The capital is blessed with an abundance of celebrated cultural institutions, from the museums of the Smithsonian Institution to iconic performance venues like the Kennedy Center. While there are plenty of world-renowned venues to appreciate the fine arts, the city’s nooks and crannies are also loaded with less conspicuous cultural spaces – many of which, are also surprisingly budget-friendly. Here are a few of the best places in the capital to savor the fine arts, without breaking the bank.
Library of Congress
During discussions about local bastions of culture, the Library of Congress probably doesn’t come up. But, the Library of Congress is more than just the country’s premier research institution, the location also regularly hosts lectures, film screenings, concerts, and docent-led tours –all open to the public, and even better, all free. The eclectic spread of events on tap for this month includes everything from a symposium on 17th century cultural exchanges entitled 1619 and the Making of America to a screening of Spike Lee’s 1988 film School Daze.
The Phillips Collection
While cozy in comparison to some of the city’s sprawling galleries, the intimate Phillips Collection still packs a punch. Established in 1921, it was the first modern art museum to open in America, and features a collection studded with the works of artistic giants like Renoir, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Matisse. Plus, the permanent collection is free to view during the week (while there is a $12 admission for ticketed exhibits on display). The first Thursday of every month, the intimate museum hosts Phillips After 5 (5-8:30pm; $12), an event only open to ticket holders and museum members. Besides the art work, the evening includes live music, food, and a cash bar.
IA&A at Hillyer
An initiative of the non-profit International Arts and Artists, the IA&A at Hillyer (formerly the Hillyer Art Space) highlights the work under-appreciated artists, primarily showcasing the work of local and regional talent – and is open to public, free of charge. The contemporary gallery is centered on pieces that foster cultural exchange and broaden intellectual horizons, and new exhibits are unveiled the first Friday of every month (the space is closed the week before, in preparation). The constantly evolving space is also one of the dozen stops highlighted by First Friday Dupont, an immersive, self-guided tour allowing art lovers to visit a dozen galleries after hours like culture-seeking trick-or-treaters (first Friday every month, 6-8pm).
A far cry from the standard portrait gallery, Artechouse fuses art, science, and technology to invent unique immersive experiences. A newcomer to the local scene, the space just opened in June 2017, and is the capital’s first interactive digital gallery. Installations are large-scale and uniquely engaging, most drawing inspiration from the natural world, likely the trippy and addictive Kingdom of Colors, a visual collaboration between French filmmaker Thomas Blanchard and artist Oilhack. Artechouse’s current installation, the multi-sensory Parallel Universe (through March 4), uses three-dimensional, motion-mapped projections and light installations to create an engaging, astrologically-inspired experience – like the grown up version of all those trips to the planetarium. The museum is also open late – with evening admission beginning at 5:30 pm during the week, which is also conveniently when Artechouse’s Augmented Reality cocktail bar opens.
For those who prefer their dose of culture with a side of snarky social commentary, there’s Drafthouse Comedy. The black box style theater features a regular rotation of headliners – but for thrifty night owls, the club also hosts Attack of the Comics every Friday night, a long-standing open mic night, presented free of charge (doors open at 10:30). Even better, although the joint serves beer, wine and booze, there is no mandatory minimum for purchase for penny-pinching patrons.
Kennedy Center Millennium Stage
While it is easy to shell out more than a hundred bucks for a show at the Kennedy Center, the capital’s iconic, marble-hewn theater is also one of the city’s premier spots for culture on the cheap. The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage offers free nightly performances – most not even requiring a ticket. The theater hosts a worldly array of performers, with upcoming shows featuring the Haitian rock group RAM (February 21), an evening of classical Indian dance featuring Ananyaa Giridher (February 23), and the United Voices of Metropolitan AME Church (February 25), presenting a vocal tribute to the evolution of gospel music.