The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. is home to the National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington National Opera, and the Suzanne Farrel Ballet. As the premier performing arts center in the United States, it is a living memorial to President John F Kennedy, who was a supporter and patron of the arts.

The complex is made up of three theatres on the shores of the Potomac River: The Concert Hall, Opera House, and Eisenhower Theater. The Concert Hall is home to the Rubenstein Family Organ, made by Casavant Freres of St-Hyacinthe, Quebec. The organ was a gift from the Chairman of the Kennedy Center, David M Rubenstein, on the Center’s 40th anniversary. The Opera House is also home to the contemporary event space, the Russian Lounge, and the African Lounge, which is frequently used to host visiting dignitaries. The African Lounge is graced with a wooden sculpture of Mother Earth, showing her grief over the death of President Kennedy. The sculpture was a donation from the people of Ghana to the Kennedy Center. The Eisenhower Theater is named after President Dwight D Eisenhower and honors his efforts in signing the National Cultural Center legislation, by which the Kennedy Center was made possible.

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Visitors may tour the building, which opens to the public at 10:00am daily. Guided tours take guests through an interactive exhibit that explores the life of President John F Kennedy, his patronage of the arts, and the impact of his presidency. Visitors see and learn about several works of art, including a bust of JFK and the Israeli Lounge, a gift from the people of Israel, which incorporates images from biblical and present times into decorative wooden panels highlighted by brass and copper. The tour ends on the Kennedy Center rooftop, which offers 360-degree views of Washington, D.C. Also on the rooftop is the Roof Terrace Restaurant. The restaurant offers a fine dining experience for dinner before evening performances or brunch on Sundays; reservations are recommended. Special tours are offered for seniors with limited mobility, school groups, and other groups for children from grade school through high school, foreign-language tours, and VIP tours. VIP tours are geared towards groups with a specific connection to the arts and must be applied for in advance through the Kennedy Center website.

History: In 1958, then-president Dwight D Eisenhower signed into law the creation of a National Cultural Center, although the center was to be privately funded. A long-time supporter of culture and the arts, it was President John F Kennedy who spearheaded most of the fundraising efforts when he took office. In 1963, when the president was assassinated, Congress approved the contribution of $23.5 million to the fund, with the intent to build the Cultural Center as a living memorial to the president. President Lyndon B Johnson broke ground for construction of the center in 1964 using the same golden shovel used in the groundbreaking of both the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials. The Kennedy Center opened in 1971 on the banks of the Potomac River, adjacent to the Lincoln Memorial.

Ongoing Programs and Education: Among the mandates of the Kennedy Center’s mission is to improve opportunities for everyone to appreciate and understand the arts. The Art’s Edge program is just one such program that helps support this mission. Art’s Edge is a free digital education platform for teachers and students of the arts. Activities, curriculums, and projects are offered through the Art’s Edge website. In addition to Art’s Edge, many of the center’s performances offer accompanying educational programs, such as the Opera Look-In program, which introduces elementary school children to opera through behind-the-scenes looks at costumes and production, and the National Symphony Orchestra’s Instrument Petting-Zoo, which offers children hands-on experiences with musical instruments. Explore the Arts offers classes for adults, including opportunities to learn dance from the New York City Ballet, Opera Master Classes for aspiring opera performers, and lectures from conductors, producers, and composers.

Past and Future Exhibits: As a world-class cultural performance site and home to the National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington National Opera, and the Suzanne Farrel Ballet, the Kennedy Center has played host to some of the world’s greatest performances. On the eve of its dedication in 1971, the center premiered a Requiem Mass, commissioned from composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, in honor of President Kennedy. Today’s performances encompass classical and contemporary dance, music, and theater as well as lectures, concerts, and festivals.

Back to: Washington, D.C.

2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566, Phone: 202-467-4600

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