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Washington D.C.’s “Other” Museums

Editor’s note: This is the fourth post in a series of guest posts from the PRSA National Capital Chapter publicity committee leading up to the PRSA 2014 International Conference, October 12 – 14. Follow the Conference conversation by searching the hashtag #PRSAICON and following our PRSA National Events Twitter handle, @PRSAevents.

Photo by: Destination DC

The big Smithsonian Museums are wonderful – and free.  And often very crowded.  Take a detour from the “beaten path” of the Washington Mall and explore some of Washington’s less- frequented artistic gems.

Let’s begin with perhaps my very favorite museum in the area, the Phillips Collection, an amazing assembly of modern art displayed across two buildings  on 21st St., not far from Dupont Circle.  New galleries connect to a building that was the family home of founder Duncan Phillips, a collector who gathered works by such artists as Renoir, Monet,  Bonnard, Rothko, van Gogh, O’Keefe, and (Jacob) Lawrence.  The setting for the art in “America’s First Modern Art Museum” is intimate and inviting.  If you love Renoir, don’t miss “The Luncheon of the Boating Party,” which dominates one room and is faced by a long, comfortable bench for enjoying and reflecting.

Your next stop might be the Corcoran Gallery of Art, located in an historic building on 17th Street near the White House.  The major focus here is on historical and contemporary American art – from Sargent to Hopper – along with a respectable collection of European art, including de Kooning, Degas,  Picasso, and Monet.  It’s the oldest and largest non-federal art museum in the District of Columbia – and it’s about to undergo some significant change, so make this visit a priority.    The museum has had financial issues for years, and it has signed an agreement for the National Gallery of Art to obtain its collection and George Washington University to manage the operations of its College of Art and Design.  The idea on the museum side is to both safeguard and increase access to the collection, and to maintain the building as a renovated showplace for a new program of modern and contemporary art exhibitions.  No art work will be sold.

Although it’s closed for renovation, you can see the distinctive Renwick Building, home of the Renwick Gallery, also just a short distance from the White House.  The Renwick is interesting because it was the original home of the Corcoran Gallery, and the distinctive building was designed by James Renwick Jr. after the Louvre’s Tuileries addition.   It also has a great collection of American crafts from the 19th Century to the present, but you’ll have to come back on another visit to town to see that (probably in late 2015).

Move on to the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, with its two impressive collections of Asian art along with works by 19th and 20th Century American artists.  These are the Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Art and, even though they are located on the National Mall, they don’t get the traffic of their more well-known siblings.  Be sure to visit the Peacock Room, the only surviving example of Whistler’s interior design.

Finally, head over to New York Avenue, again not far from the White House, for the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the only museum in the world dedicated exclusively to celebrating the artistic achievements of women, from the 16th Century to the present.  More than 1,000 featured artists range from Cassatt to Kahlo.


There is much more to explore – for example, the Kreeger Museum , the National Portrait Gallery, and Dumbarton Oaks and House  – but you’re off to a good start. 

Judy Phair is a seasoned public relations executive who now heads PhairAdvantage Communications, LLC and was 2005 president and CEO of PRSA and 2010 Gold Anvil winner.

About the author

Judy Phair, APR, Fellow PRSA

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