With newly expanded campus, Kennedy Center aims to make art an experience for all

JUDY WOODRUFF: The John F. Kennedy Center
for the Performing Arts here in Washington has expanded for the first time in its 50-year
history. Jeffrey Brown takes us behind the scenes,
as the national arts institution launches weeks of free public events tomorrow. The report is part of our ongoing arts and
culture series, Canvas. JEFFREY BROWN: A weekday rehearsal by the
National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of music director Gianandrea Noseda. And one floor down, dancers finalizing their
choreography for an upcoming performance. Nothing unusual, but here at the Kennedy Center,
as at most other major performing arts centers, all this is typically behind the scenes off-limits
to visitors. Now opportunities to watch artists at work,
hear lectures, participate in workshops on a regular basis are all part of what Kennedy
Center president Deborah Rutter calls a 21st century arts campus. DEBORAH RUTTER, President, John F. Kennedy
Center for the Performing Arts: The Kennedy Center was opened in 1971, when the world
was different. The way in which the society and our culture
was engaging with the arts was different. It was much more of a spectator sport. In this time, and as we look forward, we know
that people want to be more connected to the art and the artists, to be more immersed in
it and to participate more in it. JEFFREY BROWN: The response here, the REACH,
named in honor of President Kennedy’s aspirational vision of the arts and in capital letters
to signal something big in the nation’s capital. A new nearly five-acre expansion that we visited
as construction was being completed, three pavilions containing 10 interior multiuse
spaces above and below ground, and double the outdoor spaces for community and arts
programs, including films on a large video wall, also garden walks and paths that lead
to a pedestrian bridge connecting the Kennedy Center campus to the Potomac riverfront. The project cost $250 million from private
philanthropy. It was designed by architect Steven Holl,
known for his use of light and angled walls. DEBORAH RUTTER: We wanted them to be very
porous and very open. And our architects were just in line with
us. And so every single space has a window that
allows you to peek in and see what’s going on. Here, we have the skylight. (CROSSTALK) JEFFREY BROWN: Interesting space. DEBORAH RUTTER: It’s really a beautiful space. One of the things that I loved about Steven
Holl’s design is how he changes the ceiling, as well as the floor and the walls. So you’re having a new experience no matter
where you’re working. JEFFREY BROWN: I can hear a little music in
the background too. DEBORAH RUTTER: I know. Well, that was the moment. JEFFREY BROWN: Orchestra rehearsal. DEBORAH RUTTER: So you will know things are
happening here as well. JEFFREY BROWN: A big idea here: Find new ways
to welcome younger audiences and others who may have felt left out. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing
Arts opened in 1971 as a living memorial to the slain president. It was and is imposing, the grand hallways
and theaters housing traditional high arts, such as the Washington Opera and the National
Symphony. It regularly presents the world’s greatest
artists, as well as special nationally recognized programs, such as the Kennedy Center Honors
and the Mark Twain Awards. But it’s also faced its chair of criticism. When it opened, The New York Times architecture
critic dubbed the building designed by Edward Durell Stone a pompous embarrassment and national
tragedy. And it’s long struggled with a sense of isolation,
a geographic and elite island apart from the surrounding city. To counter that, the center began its popular
and free Millennium Stage performances and has widened its programming with the help
of prominent artists, such as jazz pianist Jason Moran and rapper and producer Q-Tip,
as well as classical stalwarts Yo-Yo Ma and Renee Fleming. The REACH is intended as the next big leap
forward. MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH, John F. Kennedy Center
for the Performing Arts: The REACH has formal studio spaces, classroom spaces that invite
a different level of community interaction. So now we you have a space that’s more of
an incubator, that’s more of a laboratory. JEFFREY BROWN: Marc Bamuthi Joseph is a dancer,
poet and theater artist, and also a leading arts administrator. He recently left the Yerba Buena center For
the Arts in San Francisco to join the Kennedy Center. We talked in the so-called Moonshot experimental
art space about his hybrid role as vice president and artistic director of social impact. MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH: That’s the transition
between a performing arts center that shows art and a performing arts center that sees
itself as an agent for making culture itself. And so part of my gig is to design and administer
programs that maximize cross-sector conversations and maximize this idea that we don’t just
watch culture, we make culture. So it becomes more of workshop space than
a place for witness, although you can witness lots great art here, too. JEFFREY BROWN: Indeed, the REACH is opening
with a 16-day free celebration of performances featuring prominent artists. But it’s also offering new programs for the
local community to allow students like rising high school senior Anna Irwin to work
with professional dancers. So how’s the new space? STUDENT: Oh, I love it. Personally, like, it is the biggest studio
I have ever seen. Wow. JEFFREY BROWN: A new culture caucus will bring
in 15 area artists to brainstorm new art to showcase. And a social practice residency will create
art in and for communities in the Washington, D.C., area, all ideas to address problems
many arts organizations are wrestling with today, as traditional audiences age and younger
generations spend more time alone on their screens. What’s the central problem for performing
arts institutions today in American culture? DEBORAH RUTTER: I think that we need to underscore
the joy of being together, that social infrastructure that is so important and that, in some ways,
is missing in our lives. JEFFREY BROWN: Inevitably, too, when it comes
to the arts in the nation’s capital, the political divisions that seep into everything today. I asked Marc Bamuthi Joseph how that impacts
his thinking about the REACH. MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH: Truth and memory are
tenuous resources in the current climate, and that does make me sad. So, in that vacuum where memory is little
more tenuous and history is more vulnerable is a realm of ideas that somebody has to propagate. Someone has to be responsible, not only for
the moral infrastructure of this country, but the infrastructure of imagination. And if it’s not going to be an arts center,
then we’re doomed. JEFFREY BROWN: To which one might say, in
hope, let the festivities begin, which they will this weekend. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Jeffrey Brown
at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. JUDY WOODRUFF: It is a special place.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *