Roger L. Stevens
(Founding Chairman, National Council on the Arts
Founding Chairman, The Kennedy Center
born March 12,1910, Detroit, Michigan – died February 2, 1998)
For almost half of the twentieth century, Roger Lacey Stevens was a dominant force as a theatrical producer, arts administrator, and real estate entrepreneur. A highly successful real estate broker who once owned the Empire State Building, Stevens backed his first Broadway show in 1949. He quickly established himself as a significant power in the theater, both in the United States and in Britain.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Roger Stevens' many contributions to the field of performing arts management was the influence he brought to bear on people's imaginations. He was a pioneer in obtaining government support of the Arts and for artists, a theatrical producer of international importance, and the guiding force behind the establishment of a National Cultural Center.
During the 1950s and 1960s, he become a major theatrical producer, presenting more than 100 plays and musicals, including West Side Story, Bus Stop, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Man for All Seasons and Tea and Sympathy.
In 1961, Roger Stevens was asked by then President Kennedy to establish the National Cultural Center, which a decade later would be named in honor of the slain 35th President – The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. As Chairman of the Kennedy Center's Board of Trustees from 1961 to 1988, Stevens not only led the Kennedy Center's fundraising efforts, but also guided its programming, which included the commissioning of many new artistic works. Stevens served as President Lyndon B. Johnson's Special Assistant on the Arts from 1964 to 1968, shepherding legislation that established the Nation's first National Council on the Arts, later renamed the National Endowment for the Arts, which he chaired from 1965 to 1969. "The Stevens Angle," he said in a 1957 interview, "is this: whatever I get involved in happens." The unstoppable visionary died February 2, 1998.