September 3, 2012
Last weekend I traveled to Washington DC for a short, but action-packed visit. Staying with a friend in the Woodley Park area, I spent my first few hours in the city exploring the area and reacquainting myself with our capital. Weaving in and out of the streets of downtown and making my way towards the Georgetown area, I found myself entranced by the scenery, the massive structures, and especially the people. There was a great diversity of people that I have only really experienced in certain areas of New York City, and an unexplainable strength within this population. It was almost as if everyone living in DC is there with a purpose and a mission to play a part in making good. This is probably a fantasy-like aura that spawns from the great pride that I have in Americans desire to create positive change, but there was a feeling of forward-thinking in the air that was infectious.
I had not been to DC in years so I had only a faint recollection of the city and its splendid array of Smithsonian Museums. The best part is - they are completely free to the public! I was probably aware of this fact, but it must have gotten pushed out of my mind at some point to make room for some thing or another, so there was a fresh excitement to enter into these gargantuan mammoths of museums at no cost. Our first stop was the National Museum of American History (No, Google Maps - that's not Natural History - but thanks for leading us to the wrong museum). There is a new exhibit featuring the kitchen of Julia Child, which will eventually become a larger exhibit on the history of food in America. This museum was a hotbed of exciting artifacts from our past. A few highlights - the dresses of first ladies', the original Kermit the Frog, the humongous American Flag that inspired Francis Scott Key, and the history of transportation in our country.
Next we were off to the Air and Space Museum where we were greeted by planes, missiles, space paraphernalia and various other flying apparatus. The museum was alive with visitors young and old, catching a glimpse of this piece of our past. We hit a few of the exhibits including a plane built and flown by the Wright Brothers and aircraft used in WWII. At this point, we were exhausted from just two museum visits, and headed towards our third and final destination, the Renwick Gallery. At this last museum, we saw an interesting display of 40 crafters under 40 years of age. The pieces ranged from delightful and whimsical to dark and disturbing. I loved the range of materials and concepts including one that said "Please Touch" on the description and another that actually invited you into a tiny room lined with handmade porcelain tiles. Though the exhibition was small, and slightly off the beaten path, the creativity was undeniable and it was a welcome change in our day of viewing historical artifacts.
There is a great advantage to living in Washington DC. What does it mean to have this type of access to history, art, and science that is housed within the walls of the Smithsonian Museums? The overwhelming exhaustion that comes with a visit to any one of these museums is unavoidable, nevertheless multiple museums. It is impossible to see everything within a finite amount of time. Having the ability to visit any one of these museums at any time allows you the freedom to get to know an exhibit in a deeper and more meaningful way. I would be curious to know if DC-ers take advantage of this opportunity, or if it becomes one of those things that you live near but never actually visit. Regardless of who goes when, there is a great beauty in living in a country that provides free culture in this way to anyone and everyone who is interested. In a tumultuous political season like this, with a country divided, this is certainly one thing we can all agree on.