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Malia, Sasha, and Bo have a new sister. By Sophie Gilbert
It's a dog's life. Image via the @FLOTUS Twitter account.

Remember last week when the White House indulged Bo by tweeting an adorable picture of him along with a Mean Girls reference? Well, they may have been cosseting the First Dog in preparation for a huge upheaval in his otherwise perfect life: a new puppy.

Michelle Obama was the first to break the news that the First Family has expanded yet again, tweeting, "So excited to introduce the newest member of the Obama family—our puppy, Sunny!" The tweet included a picture of Sunny sitting with her big brother, Bo, on the White House lawn, as well as a link to a press release announcing the arrival of the adorable puppy, who's also a Portuguese water dog. "Sunny is the perfect little sister for Bo—full of energy and very affectionate—and the First Family picked her name because it fit her cheerful personality," says the release. There's also a video of Sunny scampering around. Unlike Bo, she appears to have no white markings, although most will agree she's equally as photogenic.

Posted at 07:56 PM/ET, 08/19/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Kerry Washington also received a lead actress nomination for her role in ABC’s “Scandal.” By Sophie Gilbert
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright were both nominated for Emmys for their roles in Netflix’s House of Cards. Photograph by Melinda Sue Gordon for Netflix.

All eyes were on Netflix at this morning’s Emmy nominations, and while it was more than likely the provider’s hit political drama series House of Cards would score a nomination or two (that’s what tends to happen when you hire Kevin Spacey), the online-only show scooped a total of nine nods, including the trifecta: Best Drama, Best Actor, and Best Actress (for Robin Wright as Claire Underwood).

The nominations were announced by Breaking Bad actor Aaron Paul and How I Met Your Mother’s Neil Patrick Harris, who stepped in for House of CardsKate Mara when her overnight flight was canceled due to mechanical problems. This saved on awkwardness when Mara wasn’t nominated in the Supporting Actress category for House of Cards. (Paul was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, and Harris scooped a nod for presenting the Tony Awards).

In addition to House of Cards, several other Washington shows triumphed: Homeland, which also received Outstanding Drama/Actor/Actress nominations for Damian Lewis and Claire Danes, and Veep, which was nominated for Outstanding Comedy, Actress (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), Supporting Actor (Tony Hale), and Supporting Actress (Anna Chlumsky). Kerry Washington also received a Lead Actress in a Drama Series award for her role as fixer Olivia Pope in ABC’s Scandal.

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Posted at 10:50 AM/ET, 07/18/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
President Obama presented the National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal to 20 leading figures Wednesday. By Sophie Gilbert
President Obama and George Lucas. Photograph by Sophie Gilbert.

The people honored at the White House Wednesday for their contributions to the arts and humanities ranged from a Tony-winning playwright to a National Book Award winner to the creator of Star Wars, but despite their diverse backgrounds, they all have one thing in common, according to the President. “They’re teachers, whether they know it or not,” President Obama said, praising the 20 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal recipients for their commitment to illuminating the “untold stories of history.”

Those given oversize medals included film producer George Lucas, playwright Tony Kushner, soprano Renée Fleming, musician Allen Toussaint, artist Ellsworth Kelly, and writer Joan Didion, a tiny figure in a beige dress and blue cape next to the President and the Marine who helped her to the stage. Didion, the President said, “rightfully has earned distinction as one of the most celebrated writers of her generation.”

Also honored was the Washington Performing Arts Society, cited for “bringing world-class performances to our nation’s capital” in its role as a producing institution, and sportswriter Frank Deford. “I grew up reading Sports Illustrated, and I think it was very good for me,” the President said, also joking that before Star Wars irrevocably changed the nature of special effects in film, movies mostly featured spaceships made out of models hanging from pieces of string.

The President has been criticized for failing to appoint a new chairman to the National Endowment for the Arts, the agency that bestows the awards alongside the National Endowment for the Humanities, but he affirmed his belief that arts and humanities stimulate the human imagination, which he said is “still the most powerful tool we have as a people.” Quoting Robert F. Kennedy, he likened them to “ripples of hope like stones in a lake.”

See the full list of honorees and their citations.

Posted at 04:50 PM/ET, 07/10/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The scaffolding covering the monument will be lit tonight and remain illuminated until 2014. By Sophie Gilbert
The scaffolding-covered Washington Monument will be illuminated at sundown on Monday. Photograph by Flickr user Ron Cogswell.

No, it’s not the Eiffel Tower, and no, you probably can’t get a decent slice of pizza to eat while you gaze at it. Nevertheless, starting tonight, DC gets its very own light show to brag about when the scaffolding currently covering the Washington Monument while the structure’s earthquake damage is repaired is illuminated this evening at 8:30—hopefully making the monument appear more aesthetically pleasing and less like it’s swaddled in a thousand giant Band-Aids.

The illumination isn’t a new idea—it was orchestrated by architect Michael Graves in 1998 when the monument was last renovated (which you can read about in this piece). While it was originally slated for June, presumably timed to coincide with the Fourth of July fireworks, the inaugural lighting will finally take place tonight, with help from philanthropist David Rubenstein, who donated half the money to fund the monument’s repairs. The monument will be lit at dusk by 488 lamps each night until the renovations are complete, hopefully in spring 2014, by which time there should be enough pictures of it on Instagram to bore even the most ardent Washingtonian to tears.

Posted at 11:42 AM/ET, 07/08/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
A back injury means the player will be replaced by Martina Hingis in Williams' July 8 and 9 games. By Sophie Gilbert

Five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams was set to join the Washington Kastles this year for a fourth successive season, but the back injury that forced her to drop out of doubles matches in the French Open earlier this year means she'll be unable to play at Kastles Stadium this summer. She's replaced by Martina Hingis in two home games July 8 and 9, and one away match in Texas July 10.

"My lower back injury has not recovered to where it needs to be for me to play Mylan World TeamTennis this summer," said Williams in a statement. "I love playing team tennis so I am really disappointed that I will not be able to compete with my Washington Kastles teammates this month, or to play in front of the fans in Washington, DC and Irving, Texas."

Hingins, a former world number one with five Grand Slam titles to her name, will play for the Kastles July 15 through 24. This is her first year with the Washington Kastles after two seasons with the New York Sportimes. The Kastles will name an additional female player to the team for matches scheduled on July 10, 11, and 13.

Posted at 01:16 PM/ET, 07/05/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Soprano Renee Fleming, author Ernest Gaines, and the Washington Performing Arts Society were also honored. By Sophie Gilbert

George Lucas. Photograph by s_bukley /

The National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal recipients for 2012 have been announced, and among the recipients are playwright Tony Kushner, filmmaker George Lucas, writer Joan Didion, actor and playwright Anna Deavere Smith, former poet laureate Kay Ryan, and the Washington Performing Arts Society.

WPAS, which has been bringing artists and performers to Washington for over four decades, was cited by the White House for “bringing world-class performances to our Nation’s capital. From concert-hall premieres to in-school workshops, WPAS has drawn renowned artists to the Washington community and inspired generations of young performers to follow their passions.”

With previous honorees including Bob Dylan, Georgia O’Keefe, Stephen Sondheim, and Aretha Franklin, the National Medal of Arts is one of the most prestigious in the country, and has been awarded to twelve artists each year since 1984. The National Humanities Medal, which was originally established as the Charles Frankel Prize in the Humanities in 1988, recognizes achievement in deepening “our nation’s understanding of the humanities.”

A full list of this year’s recipients and their citations is below.

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Posted at 11:00 AM/ET, 07/05/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The Pulitzer-winning poet will stay on at the Library of Congress for a second year. By Sophie Gilbert

The appointment of Natasha Trethewey as the 19th US poet laureate last year was notable for a number of reasons, including her midcareer status, her personal history, and her Southern heritage, as well as the fact that Trethewey became the first person in that role to actually take up residence in Washington for the second half of her tenure.

Today, the Library of Congress announced that Trethewey will stay on as poet laureate for a second year, expanding the role she described as being a “cheerleader” for poetry by touring the country to meet people working with the medium across the US. Trethewey, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for her book Native Guard, will also participate in the “PBS NewsHour Poetry Series,” presenting reports with “NewsHour’s” Jeffrey Brown.

Find out more about Trethewey in our earlier feature.

Posted at 10:55 AM/ET, 06/10/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The new 9,300-square-foot arts space includes galleries, a theater, and a yoga studio. By Sophie Gilbert
The new Anacostia Arts Center. Photographs by Sophie Gilbert.

When it opens June 22, the Anacostia Arts Center will make a single square mile of historic Anacostia one of the most arts-centric districts in the city. The latest project from Arch Development—which also runs Honfleur Gallery, Gallery at Vivid Solutions, and business “incubators” Hive I and II—offers five new galleries, a black box theater, a rehearsal space and yoga studio, and a cafe and restaurant at the back, which will be run by the people behind Petworth’s Domku. “A lot of people asked us why we didn’t put the cafe up front,” says Arch founder and CEO Duane Gautier. “But part of our purpose is to bring people in, so they can see the art.”

Bringing people in is going to be key for Arch in 2013. This is a big year for Anacostia, with the opening of the Arts Center, the second Lumen8 arts festival (also run by Arch), and the opening of the Anacostia Playhouse, formerly known as the H Street Playhouse. Last year, the inaugural Lumen8 festival brought 3,500 people to the neighborhood, and Gautier estimates this year’s will be even bigger, with six weeks of music performances, film screenings, art installations, and more. The Anacostia Arts Center has also formed partnerships with U Street’s Twins Jazz, which will stage between 20 and 30 live jazz performances in the neighborhood over the next year, and with the American Poetry Museum, which will help present spoken-word performances, readings, and book signings in the venue.

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Posted at 10:10 AM/ET, 05/29/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The First Lady and the “Scandal” star stopped by Savoy Elementary School Friday. By Sophie Gilbert
Kerry Washington and Michelle Obama at Savoy Elementary School in Anacostia. Photograph by Jeff Elkins.

For a little more than a year now, Anacostia’s Savoy Elementary School has had an unusually high-profile adjunct professor of sorts: actress Kerry Washington. The Scandal and Django Unchained star adopted the school last year as part of the President’s Turnaround Arts Initiative, which sends artists such as Forest Whitaker, Yo-Yo Ma, and Chuck Close to low-performing schools to increase student engagement with the arts. Washington has visited the school for master classes and meetings, Skyped with students, and sent messages to kids to help motivate their progress. “She’s been a committed presence since day one,” says principal Patrick Pope, who was appointed to the school in 2011.

Friday morning, Washington visited Savoy Elementary once again, this time with First Lady Michelle Obama in tow. Mrs. Obama visited classrooms and learned to “freeze dance” with children before addressing the entire school at a performance in the main hall. When it comes to learning, the First Lady told the students, the most important thing is to not be afraid of failure. “It’s not about what you know, it’s about the effort you’re willing to put in,” she said. “You keep trying, and sometimes you’ll make mistakes, and sometimes you’ll fail at something, but the important thing is you get back up when you fail. The only way to learn is to get it wrong so you can learn the answers.”

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Posted at 01:10 PM/ET, 05/28/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The Wheaton native and National Geographic reality show star left DC to move 122 miles south of the Arctic Circle. By Emily Thompson
Andy Bassich and his dogs take a break while deciding how to proceed with the jumble ice. Photograph by Bradley Carper.

Curious what makes someone up and leave Washington for one of the bleakest habitats on earth? Last weekend, the National Geographic Channel premiered a new series called Life Below Zero, which follows six people who live “off the grid” in Alaska, just 122 miles below the Arctic Circle. Andy Bassich, 54, grew up in Wheaton, Maryland, and moved to Alaska in 1980. Bassich, his wife, Kate, and their 24 sled dogs now live along the Yukon River in Eagle, Alaska, 14 miles away from the nearest town. Each winter, when temperatures can plummet to 60 degrees below zero, the Yukon River freezes over and the Bassichs are completely isolated from civilization. We spoke with Bassich by phone to discuss living at the edge of the earth, what he misses most about Washington, and why Alaska feels like home.

What was it that made you want to move to Alaska?

I just like living out in the woods; I like living out in the bush of Alaska. I wanted a little more peace and quiet and serenity, a little bit more space.

What was your life like when you lived in Washington?

I graduated [from] John F. Kennedy High and became a cabinet-maker and a carpenter. I was working in Virginia. And at about age 22, I just had this really deep feeling that I needed to move to Alaska. In 1976 when I graduated from high school, I traveled around the country and felt like I wanted to go to Alaska then, but I had some family commitments at home that year—my sister was getting married. So I came back home and did the carpentry jobs for quite a few years. I had a really good job there, but there was just something inside, a gut feeling that told me I needed to go to Alaska. My grandmother just encouraged me to go and live my dream when I was young. I took that advice and moved up here. And I never regret it; I never look back. This is the place I’m supposed to be.

How did you meet your wife, Kate?

I worked on the Yukon River as a riverboat captain for 20 years, and I met her up in Dawson City. She was a tourist coming through, and we hit it off really well. We met in 2003, and we’ve been together ever since.

And how did you get all those dogs?

When I first came to Alaska and out to Eagle, I traded a truckload of wood for one sled-dog puppy and raised him that first winter. And then I acquired two more dogs. Then I kept about seven dogs for quite a few years—I would just trap in the wintertime with my seven dogs. Currently, we have about 24 dogs. They’re all up in Eagle right now, because we’re expecting to potentially flood and we wanted the dogs to be safe.

When you first moved to Alaska, did you experience culture shock at all?

No, absolutely not. I’ve always been a person that I just enjoy my alone time. Even when I’m alone, I never feel lonely. And I really enjoy the quiet that’s out in the wilderness out here. One thing I did miss when I left Washington was I was always very interested in the fine arts. When I was a kid, I used to ride my bike down Rock Creek Parkway and go to the Smithsonian and things like that when I was 12, 13 years old, on my own. I kind of missed that when I came up here. But as far as the hustle and bustle of suburban and urban lifestyles, no, I didn’t miss that at all. I’m much better suited to living out in this environment I think.

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Posted at 09:55 AM/ET, 05/23/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()