The oppressive humidity is here just like every summer in Washington.
Also present are the masses of tourists that regularly hit the city once school’s over. Yet there are still plenty of good reasons to pay the Capital a visit.
The Smithsonian Folk Festival starts June 23 and runs to July 4. The festival, which celebrates the crafts, food and music of select cultures is Washington’s top outdoor festival. Like the museums around the mall which the Smithsonian Institution runs, the festival is totally free (apart from the food stands).
This year’s festival will spotlight Tibet, the American and Mexican states that border the Rio Grande River and the people and culture of Washington, D.C. itself.
The Tibet part of the festival will be the largest. Tibetan artists will demonstrate paper making, mask making, metal work and other skills. Yaks and nomadic tents will be on display and on Sunday July 2, the Dalai Lama will show up. The revered spiritual leader will lead a prayer service beginning at 8:30am and then make a public address at 11:00.
A good part of the Washington, D.C. section of the festival will feature the culture and history of the city’s large African American community. The many other ethnic groups that make their home here will also be represented. In fact, some of the best international bands in area are billed to play on the festival’s music stage.
Besides the festival, there are some good exhibits in the museums around the Mall. The National Museum of American History (Constitution Avenue between 12th and 14th Street) has a fantastic exhibit dedicated to the life of the great folk singer Woody Guthrie. This is an exhibit any Guthrie fan will love. For anyone who doesn’t know about Woody, it’s time you learned. The show closes July 16.
An impressive collection of Ben Shahn photographs are at The Phillips Collection (1600 21st St. by Dupont Circle Metro). Shahn, like Guthrie, did his best work in the 1930s and 1940s and the exhibit focuses on the pictures he took in New York City during this time. The exhibit runs to August 27.
The most popular current exhibit is the “The Impressionists at Argenteuil”, at the National Gallery of Art (between 3rd and 9th Streets at Constitution Avenue, NW). The riverside town of Argenteuil just outside of Paris became a favorite retreat for impressionist painters in the last decades of the 1800s. The exhibit which runs through August contains over fifty paintings created at the town by six major impressionists – Eugène Boudin, Gustave Caillebotte, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley.
An exhibit of Norman Rockwell paintings at the Corcoran Art Gallery (500 17th St N.W.) and one on Vikings at the Natural History Museum (Constitution Avenue and 10th St.) round out the cultural offerings.
The large Viking exhibit is a great feat for a museum that usually puts it’s energy into stuffing animals. The exhibit includes swords and armor and more interesting artifacts such as pieces of slate from Greenland doodled on by bored Vikings a thousands years ago. The exhibit stresses that the Vikings, though vicious raiders, were not the dumb thugs we have long imagined them to be. They set up towns, developed sophisticated crafts and were highly successful traders. The guys even figured out how to use fleas, which always jump northward, to guide their ships.
That’s what there is to see in the Washington museums this July. You will not be avoiding the tourists but at least all the museums have very good air-conditioning. All the museums except the Corcoran and Phillips are free but even these will let you in for free or at a reduced rate (a couple of dollars) if you ask.