Beyond the Mall


Passport DC Opens Doors of Area Embassies to Washingtonians

It’s a well-known fact: Washington, D.C., is not only the nation’s capital, it’s the power center of the American political world. But it’s also a city of culture and unique individual neighborhoods—a fact less celebrated, even among local residents, who often insulate themselves in their busy day-to-day lives from Washington’s tourist and historical attractions.

Cultural Tourism DC, a broad coalition of Washington cultural institutions and organizations, has labored mightily with a variety of projects such as neighborhood heritage trails to shed light on the city’s myriad cultural offerings—beyond the monuments and National Mall—to residents and tourists alike.

Now the group is partnering with more than 50 embassies and a dozen other institutions to highlight Washington’s most far-flung, so to speak, and perhaps least-known cultural entity: the city’s diplomatic community.

With Passport DC, Cultural Tourism is showcasing the city’s diverse, rich and large treasure trove of embassies and international institutions with a two-week series of cultural events running from May 3 to 17 (see also Feb. 28, 2008, news column of the Diplomatic Pouch online).

The idea was sparked by a highly successful open house held by the members of the European Union last year. Through cultural activities, tours and exhibitions, the embassies of the 27 EU member states threw open their doors to the public—promptly drawing more than 35,000 visitors curious to take a peek inside the embassies.

“We took notice of the EU open house and saw in it the potential to do more, to really showcase the international community to Washington residents and visitors alike,” said Linda Harper, executive director of Cultural Tourism DC. “Much like the city’s neighborhoods and their histories, the embassies are a hidden treasure which offer great cultural opportunities for the rest of us, as well as tourists.”

Fittingly, the European Union will kick off the upcoming festivities with another open house on May 3, followed by additional cultural programming at the 27 EU embassies through May 10 as part of the “Europe Week” portion of Passport DC.

“We had such a success with the open house last year that we wanted to make this a yearly event, and we’re delighted to be participating in and to be a part of the Passport DC activities and events,” said Tadej Furlan, second secretary and cultural attaché at the Embassy of Slovenia, which holds the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union and is thus chairing the EU section of Passport DC.

“The cultural activities provide an opportunity for exchange, for information, for this community to have an opportunity to know our community,” Furlan explained. “So many embassies hold activities, exhibitions, concerts, receptions and open houses throughout the year, but it’s very difficult for people to know about them. This is such a great event to allow this sort of contact, so that we can all put human faces on each other and understand each other better. You have the whole world at your feet in Washington and this way, we can show this.”

Of course, many natives of the diplomatic community are well aware of how active the area’s embassies are culturally, but to many outsiders, embassies are a mysterious world unto themselves, often seen as inapproachable to most people.

Compounding that barrier is the fact that the diplomatic community—with its 175 foreign embassies, residences, chanceries and diplomatic missions—is scattered all over Washington, from Kalorama, to “Embassy Row” along Massachusetts Avenue, to Georgetown, to the Van Ness neighborhood.

In addition, cultural outreach can be found at a number of international institutions peppered throughout the city—many embassy-related—such as the Meridian International Center, the Goethe-Institut, Mexican Cultural Institute, the Inter-American Development Bank Cultural Center and numerous other organizations that regularly offer high-quality exhibitions, films and performances spanning the globe.

“We hope to make this world, this neighborhood, visible to Washington through this event,” Harper said. “The international community, the embassies and all the rest constitute a Washington neighborhood—the kind that few other cities have. They are a community of countries and of people.”

Passport DC is sure to open up that neighborhood in a big way. In addition to the EU open house, other highlights include the family-friendly International Children’s Festival at the Meridian on May 10, concerts by the Embassy Series, as well as a variety of dance, music, film, cuisine and exhibition showcases at embassies from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Americas, all continuing from May 11 to 16.

Then on May 17, Passport DC will culminate with the Around the World Embassy Open House, featuring the Russian Cultural Center as well as the embassies of Angola, Argentina, Bangladesh, Canada, Colombia, Eritrea, India, Iraq, Korea, Madagascar, Mongolia, Pakistan, Paraguay, Serbia and Venezuela, among many others. Also on May 17, Passport DC hosts the National Asian Heritage Festival’s street fair, Fiesta Asia, a multicultural marketplace with live performances, Pan-Asian cuisine and martial arts demonstrations along Pennsylvania Avenue.

Please note: The Washington Diplomat will be serving as an official media sponsor of Passport DC. A detailed schedule of all Passport DC events will be included in a brochure in the May issue of The Diplomat.

Passport DC May 3 to 17 throughout Washington, D.C. For more information, please call (202) 661-7581 or visit

About the Author

Gary Tischler is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.