Kennedy Center Anniversary

This week, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., begins its thirty-first year of presenting cultural events. Millions of people have visited this large white building on the Potomac River. I'm Shirley Griffith. And I'm Sarah Long. The Kennedy Center is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts just celebrated its thirtieth anniversary. As many as forty-thousand people attended the birthday party on Sunday. They enjoyed examples of programs the Kennedy Center will present in the future.

Visitors chose from many free programs at this Open House Arts Festival. For example, the National Symphony Orchestra played music by Ludwig van Beethoven. The Billy Taylor Trio played jazz. The Coulibaly (COOL-ah-bah-lee) Brothers told stories and played music of West Africa.

More than two-million people attend plays, concerts, musical dramas and other shows each year at the Kennedy Center. Some are produced at the Kennedy Center for the first time.

The Center is a memorial to John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He was America's thirty-fifth president. It also is the official national performing arts center.

The Kennedy Center also serves as an educational headquarters. It supports and teaches people about the performing arts in America. It creates programs for teachers and students of all ages. It supports competitions and training programs for students. It pays young performing artists to create new works. And it presents many programs for children.

About three-million people visit the Kennedy Center each year. Visitors can see a large statue of the head of President Kennedy. In the Hall of States they can see the flags of all the states and territories of the United States. In the Hall of Nations they can see the flags of more than one-hundred-sixty countries. Visitors can see gifts that more than forty countries have given to the Kennedy Center. These include beautiful floor coverings, wall coverings and works of art.

The campaign to build a cultural center in Washington began before John Kennedy was elected president. 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. Board members of the cultural center chose an area called Foggy Bottom. It is low and sometimes wet. This caused some people to say the building would sink in the mud.

Another problem was money. Workers for the cultural center had to gain millions of dollars from gifts. The government would supply the same amount as these gifts.

John F. Kennedy took office as president in Nineteen-Sixty-One. He campaigned for the national cultural center. His wife Jacqueline helped gain money for the center. So did Mamie Dowd Eisenhower, the wife of former President Eisenhower.

President Kennedy was killed in Nineteen-Sixty-Three. Congress soon declared the cultural center a memorial to him. The National Park Service was to operate the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as a national monument.

It was not easy to gain enough money for the Kennedy Center. Workers for the center had to have more than fifteen-million dollars by June Thirtieth, Nineteen-Sixty-Five. If this did not happen, they would not receive money from the United States 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.

The Kennedy Center's opening night was September Eighth, Nineteen-Seventy-One. Guests heard a new musical work by a major American composer. Leonard Bernstein wrote "Mass" to honor President Kennedy. Here is Mr. Bernstein conducting "Gloria Tibi" from his "Mass."


Today, the Kennedy Center has several performing areas. The Concert Hall is the largest. The National Symphony Orchestra performs there. So do popular entertainers. The Washington Opera performs in the Opera House. Ballets and musical comedies are performed in the Opera House, too. Plays and some opera and dance productions take place in the Eisenhower Theater. Smaller theaters in the Kennedy Center present music groups, plays, children's performances and films.

Some of the world's finest artists have performed in the Kennedy Center over the years. These include great classical musicians like pianist Vladimir Horowitz and violinist Isaac Stern. They also include great jazz artists like Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock and Sarah Vaughan.

The Kennedy Center will continue to present excellent performers this year and next year. They will include members of The New National Theatre of Japan. They will appear in the play "Pacific Overtures." Dancers from Russia, Cuba and Australia will present ballet. American composer Stephen Sondheim will be honored with performances of six of his musical plays. They include "A Little Night Music."

Arts expert Michael Kaiser recently became president of the Kennedy Center. He wants to make the center larger. Mr. Kaiser has proposed adding two new buildings to the Kennedy Center. One building would contain a performing arts museum. The other building would provide space for the Washington Opera. A committee is studying the environmental effects of the proposed additions.

The Kennedy Center recently opened a show for visitors about President Kennedy. Part of the exhibit is called "The Living Memorial." A picture collection introduces President Kennedy's life. Sound devices in eight computers contain parts of the former president's most important speeches. Films and his voice bring to life some of America's most historic moments. For example, President Kennedy sounds hopeful as he gives his swearing-in speech in January, Nineteen Sixty-One. The speech called on Americans to serve their country.

((TAPE CUT TWO: Excerpt from Kennedy inaugural speech))

"And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man."

Americans hope the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will continue serving the public for many more years. President Kennedy once said that America would not be remembered for victories or defeats in battle or in politics. Instead, he said the nation would be remembered for its gifts to the human spirit.

This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Caty Weaver. Our studio engineer was Keith Holmes. I'm Sarah Long. And I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.