Kennedy Center to Expand Arts Education

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA, in VOA Special English. I’m Faith Lapidus.

And I’m Steve Ember. The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., serves as a national home for the performing arts. Now the center wants to do more to bring those arts to children.

Last month the Kennedy Center announced plans to spend one hundred twenty-five million dollars on performing arts education. The program will be developed over a five-year period. The center will receive both government and private money for this effort.

Plans include opening a new Family Theater at the Kennedy Center at the end of this year. Performances from there will be seen later in schools around America.

The president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Michael Kaiser, announced the expanded education program. Mr. Kaiser says the Kennedy Center has been working on developing its program with officials of more than one hundred schools. Mr. Kaiser says that if people are trained in the arts while they are young, they will be interested as adults.

A major research organization came out with a report last month about public policy toward the arts. The Rand Corporation says interest in the arts is of more than just economic value; it helps create better citizens. The report calls for placing greater importance on creating demand for the arts. It says the way to do that is to introduce more people, especially young people, to experiences with the arts.

Educators say children who study the arts are more likely to do well in other subjects and to become student leaders. Yet in recent years many schools have reduced arts education.

During the nineteen nineties, research found that less than half of middle school students in the United States studied the arts. And some of the programs they did have were not very good.

In nineteen ninety-seven, an agency of the Department of Education studied thousands of eighth graders. The National Assessment of Education said the students were not as well trained in arts as they should have been.

The Kennedy Center will develop shows to be presented to young people around the nation. Two organizations will finance that effort. They are Disney Theatrical Productions and Music Theater International.

First, children will take part in musical shows. The shows will be presented in the Family Theater that the Kennedy Center plans to open this December. Then the productions will travel to schools around the United States. Local children, not theater professionals, will produce the shows. Educators will examine the effects of taking part in the productions on the learning skills of the performers.

The government is to finance the new theater for ten million dollars. To create it, one hundred twenty seats will be added to an existing theater. There will be a new public waiting area and dressing rooms for performers.

Some other new Kennedy Center projects are electronic. For example, a new Web site will offer jazz music and tell about its history. This site is to be ready in two years.

Another new site on the Internet will present a history of performing arts. It will offer performances and stories about the performances. That site is to be ready in three years.

The Kennedy Center already presents many shows for children at the center and in schools. Its president, Michael Kaiser, says the additional programs will bring the Kennedy Center education budget to forty million dollars. Center officials say this will be the largest amount spent for education by any American arts organization.

The Kennedy Center is a memorial to John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He was the thirty-fifth president of the United States. It is also the official national performing arts center. Each year about two million people see music, dance, drama and other performances at the Kennedy Center.

And three million people come just to see the big white building itself. In the Hall of States, for example, they pass beneath the flags of all the American states and territories. In the Hall of Nations are the flags of more than one hundred sixty countries.

Visitors also see the works of art and other gifts that more than forty countries have given to the Kennedy Center. And people can learn about the life of President Kennedy and listen to some of his speeches.

Efforts to build a cultural center in Washington began before John Kennedy was elected president in nineteen sixty. In nineteen fifty-eight, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the National Cultural Center Act. He said the United States needed a place to show its artistic successes.

One of the earliest problems was finding a place for the building. Directors of the center chose an area on the edge of the Potomac River called Foggy Bottom. Some people worried that the building would sink into the soft ground. It hasn't yet.

Another problem was money. The cultural center needed to collect millions of dollars in private gifts. The government promised to give an amount equal to the money raised.

After President Kennedy took office in nineteen sixty-one, he campaigned for the national cultural center. His wife, Jacqueline, helped raise money for the center. So did Mamie Eisenhower, the wife of the former president.

On November twenty-second, nineteen sixty-three, President Kennedy was shot to death as he rode in an open car in Dallas, Texas. Congress soon declared the cultural center a memorial to him.

Still, it was not easy to get enough money for the Kennedy Center. Center officials had to have more than fifteen million dollars by June thirtieth, nineteen sixty-five. If that did not happen, then they would not receive money from the government. They would not be able to build the center. Most of June passed, and the campaign still had not reached its goal.

Then on June twenty-ninth the people of Italy gave more than one million dollars worth of marble to build the center. Other countries also gave money. These gifts rescued the project.

Building finally began on the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in nineteen sixty-seven. Four years later, the completed Kennedy Center stood along the Potomac River. Architect Edward Durrell Stone had designed a simple and beautiful building. It cost about seventy million dollars.

Opening night at the Kennedy Center was September eighth, nineteen seventy-one. Guests heard a new musical work composed and conducted by Leonard Bernstein. He wrote "Mass" to honor President Kennedy. Here, from Bernstein's "Mass," is "Gloria Tibi."

Some of the world’s finest artists have appeared at the Kennedy Center over the years.

Classical musicians like pianist Vladimir Horowitz and violinist Isaac Stern have played there. So have jazz performers like Benny Goodman and Sarah Vaughan.

These days, Placido Domingo, one of the world's best known tenors, sometimes sings there. He is also the general director of the Washington National Opera, which performs at the Kennedy Center Opera House.

Long before the Kennedy Center was built, President Eisenhower said America needed a place to show its artistry. Now the center wants to help build more interest in the arts into the lives of young America.

Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.