Folger Reopening on November 17, 2023, After a Transformative Three-Year Building Renovation
Press release: April 26, 2023 — Washington, DC
Visitors will experience more of the Folger and the world’s largest Shakespeare collection in engaging, interactive experiences designed for all ages
The Folger Shakespeare Library announced today that it is reopening its historic home on Capitol Hill to the public on Friday, November 17, 2023, after a major three-year building renovation that will allow the Folger to share more of its collection and resources than ever before. The transformed Folger will welcome visitors to new and reimagined spaces including new exhibition halls, a learning lab, lush gardens, and expanded amenities such as a new café and gift shop.
“After much planning and dedicated work, the Folger is opening to a wider world and an even more expansive vision of what Shakespeare, the humanities, and the arts can contribute,” says Folger Director Michael Witmore. “This is a golden opportunity for us to reintroduce ourselves and welcome local, national, and international communities to the new Folger.”
After a decade of planning, the building renovation represents an ongoing commitment to make the Folger even more widely inclusive and accessible to all people. The new galleries and visitor experiences have been planned in consultation with a diverse cross-section of DC community members and organizations and are designed to create a sense of belonging and inspiration for all who come to the Folger. “The renovation is more than buildings and spaces, it’s about creating true accessibility to the wonderful cultural resources and experiences that make the Folger a singular place to visit amongst the impressive group of DC cultural institutions,” says Karen Ann Daniels, Director of Programming and Artistic Director of Folger Theatre. “There are infinitely more possibilities for engaging our neighbors in ways that matter to them, supporting the expansive academic and artistic possibilities, as well as opportunities for local students, artists, families, tourists, and so much more.”
The new exhibition spaces will include Folger’s first permanent Shakespeare exhibition. All 82 copies of the Folger’s Shakespeare First Folios—over a third of the copies remaining in the world—will be publicly displayed together for the first time in a 20-foot-long visible vault. The First Folios will be surrounded by interactive experiences inviting visitors of all ages to explore Shakespeare, his works and world, and their connection to our own time. “Henry and Emily Folger’s collection of First Folios have long been a source of fascination,” says Greg Prickman, Eric Weinmann Librarian and Director of Collections. “For the first time, we are able to share all of the Folger’s Folios with all of our visitors, no matter if they are longtime lovers of Shakespeare, casual fans, or just plain curious.”
New and renovated spaces expand opportunities to build connections between artists, programs, and the building and gardens. Highlights include Folger commissions of three contemporary artists: US Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winner Rita Dove has written a new poem that will welcome visitors into the west gardens; renowned artist Fred Wilson, known for reframing cultural symbols that encourage viewers to reconsider social, racial, and historical narratives, is creating a piece to be displayed in conversation with the Folger’s 1579 “Sieve” portrait of Queen Elizabeth I; and innovative artist Anke Neumann, whose installations are created from artisan-made paper that includes optic fibers, is creating a paper light sculpture to hang in the stairwell connecting the new east entrance lobby and the historic theater lobby.
With reopening, programming will be thematically interwoven bringing exhibitions, learning, performances, and humanities in deep alignment. The 2023/24 “What’s Your Story?” themed-season will offer myriad opportunities for visitors of all ages and stages of life to engage with humanities programs, family programs, exhibition and garden tours, hands-on workshops, classes, printing press demos, programs for teachers and students, curated conversations, gallery talks, experiences, community gatherings, and more. Performances will return with the award-winning Folger Theatre and Folger Consort. Literary series, including the O.B. Hardison Poetry Series and the Folger Book Club, will offer virtual and in-person programs. Season announcements will follow.
The $80.5 million renovation project, designed by the Philadelphia-based architectural firm of KieranTimberlake, is constructing a new, 12,000-square-foot public wing under the Folger’s original Paul Philippe Cret 1932 building, a historic landmark located a block from the US Capitol. The new Adams Pavilion, made possible by a generous gift from Richard L. Adams and Family, includes two large exhibition halls, a learning lab, expansive lobbies, a new gift shop, and enhanced accessibility throughout the building. The renovation is also adding collaborative research spaces, a café, social gathering spots inside and outside the building, and new gardens designed by landscape architect OLIN. The project is funded by a combination of philanthropic support and institutional resources.
The Folger’s grand reopening celebration will take place the weekend of November 17, 2023. More details will be shared in the coming months.
The Folger’s building renovation project includes many new features designed to engage and delight groups, families, and visitors young and old—from those who are knowledgeable about Shakespeare to those who may be new to the playwright or the literature and history of his world. Among the building renovation highlights:
- Welcoming New Gardens
Visitors enter the Adams Pavilion through fully accessible gardens filled with both native plants and plants mentioned by Shakespeare. Benches and paths invite visitors to relax, as do open green spaces and shade trees, including a heritage magnolia tree planted at the time of the Folger’s 1932 opening. Inscriptions include a Folger-commissioned poem by US Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winner Rita Dove welcoming visitors to the Folger. A Juliet balcony overlooks the east entrance, while an aluminum replica of Brenda Putnam’s Puck statue returns to greet visitors in a new fountain in the west entry garden.
- Two New Exhibition Halls
Visitors will experience unprecedented access to the Folger collection in two modern, state of the art exhibition halls totaling 6,000 square feet, the Shakespeare Exhibition Hall and the Stuart and Mimi Rose Rare Book and Manuscript Exhibition Hall.In addition to the display of all 82 of the Folger’s Shakespeare First Folios, a printing press—modeled on ones that printed the 1623 collection of Shakespeare’s plays—is close by in the Shakespeare Exhibition Hall. Visitors can try their hand at setting type as it was done in a 1623 print shop, work with friends to create a Shakespearean conversation, or see how a 17th century manuscript is transcribed into everyday language. Many rarely seen items from the Folger collection will be on exhibit, including Henry VIII’s schoolbook; the Pavier Quartos; and artifacts from actor Earle Hyman, who played Hamlet in a groundbreaking production at DC’s Howard University in 1951. Families with younger Shakespeare sleuths can follow clues along their own path through the exhibits. The Stuart and Mimi Rose Rare Book and Manuscript Exhibition Hall is a space where the Folger collection can be displayed in many configurations, including showstopping encounters with collection items and opportunities to explore the vast range of subjects covered by books in the Folger vaults. A dedicated gallery will host a range of changing exhibitions—beginning with a stunning display of books and other objects from the extraordinary collection of Stuart Rose. Highlights from the Rose collection will present literary and historical pieces that have been seldom displayed in public, creating a special opportunity to see rare books and manuscripts that must be seen and experienced. Exhibition design is by Studio Joseph with exhibition media interactives created by Bluecadet and exhibition experience and narrative by Storythings. Design for the Stuart Rose collection exhibition is by Studio A.
- Hands-on Learning Lab
The Folger’s new center for all kinds of learning by all kinds of learners: investigate some of our collection items up close, have fun with Shakespeare, take part in summer camp sessions, participate in special sessions for teachers and students, participate in community play readings, develop poetry, playwriting, and songwriting, enjoy lively seminars, and attend demonstrations and workshops for adults led by world-class materials researchers and artists. New learning opportunities abound, many of them extensions of our exhibitions, research, conservation, programming, performance, and education work.
- Collaborative Research Spaces
New study rooms are being created for researchers to consult about rare materials with Folger curators and conservators, along with multipurpose, flexible spaces for collaboration and seminars by the Folger Institute and others. The Reading Room features new ergonomic furniture designed by Luke Hughes, whose firm has designed spaces for the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court, Yale School of Management, and Sheffield Cathedral.
- Expanded Visitor Amenities
Designed to enhance the experience of all who come to the Folger, amenities include a new café in the Great Hall with comfortable seating areas for gathering with friends and family. An expanded gift shop offers mementos and merchandise inspired by the Folger and our collections. Updated restrooms are located on all floors. Elevator service to all public spaces is part of enhanced building accessibility. Infrastructure improvements include state of the art air conditioning systems, upgraded life safety and security, and new audiovisual enhancements to ensure a safe and comfortable experience for all.
- Reconceived Researcher Services
The Folger Reading Room will offer rare materials to inform advanced research, inspire art and creation, and make the collection more accessible with a new service model. Beginning November 17, researchers can work in the Reading Room with rare materials from the Folger collection and all materials in early 2024.
Funding for the project comes from The Wonder of Will: The Campaign for the Folger Shakespeare Library. More than $51.5 million has been raised to support the building renovation and the Folger’s many programs. Learn more and view The Wonder of Will campaign’s leaders and donors.
For more information about the Folger renovation, visit folger.edu/renovation. More details about media preview days coming soon.
About Folger Shakespeare Library
Folger Shakespeare Library is the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the ultimate resource for exploring Shakespeare and his world. The Folger welcomes millions of visitors online and in person. It provides unparalleled access to a huge array of resources, from original sources to modern interpretations. With the Folger, you can experience the power of performance, the wonder of exhibitions, and the excitement of path-breaking research. The Folger offers the opportunity to see and even work with early modern sources, driving discovery and transforming education for students of all ages.
Following a multiyear building renovation, the Folger’s historic Capitol Hill home is reopening on November 17, 2023.
During the building closure, join the Folger online and on the road, including this month’s Searching for Shakespeare citywide festival in partnership with DC Public Library. Learn more at folger.edu.