Weekend Picks: Smithsonian Museums

Jayne Miller is serving as the Program Advisor for the 2010 Institute on Political Journalism. Her blog entry is the first in a series of “Weekend Picks” for TFAS interns spending their summer in DC.

I enjoy looking at art and learning about history.
I like watching the prairie dogs scurry around at the zoo.
I think my ideal first date would take place at the planetarium. (Nerd alert, sure. But I speak the truth.)
I enjoy sculptures and jazz in the garden on Friday nights. 
And I don’t like to pay for any of these things.
Thanks to the Smithsonian Institution, I don’t have to.

Axing an entry fee is just one of the reasons the Smithsonians are an ideal location for thrifty museum-goers and DC sightseers like myself. The Smithsonian Institution sites are a quintessential part of the DC experience, and ideal for weekend number one.

American Indian Museum

For many, museums on the Smithsonian circuit have been stops during field trips of yesteryear, complete with yellow school buses and packed lunches. Coming back to the district, these stops can be a completely different, and more satisfying, experience, when explored on your own terms. For me, these adventures have included visiting a photo expo on the Beatles, grabbing a meal at the American Indian Museum (which is out of this world), and running into Ben Stiller while he was shooting Night at the Museum 2 a few summers back. (He’s shorter in person. Just saying.)

Now, I can’t guarantee that Stiller will be there, but I can guarantee you’ll want to make more than a few visits to this area, as hours can be dedicated to any one museum.

Below are just a few highlights from each museum. To get started on your own museum excursion, the Smithsonian stop on the Orange and Blue lines will drop you in the heart of all the Institution has to offer situated around the National Mall.

  • Air and Space (http://www.nasm.si.edu/)
    • Moving Beyond Earth – special exhibit on human spaceflight
    • The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age
  • American History (http://americanhistory.si.edu/)
    • The Star Spangled Banner: The Flag That Inspired the National Anthem
    • Ain’t Nothing like the Real Thing: How the Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment.
  • American Indian (http://www.nmai.si.edu/)
    • Return to a Native Place: Algonquian Peoples of the Chesapeake
    • Brian Jungen: Strange Comfort – special exhibit of Jungen’s iconic works
  • Natural History (http://www.amnh.org/)
    • Race to the End of the Earth – exhibit on explorations in Antarctica
    • Traveling the Silk Road – exhibit on the famed trade route
  • National Gallery of Art (http://www.nga.gov/)
    • American Modernism: The Shein Collection
  • African Art (http://africa.si.edu/)
    • Walt Disney – Tishman African Art Highlights
  • Sculpture Garden (http://hirshhorn.si.edu/ )
    • Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers
  • Freer Gallery of Art (http://www.asia.si.edu/)
    • Special Collection: In the Realm of Buddha

The Sculpture Garden

These sites, among others, are scattered about the city, and are equally free (and awesome).

The best advice is to just go. Just go and walk and explore. Scoping out a few exhibits you really want to hit beforehand is helpful, but the coolest sites I’ve seen at the museums have been completely unscripted. Know that food and beverages will be prohibited, and some exhibits will make you put down the Canon Powershot, but all museums offer maps and promote featured exhibits.

And, who knows? Maybe Ben will be back to shoot Night at the Museum 3. Be sure and say hello for me.

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