Considered to be the country's only public museum devoted to the history of global espionage, the International Spy Museum teems with multimedia displays, hands-on activities, and educational events. Filled with low-lit halls and mysterious doors, the museum backs up its exhibits with experience; many of its board members, staff, and speakers are former spies. Executive Director Peter Earnest, for one, spent more than 35 years in the CIA and its National Clandestine Service; frequent speaker Oleg Kalugin once held a position as major general of the KGB. Through special talks and an array of exhibits, the group reveals several hundred years of spy techniques and gadgetry, showcases connections between real spies and pop culture, and draws from international backgrounds to grant a global perspective.
In the Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains exhibit, visitors explore the most memorable villains from throughout the James Bond film series, discovering the role the series played in shaping public perception of spying and exploring how the villains changed to reflect their times. Featuring over 110 movie and historic artifacts, a series galleries allows visitors to learn about the wide variety of evildoers from many perspectives. For an additional charge, guests can opt to embark on a simulated covert mission entirely based on real intelligence case files in Operation Spy, a one-hour interactive exhibit during which participants ride in simulated truck beds and use video surveillance to find leaked nuclear-trigger technology in a fictional country.
In June 2010, after a late-night session of painting, drinking, and generally rousting about with a group of friends, magazine editor Michael M. Clements found himself pondering an unshakeable question: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could do this at a bar?” The seeds of ArtJamz sprouted almost immediately into a traveling party, where the caterers brought not only beer and wine but also all-you-can-paint palettes, for-sale blank canvases, and invaluable artistic expertise. In the two years since that fateful, paint-spattered night, ArtJamz has become a citywide phenomenon, organizing collaborative events with the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and finally realizing the founding fathers’ vision of a tie-dyed capitol building.
Although these creative enablers still operate pop-up events at galleries and retail spaces across D.C., the brand-new, 1,800-square-foot permanent studio in Dupont Circle has an open-house policy to enable paint parties seven days a week. Freestyle paint sessions and classes are offered, charging separatley for studio time, canvas, and drinks. Day hours keep artists aged 5–18 in mind, whereas nightly sessions feature beer, wine, and creative cocktails for the 21+ set. More than 32 distinct colors await inspired brushes, and the walls of the cozy venue are fair game for a fresh coat. A trained staff is always on hand to offer advice if needed or requested, and to make sure nobody loses an ear.
William Wilson Corcoran believed in American artists at a time when most collectors bought only European paintings. The financier-turned-philanthropist made friends with masters such as Thomas Doughty and George Inness, bought what interested him, and even opened up his home twice a week so the public could view his collection. And that practice was the seed which grew into the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The formal location opened in 1874 with 98 paintings and sculptures from Corcoran's personal collection. Today, that collection exceeds 16,000.
The focus on 18th- to 20th-century American artists such as Mary Cassatt and Andy Warhol remains—but that doesn't mean the gallery has blinders on. It also holds works by European luminaries such as Pablo Picasso and Edgar Degas. The collection even extends into decorative art such as the Salon Doré, an 18th-century French period room once housed in Paris's Hôtel de Clermont.
In the same way the Corcoran Gallery extends beyond American art, it pushes its purpose beyond simply displaying masterpieces. Year-round events include lectures from prominent critics as well as live performances and wine mixers. The Corcoran even nurtures the next generation of talent with after-school and weekend classes that teach students how to draw everything from landscapes to landscapes covered with bowls of fruit.
The Crime Museum shines a light on the dark underbelly of society with more than 100 interactive events spread across three stories and 25,000 square feet of gallery space. After resting their weary bones in an unplugged electric chair, fans of CSI can live out television fantasies at the Crime Scene Investigation event, where they can learn what it takes to be a forensic scientist and watch professionals in action before trying to determine whether or not fellow museum-goers exhibit the traits of serial killers. The event also serves as a crash course in fingerprinting, DNA testing, fraudulent-check investigation, and dental-impression and ballistics analysis. The museum’s many permanent events include A Notorious History of American Crime, about the country's felonious forefathers, and an exploration into one of the most heinous masterminds of modern times in the Ted Kaczynski: The Unabomber event.
The story of the descendants of the nation’s First Family is told at Tudor Place, an historic home hidden away on a Georgetown side street. The five-acre estate was the home of Martha and George Washington’s granddaughter Martha Parke Custis Peter. Five more generations of the family lived here before it became a National Historic Landmark in the 1980s, and now the notable home contains more of George and Martha’s memorabilia than anywhere outside of Mount Vernon. But because the home was occupied by members of the Washington family for nearly 200 years, its riches span the centuries, from original keepsakes handed down by Martha herself to more current pieces that tell the family’s rich history. The extensive gardens are particularly lovely in the spring, when many of the period flowers bloom.
The trio of seasoned tour guides understands that being a guide is more than just being able to carry a microphone and CDL driver’s license with style. Being a guide is a great responsibility; it means safeguarding history and passing its great secrets and wisdoms on to others. Whether visiting DC’s iconic structures and memorials in the daylight or evening, they passionately share the stories of the individuals, ideals, and food-based dares that shaped the United States into what it is today. Fueled by the realization that planning a trip to the nation’s capital may be a once in a lifetime experience for some people, they put extra effort into ensuring that experience is as memorable as possible, leading all of their tours in a luxurious 2012 Mercedes bus.