When Words Fall Short

Thursday, January 15th

By Aaisha, Harvard ’16

Like many other people, I too used to strongly associate Washington, DC, with government offices, bureaucrats, and diplomacy. I had heard about the wonderful museums sprawled across the city, but had considered them to be a small part of a city synonymous with power politics. How wrong was I!

Having been interested in these topics separately, I applied for the Wintersession course at Dumbarton Oaks, “Culture and Power: Art, Philanthropy, and Diplomacy in America,” to learn more about the intersection of these topics. Dumbarton Oaks, known as a “home of the Humanities,” seemed the perfect institute to explore these new ideas.

In the past four days, I have not only come to realize that cultural diplomacy through art and philanthropy was a popular idea in the Gilded Age, I have also learned that DO is not just an ordinary research institution. Famous for its landscaped gardens, Dumbarton Oaks also comes to life because of its wonderful staff and their passion for their scholarship. It’s contagious, and one cannot help but wonder if studying art and culture is one’s true calling.

Having spent most of our time at DO or museums around Washington, DC, for the past 3 days, we started the day with a two-hour tour of the neighboring Georgetown area. Our course leaders had carefully designed the walk to incorporate several quick stops at important cultural centers, which included Tudor Palace, the Phillips Collection, DuPont Circle, Dumbarton House, and Evermay, among others. After returning to DO, the extremely knowledgeable Dr. James Carder, house collection manager at DO, led a tour of the DO Archives and talked about the famous Dumbarton Oaks Conversations (yes, the ones that led to the formation of the United Nations!). At lunch, we were joined by Mr. Ryan Hobert of the UN Foundation, who enlightened us about the relevance of energy and sustainability to philanthropy and diplomacy.

IMG_1429What seemed like an incredibly enriching day continued to get better. After lunch, our group of sixteen made its way to the National Gallery of Art, where Mr. Dodge Thompson, chief of exhibitions of the National Gallery, led us on a mind-blowing tour of the gallery. A walk through the mesmerizing galleries of the museum and a behind-the-scenes peek of the upcoming exhibition that was being set up were topped by a visit to the design workshop of the National Gallery. If words could describe the workshop, I’d write a book. But the whole experience was one to be cherished in person and preserved in memory.

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