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Home » Recent News » Expanding the Diversity Footprint of the Nation’s Premier Civilian Federal Arts Complex

Expanding the Diversity Footprint of the Nation’s Premier Civilian Federal Arts Complex


kennedy center
A view of the REACH Campus with video wall from terrace at dusk. Photo: Richard Barnes

The John F. Kennedy Memorial Center for the Performing Arts (Kennedy Center) is the nation’s sole, premier civilian national cultural center. It is located on the banks of the historic Potomac River in Washington, D.C. and built with federal funds authorized by Congress in 1958. In 1962, President Kennedy stated, “The life of the arts, far from being an interpretation, a distraction, in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation’s purpose, and is a test of the quality of a nation’s civilization.” The center surely reflects those values as Kennedy’s aspirational vision of the arts and, as such, it was named in Kennedy’s honor in 1963.

As the nation’s first national cultural center, the Kennedy Center was created by bipartisan federal legislation known as the National Cultural Center Act. The bill was signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who himself was quite enthusiastic about having a world-class cultural center in the heart of Washington, DC that was second to none across the globe.

Designed by renowned American “Modernist” architect Edward Durell Stone, plans for the center’s construction began in 1956 in the halls of congress. This remarkable edifice was completed, and its doors opened, in 1971. Stone was also acclaimed for his design of the Radio City Music Hall, the New York Museum of American Art, as well as the US Embassy in New Delhi, India, to name a few.

Over the years, this internationally recognized, fully unionized facility has been home to the Washington National Symphony Orchestra, the Kennedy Center Orchestra, the Washington Opera, and Jazz at the Kennedy Center (all members of Local 161-710). It has also been a premier touring destination to all of the greatest international companies that have presented tens of thousands of performances mounted on one of four main stages in this remarkable building. All of the world’s most renowned, iconic, diverse, artistic performers from classical to jazz to popular, hip hop to spoken word, Broadway, television, film, along with extravagant foreign productions, have entertained here.

Expanding Its REACH

Americans search daily for signs from the government about meaningful ways it spends our tax dollars. Well, here’s a great example: For the first time in its 50-year existence, the center recently completed its most ambitious construction project with the opening of this 21st century arts center. The newly constructed “REACH” project is a prime illustration of how this federal facility uses its extensive resources to fund the construction of a major $250 million community oriented performing arts facility that caters to its diverse surroundings.

The mission of “The REACH,” which opened its door on May 29, is to generously invest in The Kennedy Center mission to support artistic projects and community engagement. REACH stands for Renew, Experience, Activate, Create, and Honor the legacy of President Kennedy, says Deborah Rutter, president of The Kennedy Center. This multimillion-dollar project, built on five acres with three pavilions, is designed to host community educational workshops, rehearsal spaces, and small ensemble presentations at affordable rates to patrons, students, and smaller local production companies that make important contributions to the city and perform at the highest industry standards.

This addition to the Kennedy Center is a marvelous testament to the center’s commitment to the diverse Washington arts community. Over the years, the center has seen its share of criticism about the lack of investment and programming in the local community. The REACH seems to be a worthy solution. Managed in part by newly appointed Vice President for Social Impact Marc Bamuthi Joseph, The REACH will be guided and advised in part by a 15-member Cultural Caucus comprised of cultural leaders from around the area.

AFM Local 161-710 (Washington, DC) officers, musicians, and local board play a vital role in promoting ongoing labor-management relations and professional performances at the Kennedy Center. Like New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and hundreds of other major performance cities around the country, the importance of maintaining a world-class performance community second to no other in the world is the mission of our local and our musicians. Each gives tirelessly to the goal of maintaining the remarkable status of these Washington, DC, institutions and perpetually holds their own when it comes to the execution of the arts and the quality of life in our nation’s Capital.

The expanded John F. Kennedy Memorial Center for the Performing Arts will forever be a growing part of America’s cultural fabric, opening its doors to younger members of the community and emphasizing “the joy of being together.” Thanks to the magnificent efforts of AFM musicians, the arts will forever flourish in the nation’s capital and around the nation.

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