In a county where artistic expression is celebrated and local talented nurtured, Arlington, Virginia, attracts adventurous artists and travelers from around the world with its events, theaters, museums and galleries. While Arlington is naturally associated with monuments and historical sites due to its proximity to Washington, D.C., the region’s arts and culture institutions are equally impressive. Discover how Black history helped shape the future of Arlington, tour a historical schoolhouse serving as a museum or spend the day searching for public art displays on a walking tour.
Whether you’re singing along to a Broadway-style production or marveling at works of art from world-renowned and local artists, Arlington offers the perfect blend of entertainment, arts and culture to residents and visitors alike.
At Arlington’s Museums, History Comes to Life
History lovers should put The Arlington Historical Museum at the top of their lists of places to visit. Located near Pentagon City, the stately two-story brick building is the oldest school building in Arlington, dating back to 1891. Home to multiple permanent and rotating exhibits, the museum features more than 350,000 artifacts. Discover Arlington’s Indigenous American roots, experience the events of September 11 and learn about the county’s industrialization boom and how World War II shaped the region. Don’t skip ringing the school bell or touring the restored schoolroom. Many of the museum’s exhibits are now virtual experiences. Some of these new virtual exhibits include images and artifacts detailing 1920s Arlington, the history of voting in the region, and handwritten student letters to the schoolhouse teacher.
Recently reopened in an updated venue, The Black Heritage Museum of Arlington is a celebration of the African American journey to freedom. Through black-and-white photographs, clothing and artifacts, visitors can explore galleries and exhibits highlighting Arlington’s Black community and its incredible strength and resilience. Learn about the lunch counter sit-ins, the history of Queen City and uncover the story of Freedman’s Village – a site for previously enslaved people that started as a refugee camp before flourishing into a community featuring schools, hospitals and churches.
If you’re visiting Arlington on the weekend, stop by The Ball-Sellers House. This historic 1750s farmhouse is open seasonally on Saturdays from April to October and offers free and private tours of the establishment in the afternoons from 1-4 PM. Owned and operated by the Historical Society, guests will learn about the three generations of the Carlin family, headed by William Carline –a tailor for George and Martha Washington. One of the oldest structures in Arlington County, the house has been restored to its original colonial style, allowing visitors to see original fixtures such as the 18th-century oak clapboard roof. Depending on when you visit, you might even stumble upon volunteers performing historical reenactments.
Art Appreciation in Arlington
If you’re looking to appreciate contemporary, modern and classical art – Arlington’s museums, galleries and public art are sure to impress. Visitors should start with a self-guided walking tour of Arlington’s award-winning public art collection, where permanent and temporary public art projects and exhibitions are displayed throughout the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. It’s a fun way to spend the afternoon exploring the county. Some highlights include Gravity & Grace in Rosslyn, a large-scale LED art display, Anna & David, a stainless-steel sculpture on Wilson Boulevard and Luminous Bodies, towering illuminated sculptures that mark the four corners of the Esplanade Bridge. A recent addition to Arlington’s public art collection is FREED. This new sculpture, located in the John Robinson, Jr. Town Square, is designed from aluminum panels and pays homage to the notion of freedom.
Contemporary art comes to life at the Museum of Contemporary Art Arlington, home to works and exhibitions from new and established artists throughout the mid-Atlantic states. Past exhibitions include “A Journey Not Soon Forgotten,” which explored the global impacts of migration by nine artists who immigrated to the United States, and “New Visions, Vibrant Memories,” where five artists showcased Arlington’s past and present through photography and painting. Nine exhibits rotate throughout the year. The venue also provides studios for a dozen local artists, a testament to the center’s dedication to the art world.
Sponsored by the Arlington Artists Alliance, The Gallery Underground in Crystal City features works of art from more than 200 members annually. With a commitment to supporting established and up-and-coming artists in all visual arts mediums, the gallery showcases works not only at its main space but other locations throughout Arlington. In addition, visitors can view unique exhibitions featuring traditional paintings and art that push boundaries with glass, stenciling and sometimes wood.
Arlington’s dedication to creative expression continues at The Fred Schnider Gallery of Art. Located in Ballston Quarter’s Liberty Center, this gallery hosts a variety of artists through short-term exhibits, showcasing art through different mediums such as wood carving, photography, oil painting and restoration. The gallery’s goal is to give back to the community by providing a space for art lovers and artists to come together.
There’s No Business, Like Show Business in Arlington
When it comes to Arlington’s theater scene, a standing ovation is in order. Not only is the performing arts community thriving, but the works showcased on Arlington’s stages continue to redefine world-class entertainment.
Recognized for its artistic excellence by the Tony Awards in 2009, The Signature Theatre is a must-visit stop for theater lovers. From regional premieres to Broadway-style musicals such as “Sweeney Todd” and “Into the Woods,” this venue will have you dancing in the aisles by intermission. There’s even an in-house café so you can grab a bite after the show.
For those that crave entertainment with an edge, The Synetic Theater continues to advance and enrich Arlington’s theater scene through innovative productions that think outside the box. Providing an authentic Avant-Garde experience, this theater’s shows infuse unique elements of drama, dance, movement, mime, and music for a provocative evening of entertainment.
Classical meets contemporary at The Avant Bard Theatre. With a passion for mentoring talent in the Arlington area, this theatre trades in the dazzling Broadway flair for a more intimate setting at the Gunston Arts Center’s Theatre Two. Past performances include “Suddenly Last Summer” by Tennessee Williams and the contemporary powerhouse “Ada and the Engine.”
Rounding out Arlington’s entertainment venues is The Lubber Run Amphitheater. Surrounded by the lush Arlington Forest, the amphitheater is a fantastic open-air space with excellent acoustics – perfect for music enthusiasts. If you’re visiting in the summer, they offer a free concert series featuring blues, soul, cabaret and orchestra performances.