The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA, 1250 New York Ave. NW) will open its newly renovated building in fall 2023, representatives announced. The building has been closed since August 2021.
NMWA, the world’s first major museum solely dedicated to championing women artists, is undergoing a $67.5 million renovation. Purchased for the museum in 1983, the 78,810-square-foot building was built in 1908 as the Masonic Temple; women were not permitted to be members of the Masons.
The renovation will make even more space to feature, promote and encourage the work of women artists. It includes expanded exhibition spaces, re-envisioned public programming areas, and improved amenities and accessibility for visitors.
“It is thrilling to see how far we have come in the last year with our top-to-bottom renovation,” said NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling. “This project gives me hope and purpose. I cannot wait to reopen the doors of our renewed and refreshed building to our DC community and supporters around the world. When completed, NMWA’s building will once again offer the fullest expression of our goal to champion women in the arts and advocate for equity for all.”
The historic building’s first full renovation since NMWA opened in 1987, the project honors its legacy while improving its interior spaces, façade and infrastructure. Designed by Baltimore-based architectural firm Sandra Vicchio & Associates, updates include gallery spaces enlarged by more than 20 percent to showcase historic and contemporary artworks and installations; a new Learning Commons, featuring an Education and Public Programs Studio for hands-on workshops and improved research library; an updated, state-of-the-art Performance Hall; and more efficiently designed museum collections storage and conservation areas.
Exhibitions will be presented in spaces purpose-designed for art, with an inaugural exhibition of monumental contemporary sculpture and installations. An expansive collection reinstallation will offer thematic and provocative combinations of works spanning six continents and six centuries.
NMWA’s building renovation project includes:
- Transforming the building to provide easier access for all visitors, with upgraded technologies and amenities as well as improved ADA accessibility
- Renovating and enlarging galleries to accommodate a wider variety of historic and contemporary artworks and multifaceted installations
- Creating a new Learning Commons that features an exhibition gallery, a state-of-the-art Library and Research Center with reading room, and an Education and Public Programs Studio that provides flexible space for a range of museum events including hands-on workshops, curated conversations and classes
- Upgrading the 200-seat Performance Hall with new furnishings and state-of-the-art technology, enhancing presentation of public programs, lectures, films and live performances
- Improving wireless and interactive technology in galleries, which will enhance visitors’ experiences and learning opportunities with additional connectivity
- Updating the Great Hall and Mezzanine to preserve these iconic spaces while improving their functionality for museum events and facility rentals
- Expanding the Museum Shop to accommodate more items by women-owned companies and women makers
- Installing new lighting, climate control and security technology to support long-term conservation of the art and the comfort of visitors
- Enhancing collections storage spaces to store and conserve art more efficiently and effectively
- Improving signage to provide easy-to-follow pathways throughout the museum
- Restoring the roof, historic cornice and the building exterior in accordance with the D.C. Historic Preservation Office
“This building is timeless and beautiful,” said Sandra Vicchio of Sandra Vicchio & Associates. “Its prominent location in the heart of our nation’s capital adds to the satisfaction of the work we are doing. When the renovations are complete, NMWA will have more space that is better equipped to showcase art by women from around the world. The museum’s legacy is so important, and our team is proud to work alongside theirs as we revitalize their home so they can continue their role as stewards of our cultural heritage.”
Over the past year, the construction crew and team of partners working on the renovation have achieved important milestones. They have constructed a ramp to a new entrance and shifted elevator locations. They removed then reinforced a section of flooring that will support collections storage and are in the process of installing gallery walls. Scaffolding on the New York Avenue façade will allow for exterior renovations.
Exhibitions and Programming
The fall 2023 inaugural exhibition will feature large installations and sculptures in an innovative, immersive display not possible prior to the renovation. Focused on women’s pioneering work in large-scale sculpture, the project presents artworks by Petah Coyne, Beatriz Milhazes, Cornelia Parker, Mariah Robertson, Alison Saar, Shinique Smith, Joana Vasconcelos, Ursula von Rydingsvard and others. Sculptures will be suspended from the ceiling, arc across walls and project outward from corners to create an intimate reciprocity between artist and viewer.
In a concurrent exhibition, favorites from NMWA’s collection will be presented thematically with a diverse selection of work from the historic to the contemporary, including works by Rosa Bonheur, Julia Margaret Cameron, Judy Chicago, Sonya Clark, Lalla Essaydi, Joan Mitchell, Clara Peeters, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Faith Ringgold, Alma Woodsey Thomas and Mickalene Thomas, among many others. Reflecting the museum’s expanded capacity for integrated new-media experiences and continued priority on centering artists’ voices, the inaugural exhibitions will also include a series of new videos profiling women artists, created by NMWA and the award-winning film company Smartypants. Through personal reflections, the videos will explore artists’ inspirations, challenges and visions for the future.
Further details about its fall 2023 reopening, inaugural exhibition and programming plans will be shared in the months ahead. Continuing throughout its closure, NMWA offers a robust slate of online programs and events, virtual exhibitions and digital content, and public art installations at the museum’s construction site.