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The opera house at The Kennedy Center is aglow even befeore patrons arrive. Info and tickets at Kennedy-Center.org.  Photo by Ron  Blunt.

Featured Article

Pillars of Motion

The Kennedy Center Stands on it’s History While Moving Full-Steam Ahead for Its Year-Long 50th-Anniversary Celebration

Motion. It’s what first comes to mind when reflecting on The Kennedy Center. Bodies in motion. Thoughts in motion. Dancers, musicians, performers, educators, lecturers all in motion. For 50 years.

In 1958, President Eisenhower signed legislation creating a National Cultural Center. Later President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy launched a fundraising campaign for its construction. Two months after President Kennedy’s assassination, President Johnson designated the nation’s National Cultural Center as a living memorial to President Kennedy, which opened to the public in September 1971.

Usually referred to as simply The Kennedy Center, there is nothing else simple about this hub for wonder, creativity, transformation, and possibility.

In most years, The Kennedy Center hosts more than 2,200 events and exhibits including theater, music, dance, lectures, workshops, and classes, some of which are free to attend.

The Kennedy Center campus includes several venues, a rooftop terrace, pavilions, a reflecting pool, the outdoor REACH Plaza, a Grand Foyer, the Hall of States, an outdoor beer and wine garden, and more.

The 50th-anniversary celebration kicked off September 14 with a concert hosted by Audra McDonald featuring the National Symphony Orchestra and performances by a trove of preeminent artists. The year-long celebration will conclude September 2022 with a production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” ( its world premiere served as The Kennedy Center’s inaugural presentation in 1971).

Surprisingly, the history of the Kennedy Center lived mostly in the basements and attics of those who worked and performed there. Now, the “If These Halls Could Talk” exhibit serves as the public launch of Kennedy Center Archives. When this year-long exhibit concludes in September, Robert Van Leer, Senior Vice President of Artistic Planning for The Kennedy Center explains, “We’ll open a new, permanent exhibit in tribute to JFK which will expand the storytelling around JFK, the man.”

Describing the foundation around which The Kennedy Center planned its anniversary programming, Van Leer says, “We established ideological pillars around our responsibility as a living memorial.” 

The Kennedy Center will also announce 50 cultural leaders from the worlds of sports, food, the arts and more. “These are icons who look toward the future, and who demonstrate our value system and what we believe is the value system of JFK,” he explains. These leaders will participate in a spectrum of activities over the anniversary year, including performances, conversations with political leaders, panels and discussions about cultural issues, education in the arts, etc.   

In the spring, The Kennedy Center will present the debut of all new works for the Washington National Opera and, Van Leer explains, “Philip Glass is writing new works for the National Symphony Orchestra.”

Some additional pillars include:

Angélique Kidjo, Estelle, and Valerie June

In honor of Black Music Month, these groundbreaking Black female artists will present a one-night-only engagement slated for June 2022.

The Roots Crew

As part of their 2021 Holiday Tour, The Roots Crew’s two-year residency includes performances, curatorial endeavors, activations, and humanities activities.

Wayne Shorter and Esperanza Spalding

Shorter and Spalding blend jazz and classical in their new opera based on the Euripedian myth: "Iphigenia: A New Opera," opening in December. 

Carlos Simon

The musical creations of this Kennedy Center Composer-in-Residence range from concert music to film scores with influences of jazz, gospel, and neo-romanticism.  

Mo Willems

As the Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence author and illustrator Willems worked with 240 community members to create a mural on the bluestone floor of the REACH Plaza. This “We Are All Connected” playscape will remain installed through March, 2022 for playing and viewing.

Jacqueline Woodson and Jason Moran

As The Kennedy Center’s new Education Artist-in-Residence, Woodson’s residency will feature a June 2022 collaboration with Kennedy Center Artistic Director for Jazz, Jason Moran, on Summer Picnic, an all-ages event at the REACH.

“In 1971,” Van Leer reflects, “They focused on performance. Now, we look at how we can entice participation, experimentation, incubation. We changed over the last couple of years by adding hip hop as a pillar. We expanded contemporary presentations including new work and comedy and expanding the palette to include more forms so people can see the full spectrum of what we represent.”

Even with so much in motion, clearly there are plenty of firm pillars on which The Kennedy Center will continue to stand.

  • The "If These Halls Could Talk" exhibit in The Kennedy Center's Grand Foyer. Photo by Margot Schulman.
  • The "If These Halls Could Talk" exhibit in The Kennedy Center's Grand Foyer. Photo by Margot Schulman.
  • A bust of President Kennedy in the Grandy Foyer at The Kennedy Center. Photo by Ron Blunt.
  • The Eisenhower Theater at The Kennedy Center.  Info and tickets at Kennedy-Center.org.  Photo  by Ron Blunt.
  • The concert hall at The  Kennedy Center featuring the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gianandrea Noseda. Photo by Scott Suchman.
  • In the Hall of States at The Kennedy Center, this display is part of the Center's 50th-anniversary celebration. Photo by Margot Schulman.
  • Marking the 20th anniversary ofthe Millenium Stage at The Kennedy Center. Photo by Jati Lindsay.
  • The opera house at The Kennedy Center is aglow even befeore patrons arrive. Info and tickets at Kennedy-Center.org.  Photo by Ron  Blunt.
  • Pavillions and the reflecting pool are mesmerizing in the sunset at The Kennedy Center. Photo by Richard Barnes.
  • Robert Glasper performs at Studio K of The  Kennedy Center's REACH campus. Photo by Jati Lindsay.
  • Pavillions and the reflecting pool are mesmerizing in the sunset at The Kennedy Center. Photo by Richard Barnes.
  • The Terrace Theater is one of many venues at The  Kennedy Center. Photo by Ron Blunt.
  • A drones-eye view of The Kenned Center along the Potomac. Photo courtesy of The  Kennedy Center.
  • The Welcome Pavillion at The Kennedy Center. Info and tickets at Kennedy-Center.org. Photo by Richard Barnes.
  • Opened in 2019, the REACH Plaza at The Kennedy Centeris a set of dynamic indoor and outdoor spaces. Photo by Richard Barnes.
  • The Concert Hall at The Kennedy Center is decked out for the holidays as conductor Steven Reineke leads the holiday pops concert. Photo by Tracey Salazar.