A line of eager museum-goers snaked around the patio of the East building of the National Gallery of Art. The crowd of people donned creative outfits of red, white and blue, and other symbols of America. The inside of the gallery cultivated energy. The walls were lit by red-and blue-hued lights and multiple disco balls. A lively dance floor DJed by DJ Baby Alcatraz occupied much of the ground level. Downstairs, guests played classic American board games, created arts and crafts, and lined up for trivia wheel raffles.
The National Gallery of Art wrapped up their fall Gallery Night programming on Thursday, Nov. 10. Approximately six nights each year the National Gallery opens their doors after hours for themed celebrations. These events allow people of all ages to explore the museum in a lively setting, and connect with artwork through programming aimed at digging deeper into artistic themes. This final event was Americana themed and celebrated the American cultural experience through art and live performances. This was the last of three Gallery Nights that took place this fall, and the prior ones were themed “Homecoming” and “Trick or Treat.”
The popular Gallery Nights came back last spring after being canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. From April 2022 to June 2022, they were temporarily held in the gallery’s West building while the East building was under construction. Upon completion of the construction, the Nights were able to return to their original location. Three events are held in both the spring and in the fall, so those who missed out this season have plenty more chances to get tickets in the future.
Doors to the East building of the gallery opened at 6:00 p.m., and guests were able to spend up to three hours perusing the exhibits and interacting with artists and workshop hosts. Performances included an hour of live music by The US Navy’s country and bluegrass band, Country Current, and an ongoing creation of a wall mural from the all-female artists’ group CHALK R!OT. Additionally, ten minute pop-up talks by museum staff and pop-up poetry workshops helped visitors gain a deeper and more personal understanding of some of the pieces on display.
In addition to the live art display, patrons were able to walk up the levels of the East building that house the National Gallery’s collection of contemporary and modern art. The towers of the building contain works from the turn of the 20th century organized by artistic movements, including fauvism, abstract impressionism, pop art, minimalism and dada. The upper level of the building also has a wide range of works by Black artists on display.
On the mezzanine level of the gallery, museumgoers watched CHALK R!OT’s live creation of a custom mural celebrating ’80s hip-hop culture and graffiti art. Onlookers were able to watch as they painted and ask questions directly to the artists. Chelsea Ritter-Soronen, CHALK R!OT’s Sole Proprietor and Principal Artist, explained a bit about the group’s purpose. “We specialize in various forms of pavement art on the ground, mainly in murals on the ground,” she said. “We created this piece custom for this event. They gave us the theme ’80s hip-hop, so we just ran with it. It was really fun because we had almost 100% creative liberty with this design. We don’t have a genre or subject matter that we focus on exclusively, but especially because we’re based in D.C. we’re often invited to create on the behalf of social justice campaigns.”
The mural included many elements of hip-hop and street style. It had the effect of popping off of the wall due to the 3D style in which it was painted. A large golden boombox occupied the lower left corner, and a woman in a red track suit was depicted break dancing to the right. A crowd of people were watching the artists add fine details to the work and could also approach the artists to ask them questions. Seeing the art being created in person added a dimension of life and excitement to it.
Other displays and demonstrations highlighted different areas of the American experience. Dr. Elizabeth Rule, an Assistant Professor of Critical Race, Gender, and Culture Studies at American University and an enrolled citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, gave a speech outlining her digital mapping project about important sites to Native peoples across D.C.
While walking through these floors, guests had the opportunity to interact with the art by participating in pop-up poetry workshops. Through these activities, visitors were able to create their own piece of art that they could take home from the museum. One of the pop-up poetry session leaders was Sami Miranda, a poet, teacher, and the chair of American Poetry Museum, a nonprofit in Northeast D.C. When asked what he hoped people would take away from these sessions, Miranda said, “workshops are like pulling from people things that they’re not ready to give you. Poetry is for everyone, and art can be digested in so many different ways, we just need to take it in.”
Miranda called for people walking through the gallery to participate in his exercise. He distributed paper and pencils and first asked guests to find a painting they were drawn to. Then, Miranda had them write out what the art was saying to them and the “advice” the art was trying to convey. Finally, guests wrote about whether they would accept this advice. Through this process, participants in Miranda’s workshop walked away with three-part poems they created. Finally, Miranda challenged guests to exchange their poems with strangers, and it became clear that art can be deeply personal while still prompting a universal response. These workshops allow the wide range of guests to resonate with the art, contributing to the appeal of the Gallery Nights.
Gallery Nights are fan favorites and get a consistently high turn-out—tickets often sell out in just a few hours. One recurring fan, Ara, wore a red, white, and blue flower crown, an American flag shirt, and blue jeans as she partied away on the dance floor. Ara said, “I always come to these events, the NGA nights, and what I love about them is that you can be yourself, have fun, and that they always have themes which let you exhibit how you want to express yourself.”
Students looking for ways to engage in D.C.’s rich culture of art should be on the lookout for the spring season’s events. Georgetown student Sara Pizzini (COL ’25), who attended the Americana event, said, “The Gallery Night was honestly one of the most fun nights I have had this semester. It was a great reminder of the perks of going to college in D.C. There’s not many other places where you can go to an art museum after hours that’s within a 20-minute metro ride from your campus.”
The Americana night at the National Gallery was an incredible reminder of the breadth of American culture. People of all ages and backgrounds came together to celebrate the diversity and beauty of America. The collective experience of dancing, viewing art and participating in workshops with an enthusiastic array of people brought life to the night and the otherwise-unoccupied East building.
Guests came and left with one thing in common: Their shared pleasure—despite their distinct experiences—in the breadth of American culture on display in this National Gallery Night.