Washington, D.C./ Arts & Culture
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Published on June 17, 2024
Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. Unveils $80.5 Million Renovation, Inviting Public to Explore Literary TreasuresSource: Google Street View

The esteemed Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. is ready to swing open its doors once more this Friday, showcasing a lush 'reimagining' that was four years in the making, and will offer public access to its expansive Shakespeare collection valued at $80.5 million. After keeping its volumes largely under wraps for 92 years, the library is set to unveil thousands of feet of public space, according to a feature by Axios. Patrons of the literary arts can expect two new exhibition halls, a learning lab, spots for research, a substantially larger gift shop, and the inclusion of outdoor gardens, all housed within the historical building on Capitol Hill.

Previously deemed not particularly accessible despite its unique 1930s replica Elizabethan theater, the library now boasts two public entrances and desires to be fun and educational for all. Michael Witmore, the outgoing director for 13 years, shared with Axios, "I want this place to be fun," emphasizing an intent for inclusivity and engagement through the touchpoints of history. The renovation involved strategic engineering as the modern gallery wing was seamlessly integrated with the historic structure, a testament to the vision of making the literary arts accessible without compromising on the venue's integrity.

The real treat within the renovated library, the "First Folio" from 1623, will star in the gallery. Without this early, vast collection of Shakespeare's works, plays such as "Macbeth" and "The Tempest" might have been lost. Interactive elements are added to the experience, allowing visitors to view scanned pages of the bound books and try their hand at type-setting with a replica 17th-century printing press. The library's education director, Dr. Peggy O’Brian, looking to amend the intimidating air some patrons felt, pointed out to Axios that, "In the old days, people felt like they had to study up before they came. We're not having that anymore." The library aims to be a treasure trove open for exploration to all, regardless of their starting knowledge of Shakespeare's oeuvre.

For those looking to get a firsthand peek at the revamped Folger Shakespeare Library, timed-entry passes are available and, while free, come with a suggested donation of $15. It's a small price to pay for a ticket to literacy's past, and perhaps, to one of the bastions of Western literary history now opened anew. In line with the library's commitment to education, Dr. Peggy O’Brian spoke of the opening during a slot on DC News Now, bringing to light the library's 82 copies of the First Folio and the massive effort to make these cultural artifacts more engaging to the public.