Next spring, the International Spy Museum will open in Washington
- a sure lure for anyone interested in the secret (soon to be not-
so-secret) history of espionage around the world. It will sit a
block away from the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National
Portrait Gallery, now closed for an extensive three-year renovation.
A short walk away is the Washington Convention Center (soon to be
replaced by a more modern facility next door), which in 2003 will be
knocked down and the site possibly used for a national music museum.
A museum boom is under way in our nation's capital. At least
seven major institutions will be opening in the next few years,
adding to the 91 loosely defined museums already in the district
(that figure includes the Squished Penny Museum, for example, whose
holdings are worth about $30).
Many projects are in the just-dreaming stage, while others are
nearing completion. And some old, established museums are being
updated with higher-tech exhibitions and that all-important 21st-
century-museum requirement: "interactivity."
The Phillips Collection is expanding to create more gallery
space, and the Corcoran Museum of Art has commissioned architect
Frank Gehry to design its expensive new wing. The National Archives
atrium, where the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of
Rights are displayed, is now closed for remodeling.
Downtown Washington is attracting the bulk of new developments,
since the National Mall is now saturated with memorials, monuments,
The last available spot on the grassy stretch between the Lincoln
Memorial and the Capitol (the hub of tourism in Washington) has been
taken by the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian,
which will tell the native-American story in a 260,000-square-foot
structure scheduled to open in 2004.
Future projects are moving northward, and the District of
Columbia is thrilled that visitors will be lured into a less
tourist-trodden part of the city.
Dennis Barrie, head of the development company that's shaping the
Spy Museum, says Washington is giving his $30 million project $22
million in bond financing, in part because "the city is looking for
projects that draw people off the National Mall."
It helps that museums today have learned how to market their
concepts to the public, promoting stimulation and relevance without
being too obviously educational. Message: This is fun time, not
"What you're seeing is museums going in a direction where they're
trying to be more entertaining," says Mr. Barrie, who spent a decade
with the Smithsonian, and has been consulted on major museum
developments across the country. "They're much less scholarly."
They know they're competing for tourist's limited leisure time
and dollars, so it helps to be engaging - and to be center stage in
a city such as Washington, which sees 20 million visitors a year.
There's been serious talk of building a high-tech National Health
Museum and a National Women's History Museum downtown, and Rep. John
Lewis (D) of Georgia recently introduced the latest in a series of
bills calling for the establishment of a National Museum of African-
American History and Culture, under the auspices of the