When it comes to art, size doesn't matter.
The Smithsonian art museums and some of the paid art galleries are still closed, making it a perfect opportunity to visit some of the off-the-beaten path art museums and galleries that might be small but are still awesome.
So get ready for an artful experience at one of these 16 museums, galleries and unexpected spots that prove good things definitely come in small packages.
Berets are optional, but totally encouraged!
Things with COVID are constantly changing, so be sure to check individual safety guidelines before you head out for a visit.
Artists inspired by the "Paint the Storefronts" movement have turned the blank windows of Arena Stage into a colorful canvas. The award-winning theatre has partnered with Busboys and Poets and local artists to beautify storefronts and inspire hope as business remain closed due to the ongoing pandemic. It just goes to show that creativity is everywhere you look The next time you're in the Wharf area, stroll over to Arena Stage and make the outdoor art experience a part of your visit!
Artechouse is D.C.’s first interactive digital art gallery with a first-of-its-kind innovative art space dedicated to showcasing experiential and immersive large scale installations by artists who are forerunners of the new age in arts and technology. Bringing art, science, technology and creativity together, Artechouse creates an immersive, sensory art experience that really is a digital playground for all ages. Each installation is a unique one-of-a-kind experience.
Art of Noize
Opened in 2017 by owner Adrian Ferguson, Art of Noize is a multipurpose artist and performance space for local artists who make their own creative “noise,” from paintings, sculpture, poetry and photography, that sparks positive vibrations, a hum of appreciation or the spark of conversation.
Blagden Alley is an artsy alley in Shaw that is also known as the DC Alley Museum. Well-known for the LOVE mural painted across four garages by Lisa Marie, it’s packed with colorful murals by various artists in lots of styles.
Brookland Arts Walk
The Arts Walk at the Monroe Street Market in Brookland is a brick-paved, pedestrian only collection of artists’ studios that stars local talents such as Stitch & Rivet, with handmade cotton or leather bags, and Cedric Baker, for bright oil paintings. The ground-level artists studios allow patrons direct access when the artists are there and working. If the artists are not present, the glass fronts permit you to peep in and glimpse their work. Most galleries are open on weekends, but call ahead to check or make an appointment.
DC Convention Center
The biggest public art collection in DC you’ve probably never heard of is “hidden” in plain sight and seen by millions of people each year. The Walter E. Washington Convention Center —that’s right, the convention center—boasts more than 13o works of art spread throughout the building, including sculpture, photography, paintings, and mixed media. Since 2003, the Convention Center has showcased artworks by some of the best-known artists in the District, alongside some of the biggest names in contemporary art. The diverse $4 million art collection is the largest in any convention center and one of the largest public art collection in the District outside of a museum. In fact, it’s larger than any museum in town. Public tours have been cancelled, but you can still view the artwork at your own pace.
This artist-owned cooperative gallery in Dupont Circle showcases a variety of emerging artists from all over the world. Every month offers a new exhibit of works in all mediums and styles, plus an in-depth solo show by one member artist. Foundry seeks to provide an “alternative gallery experience” with their artist talks, workshops, receptions, and demonstrations”, and prices original pieces more affordably than commercial galleries. Member artists often give lectures and lead workshops for children and adults.
if you’re lost around Eastern Market and wander into a back alley, you’ll stumble upon The Fridge DC. A small space with unfinished concrete floors and scribbled marks on the doors, with its funky fringe-like atmosphere, The Fridge aims to make the arts “accessible to everyone.” Bonus: get your hands dirty. The Fridge hosts community events like stencil and spray paint workshops throughout the year.
After all, this isn’t just a museum—it’s an experience. Set on 300 acres just outside of the city, Glenstone blends art, architecture, and landscape design in a way that encourages visitors to turn off the noise of the digital world and connect with what’s in front of you. You’ll see works by major names in conceptual and modern art such as Marcel Duchamp, Yayoi Kusama, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Andy Warhol and sculptures by the likes of Jeff Koons seamlessly fit into the rolling hills of the property.
Kennedy Center & The REACH
Even though Kennedy Center is known as a performing arts center, but they’re much more than a collection of theaters. Along with the famous John F. Kennedy bust in the Grand Foyer, you’ll find striking sculptures outside and engraved quotations by Kennedy on the marble walls of the River Terrace. At The Reach, the newly added performance space, you’ll find iconic works on loan from Glenstone Museum and permanent sculptures by Joel Shapiro, Deborah Butterfield, and more!
Marsha Mateyka Gallery
Art historian Marsha Perry Matekya opened her gallery in a historical stone house back in 1983. During its 30-year run, she has presented some of the city’s highest-quality shows, fostering a working relationship with DC’s finest museums. The gallery represents the works of 20 artists, including the late Gene Davis. Davis was part of the Washington Color School—a group of painters active in the 1950s and 1960s who painted their canvases with stripes or fields, each colored with a single, flat, bold tint. Alongside Davis is Sam Gilliam, an established painter also associated with the Washington Color School, and Jae Ko, one of the most respected local artists who creates curved forms with nothing more than rolled ink paper.
Once you’ve finished with the formal galleries, take to the streets and explore the city’s urban art appeal. MuralsDC is DC’s street art project, where local and international street artists have collaborated to colour in the city. In the historic Shaw neighbourhood you’ll find Marvin Gaye plastered across a wall by local artist Aniekan Udofia, while over on U Street, on the side of the legendary Ben’s Chili Bowl, is his portrait of iconic African-American figures including Barack and Michelle Obama, Prince and the legendary abolitionist, Harriet Tubman.
National Building Museum
Head over to the National Building Museum for a timely new outdoor art exhibition will open in Judiciary Square. The exhibition, Murals That Matter: Activism Through Public Art, will showcase public art created during this summer’s protests against police brutality. The National Building Museum commissioned 18 preexisting works for its exhibition, all created during this year’s June protests. Artists created murals on the plywood covering boarded-up storefronts featuring messages of community connection and support for the protesters. They were commissioned by the DowntownDC Business Improvement District, in conjunction with the P.A.I.N.T.S. Institute, an arts education nonprofit.
The six new works will honor the members of the “Big Six,” the organizers of the original 1963 March on Washington: the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., A. Philip Randolph, Whitney Young, Roy Wilkins, James Farmer, and Rep. John Lewis, who passed away last month. The exhibition will remain on display through late November.
National Museum of Women in the Arts
Founded in 1981, this is the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women in the visual, performing and literary arts. The museum’s collection features 5,000 works from the 16th century to the present created by more than 1,000 artists, from Flemish painter Clara Peeters to Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keeffe, along with special collections of 18th-century silver tableware, botanical prints, and artists’ books.
Don’t be fooled by its size (the space is “cozy,” to put it politely), or its location (situated a few doors down from the P Street NW Whole Foods—not exactly gallery row), Transformer is one of the best curated galleries in the city. Blending exhibits from emerging artists in the city, to more transgressive and abstract exhibits, the small gallery is continually showcasing some of the best artists in the city. And don’t be put off by the small space; it adds to the intimacy of the artistic experience and allows you to interact with the artists showcasing their work.
Established in 1978, Zenith is known for its eclectic collection of paintings, sculpture, neon, photographs, tapestries and 3-D mixed-media pieces. Sometimes home decor and jewelry is exhibited, too. Renown owner and arts commissioner Margery Goldberg seeks out “exceptional artists at varying stages of their careers,” many of whom “are now well-known and established, while others are young bright lights on the horizon.”
Curious? There's more!
Look up, down, and all around. Adventures can be found everywhere -- if you're curious enough to look. k for it