At a time when most women of her class and station were content to be ornamental figures, Alice Pike Barney was a one-woman advocate for the arts in Washington. Her mission was twofold: to be an artist and to bring the arts to the people of her adopted city. To that end she donated money to various artistic ventures, brought traveling troupes to Washington, hosted a salon at her studio on Sheridan Circle, painted, wrote plays, ballets and tableaux and built performance spaces, most notably the National Sylvan Theatre on the grounds of the Washington Monument.
Although Barney has been dead for more than 70 years, her spirit lives on in Washington's cultural and civic life. Her paintings are part of the Smithsonian Institution's art collection, the Barney Neighborhood House still functions as a social service agency and the Sylvan Theater continues to be a popular performance venue.