WASHINGTON - From a portrait of George Washington and photos of Weimaraners to eyewitness accounts of historic events, the nation's capital is promoting the summer of 2006 as a celebration of American culture.
The campaign theme, "Washington, D.C. Celebrates American Originals," is a reference to attractions that can't be found in even the most elaborate theme parks.
"Eyewitness - American Originals from the National Archives," featuring 25 firsthand accounts of world events in the words of those who observed them, opens June 23. They include a letter from Thomas Jefferson written from Paris on July 19, 1789, in the midst of the French Revolution. The future president described the storming of the Bastille and public beheading.
"He writes in really a clear, calm voice, reporting on exactly what was happening," said Stacey Bredhoff, senior curator of the National Archives.
There is also an excerpt from Lady Bird Johnson's audio diary, recorded hours after she became first lady following the Nov. 22, 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
The material will be presented in a multimedia format to help visitors of all ages imagine the historic events, Bredhoff said.
The Smithsonian Institution's American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery - both housed in the historic Patent Office Building - will reopen in July following a nearly six-year, $281 million renovation. Visitors will be able to view thousands of works of art in the restored 19th century Greek Revival building. The two collections are now referred to as the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture.
Grand-opening special exhibits include William Wegman's famous photos of Weimaraner dogs, and a collection of prints by a noted black artist, William H. Johnson.
The Portrait Gallery's collection includes the famed Lansdowne portrait of George Washington, which has been touring the country while the renovation took place, and other presidential portraits. Other displays will include the results of the gallery's first national portrait competition, and exhibits devoted to portraits of poets, musicians and athletes.
If your taste in art runs a bit edgier than presidential portraits, consider attending the Capital Fringe Festival, July 20-30. Performances and exhibits - from puppets to poetry - will be offered along Seventh Street and nearby in theaters, galleries, outdoor areas and other venues. Tickets will average $10 an event. The festival coincides with other fringe festivals held in Edinburgh, Scotland, and a number of U.S. cities, including New York, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Orlando and Cincinnati.
Washington's newest attractions also include two that debuted in late 2005: the Kennedy Center's new Family Theater, which opened Dec. 9 with "Alice," based on a children's book by Whoopi Goldberg; and Tai Shan, the giant panda cub, who was born July 9 but has only been seen in public since Dec. 8. Timed viewing passes to watch the cub for 10 minutes are unquestionably the hottest tickets in town; details at the Web site for the National Zoo, http://www.fonz.org.
Also for visitors heading to Washington this winter and spring, the city is promoting February as "Theatre Month." Productions include "Measure for Measure" at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre, Jan. 19-Feb. 26; "Trying," about the Nuremburg Trials judge Francis Biddle, at Ford's Theatre, Jan. 1-Feb. 13; "El Rufian Castracho" by Lope de Vega at GALA Hispanic Theatre, Feb. 23-March 19; "Dame Edna" at the National Theatre, Feb. 21-March 1; "Midwives," based on the recent best-selling book, at Round House Theatre, Feb. 1-March 1, and "Nevermore," at the Signature Theatre, a musical about Edgar Allen Poe, Jan. 10-Feb. 26.
Later in the season the African Continuum Theatre Company will stage "A Raisin in the Sun," May 4-June 11, while the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts hosts a tour date for the Broadway production of "Little Women," starring Maureen McGovern, June 27-July 23.
Springtime visitors will also want to check out a traditional favorite, the cherry blossom festival, scheduled for March 25-April 9.
While "American Originals" is the theme of the summer tourism campaign, European art is the focus of several major exhibits scheduled for Washington museums in 2006.
"Degas, Sickert and Toulouse-Lautrec: London, Paris 1870-1910" will be on view at The Phillips Collection, Feb. 18-May 14, with works by Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Walter Richard Sickert in a show that explores the connections between French and British artists of that era.
The National Gallery will host an exhibit Feb. 19-May 14 of 400 works of art from avant-garde Dadaists like Hans Arp, Max Ernst, Man Ray and others.
Also at the National Gallery, "Cezanne in Provence" will run Jan. 29-May 7, marking the 100th anniversary of the death of Paul Cezanne with an exhibit of 120 of his oils and watercolors depicting the people and countryside of his native Provence. The exhibit will be on display in the gallery's West Building before traveling to the Musee Granet in Aix-en-Provence, France.
Another attraction for Francophiles is a staging of the 17th-century Moliere play "Don Juan," by the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Jan. 24-March 19.
More than 17 million people visited Washington during the 2005 fiscal year, up nearly 10 percent from 2004. Tourism accounts for 260,000 jobs, generating $10 billion for the region's economy each year.
"We've got great restaurants, great entertainment and we're a year-round sports town," said William A. Hanbury, president of the Washington Convention and Tourism Corporation. During their first year of operation, Major League Baseball's Washington Nationals averaged 32,000 fans a game, with 81 home dates.
The Washington area ranks behind New York, Orlando and Las Vegas among the top U.S. destinations for visitors, according to the Travel Industry Association of America.
If You Go...
AMERICAN ART MUSEUM AND NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY: Opening in July in the historic Patent Office Building, F Street between Eighth and Ninth streets. Free admission.
NATIONAL ARCHIVES: On the National Mall on Constitution Avenue at Ninth Street, NW. "Eyewitness - American Originals from the National Archives," runs June 23, 2006 to Jan. 1, 2007. Open daily, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Free admission.
NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART: On the National Mall between Third and Seventh Streets at Constitution Avenue, NW. Open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. "Cezanne in Provence" runs Jan. 29-May 7; the Dadaist show runs Feb. 19-May 14. Free admission.
PHILLIPS COLLECTION: 1600 21st St., NW. "Degas, Sickert and Toulouse-Lautrec: London, Paris 1870-1910" runs Feb. 18-May 14. Open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. and Thursdays until 8:30 p.m.; Sundays, noon-7 p.m. Admission, $9.
CAPITAL FRINGE FESTIVAL: Various venues around Seventh Street, July 20-30; http://www.capfringe.org/. Tickets will average $10 per event.
CHERRY BLOSSOM FESTIVAL: March 25-April 9.
NATIONAL ZOO: Timed viewing passes to see the panda cub are free but difficult to obtain. Details at http://www.fonz.org.
WASHINGTON CONVENTION AND TOURISM CORP.: http://www.washington.org or (800) 422-8644. Click on "Come Out to Play" for packages for February theater performances.