum in conjunction with the exhibit, “African Cosmos: Stellar Arts” to discuss constellations. Free. 4 p.m. African Art Museum.
Saturday, October 20: Gettysburg
Based on Killer Angels, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Michael Shaara, Gettysburg is a lengthy look at one of the most storied battles in American history. At 254 minutes, the film seeks to explore both the human side of the battle and the tactical story behind the Union victory. Before the screening, Noah Trudeau, a Civil War historian and former NPR commentator on film and music, will lead a discussion about the film and the events it portrays. Get the inside scoop about what the Hollywood film gets right and then enjoy the epic production. Free. 1 p.m. to 6:25 p.m. American History Museum Warners Bros. Theater.
Sunday, October 21 Día de los Muertos
Celebrate (a little bit early) the popular Mexican holiday that honors deceased friends and family. Held on November 1st, Day of the Dead is a modern mix of Aztec traditions and the Catholic holiday All Souls’ Day on November 2nd. Visitors to the American Indian Museum can learn more about the roots of this holiday and partake in festive activities, including painting a special mural, decorating plaster skulls and making paper marigolds as symbols of the day. And because it’s a holiday all about family, be sure to bring the whole gang for a day of celebration. Free. 10:30 a.m. American Indian Museum.
October 17, 2012
Before 1973, there was no Asian American music recognized in the United States says Nobuko Miyamoto, a Japanese singer-dancer credited with creating the nation’s first Asian American album, A Grain of Sand, with co-creator Chris Kando Iijima and William “Charlie” Chin.
“Now there are 200 taiko drumming groups in the U.S. representing a cultural voice for Asians,” she says proudly. “I see more (cultural) identity-based things taking place. There is an element of activism in the community now. ”
Cultural activism in Asian communities is the legacy of artists like Miyamoto, who in the 1960s and 70s, helped to popularize college campuses and communities create ethnic study programs and heritage recognition programs, says Theo Gonzalves, a Filipino scholar, researcher and musician who has studied the era and Miyamoto’s career. He said that today, most people take ethnic and cultural history programs for granted, unaware of the resistance they faced and how civil rights activists like Miyamoto helped make them possible.
“The idea of ethnic studies was to democratize higher education so that it opened up opportunities for the community at large,” says Gonzalves. Artists like Miyamoto “helped write Asian communities into the national narrative,” using music and art to tell the stories and histories of people who had been misidentified or largely excluded in American history up until that time.
“Art and culture is not just about entertainment. It’s about examining questions of history.”
Miyamoto will participate in an upcoming panel discussion and program at the Smithsonian on October 19, featuring Afro-Filipino singer Joe Bataan to help foster and facilitate the recalling of this history, and what it was like when people of different ethnicities shared the same spaces and similar stories.
She won featured roles in the “Flower Drum Song,” “The King and I” and “West Side Story.” An invitation to work on a film about the Black Panthers became a cultural turning point that immersed her in the social activism of the Panthers, the Young Lords and Asian activists, which is how she met Chris Iijima, helping to bring diverse culture and social services to their communities. Services provided ranged from breakfast programs for children to housing assistance and bi-lingual workers to record community problems.
“We sang at rallies and did gigs for Puerto Rican (activist) groups,” she says, sometimes singing in Spanish. But even the culture wars had moments of humor.
“We established an Asian American Drop-In Center in a bodega on 88th Street and Amsterdam Avenue,” Miyamoto recalls, “calling it Chickens Come Home to Roost in reference to a statement made by Malcolm X.”
“People started calling us the chickens, and would ask ‘can the chickens come and help us take over a building?’
The story of how Asian cultural activists confronted the sixties culture wars to gain a voice in the national narrative will be presented October 19 in a free, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American program at the National Museum of Natural History. Miyamoto will participate in a 6:30 p.m. panel discussion followed by a concert with King of Latin Soul singer Joe Bataan. The Smithsonian Latino Center and National Museum of African American History and Culture are co-collaborators.
Joann Stevens is program manager of Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), an initiative of the National Museum of American History to advance appreciation and recognition of jazz as America’s original music, a global cultural treasure. JAM is celebrated in every state in the U.S. and the District of Columbia and some 40 countries every April.