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.
August 2, 2012
Events August 3-5: Children’s Workshop, Mail Time With Owney, East of the River Boys & Girls Steelband
Friday August 3 Children’s Workshop: Mission Preservation
Remembering certain events and periods in history can be difficult to stomach sometimes. Segregation in the 1950s, for example, is not an easy thing to teach younger generations. This Friday, however, children ages 8 to 11 can meet at the West End Library to better understand segregation through the discussion of an age-appropriate book. After, the group will explore authentic artifacts from the 1950s, record observations and determine a preservation plan for each object. At the end of the day, participants may take home white cotton gloves and an activity book to help preserve the history. Free. For ages 8-11. Most Wednesdays and selected Fridays at 1:30 p.m. through August 22. The activity is sponsored by the National Museum of African American History and takes place at the West End Library, 1101 24th St NW.
Saturday August 4 Mail Time With Owney the Dog
Hop on board for a rail-riding good time with the National Postal Museum’s favorite mascot, Owney the dog! Owney made it in our round up of insider tips earlier this summer—and for good reason. The terrior-mix traveled for nine years, riding the rails until his death in 1897. He later became the unofficial mascot for the U.S. Railway Mail Service. To honor the intrepid mail-carrier, Saturday’s events include activities such as designing an Owney tag, sorting mail in the Railway Post Office, starting a stamp collection and more. Free. Noon to 3:30 p.m. National Postal Museum.
Sunday August 5 East of the River Boys & Girls Steelband
This Sunday, come enjoy the festive music of the East of the River Boys & Girls Steelband, a program that seeks to enhance the lives of at-risk children and teens who have unique creative abilities and who live east of the Anacostia River. Founded by Gladys Bray and directed by Roger Greenidge, the group has appeared at the 1996 Olympic Soccer Games, Wolf Trap Park for the Performing Arts and Apollo Theater. Free. 2 p.m. Anacostia Community Museum.
Tickets are now on sale for Smithsonian Magazine’s, Museum Day Live!, which will be held Saturday September 29. Admission is free at participating venues with presentation of ticket. Visit the Find a Museum page to locate a participating museum in your area. For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. Additional reporting by Michelle Strange.
July 11, 2012
Getting around the Smithsonian museums has never been easier thanks to a partnership with Google Maps. Visitors using smart phone with Android can now get step by step walking directions through every floor of 17 of the Smithsonian’s museums, including the big three: the Air and Space Museum, the Natural History Museum and the American History Museum.
After seven months of working together to confirm the exact location of museum artifacts, Smithsonian and Google launched the new indoor maps on Tuesday. The announcement was widely covered by publications and outlets including the Washington Post, CBS and Huffington Post.
The maps, which also include the National Zoo, currently cover 2.7 million square feet, but will continue to expand as the partnership moves forward. And because so many tourists and families come looking for particular objects, hundreds of artifacts can be easily located and set as their own destination.
Looking for the Hope Diamond? Just select the item and the map will guide you through the Museum of Natural History. Parents weighted down with diaper bags and snack reserves will delight in the ease of the application.
The product will be available through Google Maps for Android. The database now includes the African Art Museum, the Air and Space Museum, the American Art Museum, the American History Museum, the American Indian Museum, the Anacostia Community Museum, the Freer Gallery, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Zoo, the Postal Museum, the Renwick Gallery, the Ripley Center, the Sackler Gallery and the Smithsonian Castle.
Stay tuned for even more exciting app news this month when the Smithsonian will be unveiling its newest tool for touring the museums in style.
July 9, 2012
Tuesday, July 10 Is This Art?
“My kid could do that,” is a common accusation flung at works of modern and contemporary art. So why isn’t the genius of “Billy, age 4″ decorating the white walls of MoMA? Defining art is, at times, a tense debate: what to a critic is groundbreaking is to an audience member inert. To make matters more complicated, artists including Duchamp and Warhol have reveled in the very non-art status of their art. Whether you’ve already chosen a side or are still fuzzy on the artistic merits of a urinal, the American Art Museum is hosting a facilitated, open discussion to help clear things up. Bring Billy. 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Free. American Art Museum, Lincoln Gallery.
Wednesday, July 11 Handi-hour
Though few of us still use snail mail, none can deny that it is far more exciting to receive a handwritten letter than a typed up email. Colorful fonts and closing quotes aside, emails just don’t have the aesthetic appeal of the real deal. Revive the dying mail arts and craft to your heart’s content while catching up on correspondence with the Postal Museum’s handi-hour. Brad Pugh of Practically Einstein provides the music and Churchkey/Birch and Barley provide the beer. 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. $20 cash-only at the door (entry, two drink tickets, snacks and crafting materials), ages 21 and older. Renwick Gallery.
Thursday, July 12 Jeff Shaara on the Battle of Shiloh
The Civil War sesquicentennial fever is in full swing here at the Smithsonian. As part of a lecture series on the historic event, author Jeff Shaara will discuss the 1862 Battle of Shiloh. After writing 11 bestsellers of historical fiction, Shaara focuses on this battle in his most recent novel, A Blaze of Glory. The Battle of Shiloh went down in history as one of the bloodiest in the Civil War and provided a Union victory in the Western theater. Shaara approaches it from a less conventional perspective, incorporating junior officers and conscripts into the narrative. Our own Smithsonian blog reports that it was after this battle that soldiers reported “glow-in-the-dark wounds.” 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. $40. Museum of Natural History, Baird Auditorium.
For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. Additional reporting by Michelle Strange.
April 12, 2012
Events April 13-15: Visio-Disco, Royal Mail Ship Titanic Centennial, Insights into Coltrane and Hancock
Friday, April 13 Visio-Disco: A Remix of Music and Art
One of the city’s most spectacular spaces gets a jolt of performance spectacle as the Kogod Courtyard is transformed into a high-energy nightspot where international music, art, culture and dance meet. Enjoy a multimedia event filled with movement, sound and sights. Come before 10 p.m. and take a tour of the many faces in the National Portrait Gallery before heading to the courtyard. Entertainment includes world beats by an international DJ and performances by t.r.a.n.s.i.t.s.c.a.p.e. a troupe of actors, musicians and dancers from Belgium. Part of Francophonie Cultural Festival 2012. Purchase tickets here starting at $30. One drink ticket included with admission. You must be 21 years or older to attend. 9 p.m. National Portrait Gallery.
Saturday, April 14 Family Day: Royal Mail Ship Titanic Centennial
One hundred years ago, the Titanic set sail on a voyage it would never complete. Yet, its journey continues as one of the most well-known and tragic disasters in our history. The stories buried beneath the surface live on through artifacts, objects and personal accounts. But did you know that the Titanic was the largest floating post office of its day?
Visit the National Postal Museum this Saturday for Family Day: Royal Mail Ship Titanic Centennial, a part of the Fire and Ice: Hindenburg and Titanic exhibit on display through January 6, 2012. Attendees will learn about the ship’s official status as the RMS Titanic—Royal Mail Ship Titanic—and how travelers enjoyed on-board postal service. Some of the Titanic’s 3,364 mailbags may be at the bottom of the North Atlantic, but due to the efforts of its mail crew comprised of both American and British clerks, many of these bags made it off of the ship before it went down. Learn about life on board, the postal workers who processed tons of mail at sea and join in on some hands-on activities. Free. noon to 3:30 p.m. National Postal Museum.
Sunday, April 15 Rhythm Cafe: Insights into Coltrane and Hancock
Celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) with the Anacostia Community Museum and the National Portrait Gallery this Sunday at the Rhythm Cafe: Insights into Coltrane and Hancock event. Join Rusty Hassan, the scholarly host of D.C.’s WPFW radio program “Jazz & More,” in a discussion of the life and contributions of John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock, both of whom exist as icons of modern music. Award-winning Howard University Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Professor Fred Irby III will perform memorable works by both Jazz Giants to follow. This JAM program will be held at the National Portrait Gallery’s McEvoy Auditorium. Free. For reservations, call 202-633-4866. 2 to 4:00 p.m. National Portrait Gallery.
For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. Additional reporting by Michelle Strange.