News & Politics

The National Museum of Women in the Arts Will Reopen This Fall After a Blockbuster Renovation—Here’s What to Expect

Look for more gallery space, a new art studio and library, and a bold inaugural exhibition.

National Museum of Women in the Arts in 2019. Photograph by Cameron Robinson.

After closing its doors for a massive $67.5 million renovation in August 2021, the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) will reopen to the public this fall on October 21. The project is the 87,500 square-foot building’s first full renovation since 1987. 

The Classical Revival-style building dates back to 1908, and has quite a history. It was previously a Masonic temple open only to men—if you look closely, you can still see Masonic symbolism on the sides of the building—and then became a movie theater of somewhat ill-repute. When NMWA opened nearly 80 years later, it became the world’s first major museum “solely dedicated to championing women artists.”

Woman-owned architectural firm Sandra Vicchio & Associates has overseen the preservation and renovation.“Working in a building that’s on the National Register for Historic Places is definitely a challenge,” said Vicchio during a hard-hat tour of the building yesterday. “One of our most important goals was to preserve the exterior fabric of the building while creating an interior that allows a forward-looking institution to meet its mission.” 

The museum’s Great Hall. Rendering by Sandra Vicchio & Associates, LLC, with Marshall Craft Associates, Inc.

A large part of being a “forward-looking institution” meant making the six-floor building more climate-friendly, more tech-savvy, and easier to navigate. One new addition: two new passenger elevators, which will allow the museum to be fully accessible to people who use wheelchairs or have mobility issues.  

Another major goal of the renovation? More room for women-created art, of course. The museum will add 20 percent more gallery space for its collection of roughly 6,000 historic and contemporary pieces, which spans six continents and six centuries. 

Some of those works, not previously on display, will form the revamped NMWA’s inaugural October exhibit, called “The Sky’s the Limit.” The show will feature towering sculptures and art from 12 contemporary artists, including sculptors Petah Coyne and Cornelia Parker, and Joana Vasconcelos, who once created a chandelier out of 25,000 tampons.

Joana Vasconcelos, Rubra, 2016; Murano glass, wool yarn, ornaments, LED lighting, polyester, and iron, 69 1/4 x 43 in. diameter; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Christine Suppes; Photo by Francesco Allegretto.

“It’s the perfect embodiment of our ambitions,” said the museum’s executive director Susan Fisher Sterling during the tour. “It will showcase immersive installations and large-scale sculpture that could never have been shown here before. These are going to be bold and very powerful large works.” 

Similar to the 7,000-square-foot “Solange #27” art installation currently draping the building’s scaffolding, the exhibit will challenge notions that women artists create “small or dainty” art, Sterling said. 

Another exciting feature of the renovation is what’s found on the fourth floor, which was previously home to the museum’s offices. It’s now a community-oriented learning space, dedicated to “seeing, learning, and making” art. There’s a studio for hosting events and workshops, and a library for research and reading. On the fifth floor, the 200-seat performance hall will get new seating and sound equipment.

A new education and public programs studio. Rendering by Sandra Vicchio & Associates, LLC, with Marshall Craft Associates, Inc.

An expanded gift shop on the ground floor will showcase more merchandise from women-owned businesses, and a cafe on the mezzanine floor will have extended hours.

National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave., NW.

Exhibition gallery. Rendering by Sandra Vicchio & Associates, LLC, with Marshall Craft Associates, Inc.









Jessica Ruf
Assistant Editor
Katie Kenny
Editorial Fellow