- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 16, 2006

This week’s edgy, untraditional Capital Fringe Festival is a step toward pushing the District beyond marble statues and the Mall, according to tourism officials.

The first Capital Fringe Festival, a compilation of 400 art and theater performances, is scheduled to begin Thursday and bring 8,000 attendees to downtown’s Penn Quarter.

Part of the goal of “Washington, DC Celebrates American Originals,” a summer-long tourism promotion that centers on the July 1 reopening of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, is to show the cultural side of Washington.

“The big reopening gave cultural institutions in the city a chance to think about what makes Washington a uniquely American city. Washington has evolved in such interesting ways in the past five to 10 years,” said Laura Brower, a spokeswoman for Cultural Tourism DC, one of the program’s sponsors. “Events like Capital Fringe allows us to communicate the very lively, vibrant art scene in Washington.”

“Cultural tourists,” a subset of tourists who visit new places looking for events unique to an area, instead of a prepackaged program like an amusement park, are likely to visit a fringe festival, Ms. Brower said.

“People who have experienced Fringe in other areas will be drawn to Fringe in Washington, if not immediately, definitely in the longer term,” she said.

The festival, which lasts through July 30, features nearly 100 groups of artists in 400 shows at venues throughout the city — most of them in the Penn Quarter. Festival organizers keep ticket prices lower than traditional, established arts performances — from free to $32 — to encourage people to try something new, said executive director and co-founder Damian Sinclair.

“It allows audiences an excuse to let their hair down. It’s cheap, so you can go see things because it happens to be next door,” he said.

“We allow anyone to come and participate,” Mr. Sinclair said, adding that about 80 percent of the participating artists live in the D.C. area. “It tends to lend itself to more experimental work because there are few outlets for it. But people can do opera if that’s what you want.”

Mr. Sinclair hopes to sell 20,000 tickets.

American Original’s main event, the July 1 reopening of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, drew 18,744 visitors — a record number of people for a Smithsonian opening.

The Washington, DC Convention and Tourism Corp. has provided $500,000 to advertise the program, including the Fringe Festival, in New York, Philadelphia, Virginia Beach, Norfolk and the Carolinas.

Restaurant, retail rummage

• Bethesda’s restaurant week begins today and lasts through Sunday. Each of the 30 participating restaurants will be selling a two-course lunch for $12 or a three-course dinner for $22 or $30. Restaurants include Mon Ami Gabi on Woodmont Avenue, New Orleans Bistro on Cordell Avenue and La Ferme Restaurant on Brookville Road in Chevy Chase.

• Home & Garden Television Network show host Candice Olson is scheduled to debut her furniture line Friday at Norwalk — the Furniture Idea, a Fairfax Corner furniture shop. The shop is the first in the country to get the 14-piece furniture line.

Retail & Hospitality appears Mondays. Contact Jen Haberkorn at 202/636-4836 or jhaberkorn@washingtontimes.com.

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