Despite being parents in the DC area for more than 13 years and having a desire to expose our children to the many unique and affordable cultural opportunities our nation’s capital provides, somehow we had not yet made it to the National Museum of Women in the Arts. On a hot summer Sunday, we finally took advantage of the museum’s monthly Free Community Day (first Sunday of the month) and were we ever glad we did.
Housed in a century old Renaissance Revival building two blocks from Metro Center, the museum offers visitors four floors of paintings, photographs, sculptures, mixed media, multimedia, etc. created solely by women artists. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why, but the experience was refreshing and thoroughly enjoyable. Perhaps it was the space itself, not too large and overwhelming, but with breathtaking chandeliers and sweeping staircases that invite you to go up and see the treasures in the galleries upstairs. Or perhaps it was the mix of interesting materials and vibrant colors at nearly every turn. Regardless, we can’t wait to go back.
Our review team consisted of two girls, ages 8 and 13. The 8-year-old’s impression was summed up with “great!” The 13-year-old said “cool,” followed by “I wasn’t ready to leave; when do we get to go back?” The afternoon we visited was busy and included a few other families, but didn’t feel overly crowded. We also noticed a few strollers moving through the galleries.
The artwork begins on the ground floor with paintings from the 17th century. It’s fascinating to consider these pieces in light of the fact that many women artists for many, many years did not (and still do not) have access to the same training opportunities, materials or other resources that their male counterparts did. Considering the challenges they faced made me appreciate the beauty of their work even more.
The ground floor also offers a small special exhibition gallery, ticketing and gift shop. The mezzanine level features pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries, and the second floor features special exhibitions. Collection highlights from the 19th century to present are on display on the third floor. The museum’s diverse collection includes more than 4700 works by 1000 women artists from around the world.
The special exhibitions located on the second floor when we visited were Super Natural and Organic Matters – Women to Watch 2015. These fascinating exhibitions, in which “women artists upend stereotypes to address nature’s strangeness, diversity and power,” were the highlight for our daughters and are on display until Sept 13, 2015.
The museum offers a variety of ways to connect with the art and artists, including 30-minute “conversation pieces” in which two works are spotlighted certain days at 2 p.m. Visitors may also use interactive “See for Yourself” note cards, which correspond to and highlight selected works on view.
The museum got its start when, according to a brochure, “While traveling, Wilhelmina Cole Holladay and her husband Wallace admired a 17th century still life by Flemish painter Clara Peeters. The Holladays found no reference to her or any female artist in major art history books. Inspired to rediscover this lost heritage, they began acquiring works by women artists.” And thus the National Museum of Women in the Arts was born, opening its doors to the public in 1987.
The only museum of its kind in the world, the National Museum of Women in the Arts is a hidden gem definitely worth a family outing.
Good to Know
- Museum hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays, noon to 5 p.m. The museum is closed for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
- Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors (age 65+) and students, and free for age 18 and under. Free Community Days are held the first Sunday of each month. Also note, the museum participates in the Blue Star Museums program, which offers free admission to all active duty military personnel and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
- Metered street parking is very limited. Metro Center station is two blocks away. Don’t miss the artwork in the median along New York Ave., between 12th and 13th streets. This is the “only public art space featuring changing installations of contemporary works by women artists.”
- The café is open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Note that it is closed on Saturdays and Sundays. Other nearby food options are very limited, so plan to eat before visiting the museum.
- An appealing gift shop is located near the entrance and features a small children’s section.
Photos by Erin Link.