Folger Imagines Great Hall as Community Gathering Place After Two Year Closure
by Larry Janezich
Imagine the Folger’s Great Hall as a gathering space, filled with light, with plentiful seating, rugs, wi-fi, and a full time concession stand. Here, planners say, researchers, the community, students, tourists – maybe Congressional staffers seeking relief from transactional relationships – will commingle. Think of the atmosphere in the atrium in the National Portrait Gallery/American Art Museum.
That’s the one of the goals of the plan for the upcoming two year renovation of the Folger Library. The driving force behind the project is to create new, permanent, below- grade exhibition space for the Library’s vast collection of literary treasures. Tuesday night, Senior Advisor to the Director Melody Fetske presented the Library’s Historic Preservation and Zoning Adjustment Applications for the renovation to ANC6B’s Planning and Zoning Committee. The proposal won the unanimous support of the Committee which recommended that the full ANC support the plan at its June meeting next Tuesday.
Capitol Hill Corner followed up in a conversation with Garland Scott, head of External Relations for the Folger. She said that the vision was to return the Great Hall to the purpose which benefactors Clay and Emily Folger* intended.
Most visitors have seen the Great Hall in dim artificial light meant to protect the rare materials on display. With the relocation of the Folger’s collection, the Great Hall can be used for other purposes. The current exhibition in half the hall contains no such materials, permitting shutters to be opened, flooding the interior with the northern light that artists prefer. The light brings to life details easily overlooked in a darker room: the rich paneling, the ceiling, the comedy and tragedy floor tiles, the coats of arms of Elizabeth the First and that of America and beneath each their attendant quotations by David Garrick and William Winter.
The Library already rents out some of its space as event space some 20 times a year. According to Scott, the Great Hall could also be used as event space, providing a new source of revenue.
The Folger building will be open to daytime visitors through Jan 5, 2020. Folger Theatre performances will continue through March 1, 2020. Folger Consort will be in residence at St. Mark’s beginning in fall 2019. The building will reopen in 2022.
The Folger Library advises that Capitol Hill neighbors wanting to learn more about the building project, view architectural renderings and where to find Folger performances and readings, etc., during construction, can get details at www.folger.edu/renovation
*According to Wikipedia, Standard Oil of New York executive Henry Clay Folger, an avid collector of Shakespeareana and his wife Emily decided on the current location for a library to house their collection near the end of WWI. Townhouses occupied the land, and Folger spent years buying them up. The Library of Congress had its eye on the land for expansion, but Congress designated the land for the Folger in 1928.