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In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed bipartisan legislation creating a National Cultural Center in the nation’s capital. In November of 1962, President and Mrs. Kennedy launched a $30 million fundraising campaign for the Center’s construction. Former President Eisenhower and his wife Mamie participated in the event which demonstrated the bipartisan support for a world class center for the performing arts in D. C. In 1963, President Kennedy signed legislation to extend the fundraising deadline for the Center.
Two months after President Kennedy’s assassination, by an Act of Congress signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on January 23, 1964, the nation’s National Cultural Center was designated as a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy. By this Act, President Kennedy’s devotion to the advancement of the performing arts in the United States was recognized.
The Center’s mission is established in its authorizing statute: present classical and contemporary music, opera, drama, dance, and other performing arts from the United States and other countries; promote and maintain the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as the National Center for the Performing Arts; strive to ensure that the education and outreach programs and policies of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts meet the highest level of excellence and reflect the cultural diversity of the United States; provide facilities for other civic activities at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; and provide within the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts a suitable memorial in honor of the late President. To fulfill the mission as the nation’s cultural center, the Kennedy Center presents world-class art by the artists that define our culture today, delivers powerful arts education opportunities nationwide, and embodies the ideals of President Kennedy in all the Center’s activities provided throughout the living memorial.
See an interactive visual timeline of the Kennedy Center — from its conception in the late 1950s through the opening in 1971 and great moments leading up to what will soon be our 50th anniversary.
Introducing the REACH
On September 7, 2019, the Kennedy Center inaugurated its expanded campus with the opening of the REACH.
Other highlights of the 2019–2020 season include the NSO’s performance and recording of all nine Beethoven symphonies under the baton of Music Director Gianandrea Noseda, WNO’s world premiere of Blue, and the return of Broadway Center Stage. At the start of the 2021–2022 season, the Center begins celebrations of its 50th anniversary.
Across all that we do, the Kennedy Center strives to cultivate a culture of inclusiveness, in which our art and our audiences are as rich, diverse, and ever-changing as America itself. Whether you’re visiting our campus in Washington, D.C., tuning in to our Digital Stage, or learning through our education programs, we invite you to experience, explore, and engage with the arts.
A Year at the Kennedy Center
2 million visitors
1.6 million ticket buyers
1.4 million students served
2,200+ performances & exhibits
400+ free performances & events
- The Kennedy Center’s operating budget is composed primarily of ticket revenue and private philanthropy. As a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy, the Kennedy Center receives an annual federal appropriation for capital repairs and maintenance of its facilities.
- The Kennedy Center has education and outreach programs in all 50 states and 29 countries.
- The Kennedy Center Friends is a 600-person strong volunteer corps representing 58 countries and speaking 27 languages.
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