The Arts

2010 holds lots of change for theaters, museums

By Jacqueline Trescott
Sunday, January 17, 2010

Even with Tai Shan leaving in a few weeks and the Terra Cotta Warriors packing up in March, putting a sizable void in the city's cultural life, this year promises to be an interesting collection of moves -- from behind the scenes to the front doors of our cultural houses.

Two critical institutions will be shifting leadership. Joy Zinoman, the founding co-artistic director of the Studio Theatre, will leave in September. The theater hopes to have her replacement named by the summer. This is a tough task because the Studio with Zinoman at the helm presented shows from New York's off-Broadway world that had buzz, zeroed in on the possibility of a cultural center on a dilapidated 14th Street and became a catalyst for development in that corridor.

The Kennedy Center, the national performing arts showcase, will name a new chairman of its board in the spring. Stephen A. Schwarzman, the co-founder and chief executive of the Blackstone Group, is leaving after serving six years. During his tenure a number of large gifts underwrote theatrical and musical events, including $10 million from Schwarzman and his wife for theater programming. Ahead in the chairmanship sweepstakes, a prominent role in the city's cultural life, is reportedly David M. Rubenstein, a co-founder of the Carlyle Group and a Washington resident. No stranger to philanthropy, Rubenstein has given rare documents to the National Archives and millions to Lincoln Center in New York.

At the center, President Michael M. Kaiser also has said he wouldn't renew his contract after December 2011. That will create a hole as big as that left by Tai Shan, with Kaiser increasingly becoming a national spokesman for how the arts can survive. At the Kennedy Center, he created a series of festivals from the acrobats and opera of China to America's country music, and spearheaded the wildly popular Sondheim festival.

Another new face will be Christoph Eschenbach, who arrives permanently in the fall to be music director of the National Symphony Orchestra. Known throughout the world for his work with fine orchestras and in the grand opera houses, Eschenbach is also taking on the post of music director for the entire Kennedy Center.

Physical transformations also will allow Washingtonians to continue their vigorous arguments about new architecture and story lines.

The biggest debate will probably be about the new Mead Center for American Theater at Arena Stage, the largest performing arts building to open since the Kennedy Center. The venerable main stages in Southwest Washington have been closed for two years, while the building was re-imagined. In late October the 200,000-square-foot facility, with 370 panes of glass, will open and contain the three theaters and, for the first time, all the necessities of theater life such as rehearsal space. The new setting will continue Arena's spotlight on American voices in dramaturgy and acting.

D0wn the road in Quantico, the four-year-old National Museum of the Marine Corps is expanding, with three new galleries in June. They will cover the Marine story from its formation in 1775 to its role in World War I.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art is finishing the first phase of renovation of its landmark beaux-arts facade and roof, first constructed in 1897, and the scaffolding should come down in the spring.

In the field of art and urban enhancement, the National Museum of Women in the Arts plans to put a number of fanciful sculptures from the late French artist Niki de Saint Phalle on the median outside the museum. That strip of New York Avenue will provide some colorful competition, and opposing subjects, to the traditional men on horses that grace the city's circles.

For more serious museum-going, the National Museum of Natural History is preparing to open the Hall of Human Origins on March 17. That coincides with the 100th anniversary of the museum but is leap years away from what the founders envisioned with their stuffed prey and dioramas. The museum has been reinventing its spaces for several years; this one covers 15,000 feet and tells the story of man's physical and cultural changes over 5,000 years.

Of course, the museum is not forgetting its main bling. The Hope Diamond will be installed in a new temporary setting, chosen by an online contest, in early May.

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