We have visited the museums DC countless times, but have not been there as a family since the fall of 2019. For this three-day trip, we concentrated on seeing new installations and temporary exhibitions at the Smithsonian Museums.
It was also our first trip during the summer, so it was fun to see the National Mall and the outdoor gardens at the United States Botanic Garden in a much greener state than our previous annual Fall/Thanksgiving and Spring/Cherry Blossom Festival trips.
The current big draw to the Hirschhorn Museum is the Yayoi Kusama One With Eternity exhibition. To get tickets we arrived at the museum at 9:30am; they were given out quickly, but we were able to secure some for 3:45pm that afternoon. These tickets granted us access to the small gallery in the basement to see four installations of her work, but the rest of the museum was open without at ticket. (Note: one Infinity Mirror Room- Phalli’s Field, is filled with an infinite number of cloth pieces representing the male anatomy… they aren’t obvious but it makes for a bit of an awkward family photo if you have kids.)
We were equally as immersed in the exhibition by Laurie Anderson: The Weather, on display until August 7, 2022.
American Art Galleries of the Smithsonian
Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
The Renwick Gallery (located across from the White House) hosts visiting artists and displays permanent collections of crafts-based works. The current show, The Presenting Moment: Crafting a Better World, highlights how crafts create many different American narratives, with a focus on telling BIPOC and other often overlooked “American” experiences in the art world. Jannet Echelman’s Piece 1.8 Renwick fills the large gallery on the upper floor, so families with young children can enjoy the large colorful space while the adults take turns visiting the other galleries.
The American Portrait Gallery & American Art Museum
The current featured exhibition We are Made of Stories: Self-Taught Artists in the Robson Family Collection. Because the collection features forty-three different artists, it is a good exhibit for kids to compare and contrast multiple different styles of artwork and types of media in one space.
Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian
The newest exhibition in the NMAI is Preston Singletary: Raven and the Box of Daylight, open through January 29, 2023. Each room includes panels that tell one of the traditional Pacific Northwest stories of the raven, illustrated by works of glass, music, and artistic backdrops throughout the galleries.
Smithsonian American History Museums
National Museum of African American History and Culture
The last time we were in Washington DC Alice was barely seven-years old, so on that trip I chose to visit the bulk of the NMAAHC on my own. I fully recognize that saving these talks with her comes from a place of privilege, and that other children learn much earlier in life that they may be treated unfairly based on the color of their skin. On this trip, I wanted to follow her lead with what she had learned in school for the larger conversations about the history of slavery and racist ideas.
(Note; tickets are available 30 days in advance, but will “sell out” quickly. Same-day tickets were available at 8:15am, and logging in as soon as they were available gave us options in most time slots.)
The history tour at NMAAHC includes the Slavery and Freedom Galleries, Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom Galleries, and A Changing America Galleries. The first begins with the history of the African Diaspora and slavery throughout the world. We then walked through galleries depicting the American Revolution and the institutionalization of slavery in the United States of America. Amidst the descriptions of the horrors of slavery are artifacts and stories of the enslaved people who fought against it and though held in bondage still celebrated their African identities and built new cultures unique to the African American experience.
American Museum of History
The next Smithsonian museum slated to open will be the National Museum of the American Latino. The new Presente! Exhibition in the Molina Family Latino Gallery of the American Museum of History galleries are a small introduction to what will be housed there. Just about every medium is used in the exhibition; photographs, audio recordings, clothing, sculptures, and paintings.
Much like before National Museum of African American History and Culture was built, these galleries pack so many stories into the small space, making clear the need for a comprehensive collection of the incredibly diverse American Latino history and experience.
Note: Next to the Jazz Cafe we found free lockers to store our larger bags and museum shop purchases.
United States Botanical Garden
USBG was one of the last DC museums to open after COVID. We normally visit in the winter, so this year was the first time we played (and cooled off) in the small outdoor Children’s Garden in one of the courtyards of the conservatory section. The educational focus in 2022 is agriculture, and there are interactive exhibits in each of the galleries and edible plant gardens both inside and outside the conservatory with interpretive signage.
Patrick Dougherty’s stickwork sculpture, built in late 2019, still stands in the adjacent outdoor gardens. While the conservatory sections close at 5pm, these outdoor gardens are open until 7pm in the summer. There are small pockets of dining tables and benches, making it a perfect destination for a picnic supplied by one of the many nearby food trucks.
The Smithsonian Gardens can be found around the National Mall and highlight many of the collections in the museums.
A map of the gardens includes some of our favorites:
* Native Landscape at the National Museum of the American Indian
*Freer Gallery of Art: Courtyard Garden
*Mary Livingston Ripley Garden
*Urban Bird Habitat and Pollinator Gardens at the Museum of Natural History