Finding Art in Washington, D.C.

written for City Living Magazine (I’ll link when it goes up) October 24, 2009

For a city of just over 600,000 residents Washington, D.C. has an amazing amount of cultural activity. The District hosts 16 million visitors each year, many of whom enjoy our local cultural activities. Almost 20% of city revenue is generated through arts and culture. With such depth of activity, even long-time residents can have difficulty finding the art that they really connect with.

There are actually three local art scenes. Many visitors only see the ‘national local’ art scene. Most of the ‘national local’ art scene exists on the mall. The Smithsonian Institution ( represents 19 world-class museums, in addition to which there are our political memorials. This ‘national’ part of the local art scene rightly includes the Kennedy Center (which is actually a national monument.) While the Kennedy Center will program local artists, the majority of the performers share the biggest stages in cities around the world.

thumbMany of the District’s most prominent residents are only here for a few years. Similarly, in the art scene, many of our most prominent artists weren’t born here. These artists create in the ‘northwest local’ art scene. The District’s Theater scene is the only part of our community that carries a national reputation, as a whole. There are lots of ways to connect into the local theater scene; I appreciate D.C.’s version of New York City’s Ticket Booth ( which offers discounted theater tickets daily. For visual arts I recommend checking out D.C.’s yearly un-curated art show, Artomatic.

The ‘local local’ art scene is organized around geographic, ethnic, and practice communities. Examples are the Ward 7 arts collaborative, and Gala Hispanic Theater. There is – of course – some crossover between the ‘national local’, ‘northwest local’, and ‘local local’ art scenes. The District is tremendously rich culturally, and regardless of the type of art you enjoy, there is an excellent chance you can find the art you love here.

Rob Bettmann is a local choreographer, writer, and arts advocate. To see more about his work visit To get involved with the DC Advocates for the Arts visit Rob is also the editor of the arts magazine Bourgeon. Image is of Robert Bettmann performing at Galapagos Arts Space, Brooklyn, New York, April 2009 (photo credit: Steven Schreiber for 60×60 Dance.)

Author: Robert Bettmann

Founder of Day Eight, and the DC Arts Writing Fellowship.