To celebrate the reopening of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery next July, a coalition of cultural organizations is organizing a salute to America's originality.
The two museums, which share the historic Patent Office Building, will open July 1 after a six-year, multimillion-dollar renovation. A special 24-hour preview of the massive building, with 30,000 square feet of additional gallery space, will be held that day.
"This coming summer's events will be dynamic, energizing, cutting edge, grand and truly American," said Angela D. Fox, executive director of Cultural Tourism DC.
Elizabeth Broun, director of the American Art Museum, said the two collections, with 60,000 works, tell the story of the American experience and are a logical centerpiece for a look at American originality. The first show in the refurbished American Art Museum will feature William Wegman, the artist known for carefully posed pictures of his Weimaraners. The Portrait Gallery will reopen with a show of presidential portraits and a tribute to Walt Whitman, who worked in the Patent Office Building when it was used as an infirmary during the Civil War. Other Americana in town will be an exhibition of photographer and painter Charles Sheeler's works at the National Gallery of Art, "Little Women" at the Kennedy Center and a revival of "A Raisin in the Sun" at the African Continuum Theatre Company.
As part of the showcase, the National Archives has combed its vast collections for first-person accounts of major events and everyday living. "American Originals -- Eyewitness" will include a letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Jay describing the streets in Paris during the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, and Lady Bird Johnson's audio diary for Nov. 22, 1963, the day of John F. Kennedy's assassination.
"There will be 25 firsthand accounts. We have a report from John Charles Fremont, the soldier and explorer, on his party crossing the Rocky Mountains. When they crossed the Kansas River, they loaded up a boat and on the last trip, they lost their provisions and recaptured everything but the coffee. He noted that that was mournfully missed," said Stacey Bredhoff, a senior curator at the Archives, where the briefing was held yesterday.
The sponsors include the Washington, D.C., Convention & Tourism Corp. and Cultural Tourism DC, along with the producers the American Experience Foundation. William A. Hanbury, tourism corporation president, said the city had nearly 19 million visitors in 2004, and they are now staying longer. "We have our cultural life to thank for that trend," said Hanbury. Next July, the first Capital Fringe Festival will be held. The organizers hope to bring edgy and offbeat performances to 20 venues. "These are American originals in the early stages of their careers," said Damian Sinclair, one of its organizers.
The Smithsonian museums hope to take advantage of the bustle around the Gallery Place neighborhood, where Fox reported 30 restaurants have opened in the past 30 months. The directors have asked Smithsonian officials if the building can depart from regular museum hours and open from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. "We want to be part of the new vibe in the neighborhood," said Marc Pachter, director of the National Portrait Gallery.