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A Treasure of Arts and Culture in Montgomery County, MD

With more than 350 cultural organizations, 60 galleries, 22 theaters and 50 historic venues, Montgomery County’s arts and entertainment community is alive and well.

By Gary Wollenhaupt on May 2, 2014

Arts Montgomery County
Rockville / Frank Ordoñez

A vibrant community must offer quality-of-life amenities that span a range of interests, and Montgomery County does not disappoint.

With more than 350 cultural organizations, 60 galleries, 22 theaters and 50 historic venues, the arts in Montgomery County are alive and well. An integrated public library system has 21 branches located throughout the county.

Furthermore, 33,000 acres of park land in 345 parks, 34 community recreation centers with excellent facilities and loads of programs for residents of all ages, and easy access to state and national parks, provide recreational opportunities galore and something to appeal to almost every interest.

Arts, Culture and Entertainment Venues

A program of the American Film Institute, AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center is a stunningly restored circa 1938 theater that features state-of-the-art film and digital technology. The three-screen venue offers a dynamic mix of new and classic films, along with special events and on-stage appearances.

“We have more than 200,000 annual visitors and offer a program of national and international stature that typically can only be found in a few major cities around the world,” says Director Ray Barry.

Citing online reviews that call AFI Silver “a true cinematic gem,” and “the best movie theater you will ever go to,” Barry says, “We get pretty amazing feedback. We’re about the only 5-star place I can find anywhere.”

The Mansion at Strathmore and the Music Center at Strathmore provide art exhibits, live performances and arts education. In 2005, the 30-year-old organization added a 2,000-seat concert venue and an arts education center to its facilities. “To step into that concert hall is to step into a place of magic,” says Strathmore CEO Eliot Pfanstiehl. “You can’t believe there’s one of these out in the suburbs. It is one of the top 10 acoustic halls in the world.”

Home to resident organizations that include the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the National Philharmonic, the Music Center hosts more than 160 world-class performances spanning multiple genres each year. The arts education center has its own resident programs, as well as free events and significant outreach into the local schools and community.

“No child will ever drive by this building and not know what’s in here or that they’re welcome here,” Pfanstiehl says.

A more intimate dinner and concert venue can be found at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club, housed in the old Bethesda Theater, an Art Deco cinema palace built in the 1930s that underwent an $8 million renovation prior to its recent reopening.

More than 400,000 people visit Glen Echo Park each year to participate in arts classes, festivals, music performances and nature programs. But perhaps most popular are the social dances – open to all ages – held every Thursday through Saturday in styles from ballroom to swing.

Especially for Kids

Kids are the stars at Imagination Stage – the largest theater and arts center for children on the East Coast. Founded in 1979, Imagination Stage is dedicated to innovation, diversity and inclusion, and is recognized for making its professional theater and arts education programs accessible to all children. Participants learn theater techniques and skills, as well as life lessons, all while having fun and making new friends.

“Children who engage in activities at Imagination Stage consistently develop a creative habit,” says Bonnie Fogel, founder and executive director. “This serves them all their lives!”

Outdoor Adventure and Recreation

The region is also within easy reach of cultural and sports attractions in Washington, D.C., as well as Patuxent River and Seneca Creek state parks and Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal National Historic Park, where hiking, fishing, horseback riding, bicycling and canoeing are available.

A signature Montgomery County attraction that appeals to kids and grownups alike is The Adventure Park at Sandy Springs Friends School, an aerial forest crisscrossed by ziplines and rope bridges in varying levels of difficulty. The busy park is open weekends March through November and every day during the summer.

“We have corporate outings, school outings, church outings, general admission – we’re the monster place for birthday parties,” says Paul Warnquist, director of sales. “We get crazy-good feedback. It’s viral positive.”


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