The Kennedy Center

Welcome to the Kennedy Center

President Kennedy's words resonate more strongly than ever for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in the 21st century. The Center, which opened on September 8, 1971, continues its efforts to fulfill President Kennedy's vision by producing and presenting an unmatched variety of theater and musicals, dance and ballet, orchestral, chamber, jazz, popular, world, and folk music, and multimedia performances for all ages. Each year, the institution that bears President Kennedy's name brings his dream to fruition, touching the lives of millions of people through thousands of performances by the greatest artists from across America and around the world. The Center also nurtures new works and young artists, creating performances, broadcasts, and touring productions while serving the nation as a leader in arts and arts management education.

The Eisenhower Theater

The Kennedy Center, located on 17 acres overlooking the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., is America's living memorial to President Kennedy as well as the nation's busiest arts facility. Touring Kennedy Center productions and its television, radio, and Internet broadcasts reach more than 40 million people around the world each year. As part of the Kennedy Center's Performing Arts for Everyone program, more than 400 free performances are offered each year featuring international, national, and local artists. These include daily 6 p.m. concerts on the Millennium Stage—now in its 16th year—which are streamed live over the Internet and digitally archived on

The Center has co-produced more than 300 new works of theater over the past 40 years, including Tony Award®-winning shows ranging from Annie in 1977 to A Few Good Men, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, The King and I, Titanic, and the American premiere of Les Misérables. In 2002, the Center presented the unprecedented, astonishingly successful Sondheim Celebration, featuring new Kennedy Center productions of Sweeney Todd, Company, Sunday in the Park with George, Merrily We Roll Along, Passion, and A Little Night Music. In the spring of 2004, the Center produced three Tennessee Williams classics, A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and The Glass Menagerie. Other Center productions include Mame; Carnival!; August Wilson's 20th Century, the playwright's complete 10-play cycle performed as fully-staged readings; Terrence McNally's Nights at the Opera, which featured three of the author's plays performed concurrently in three of the Center's theaters; a revival production of Ragtime which transferred to Broadway in October 2009 and received six Tony® nominations; and a revival production of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman's Follies, which transferred to Broadway in 2011 and received eight Tony® nominations, winning one for Best Costume Design of a Musical.

World premiere performances have been offered through a Kennedy Center commissioning program for new ballet and dance works. These works have been created by America's foremost choreographers—Paul Taylor, Lar Lubovitch, and Merce Cunningham—for leading American dance companies including American Ballet Theatre, Ballet West, Houston Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, and the San Francisco Ballet.  Since 2001, the Kennedy Center has supported and produced The Suzanne Farrell Ballet in 11 seasons of performances at the Center and on extended tours. In 2006, the Kennedy Center created Protégés, a ballet festival highlighting rising stars from the world's greatest ballet training academies. The Center's biennial Ballet Across America festival explores the breadth and depth of the art form, showcasing ballet companies in a range of styles from across the country.

The National Symphony Orchestra, the Kennedy Center's artistic affiliate since 1987, has commissioned dozens of works, among them Stephen Albert's RiverRun, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Music; Morton Gould's StringMusic, also a Pulitzer Prize-winner; William Bolcom's Sixth Symphony; and, most recently, Peter Lieberson's Remembering JFK: An American Elegy.  The 2012-2013 season continues under the leadership of Christoph Eschenbach, who serves as Music Director of both the Kennedy Center and the National Symphony Orchestra. In addition to its regular season concerts, the National Symphony Orchestra presents a diverse education program, chamber concerts, and a pops series led by Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke.

The Opera House

Washington National Opera, founded in 1956, became a Kennedy Center affiliate in July 2011 and is one of America's largest opera companies. Drawing inspiration from a rich legacy built on the values of artistic excellence, engagement with a broad community, and a thriving future for the art form of opera and its audiences, Washington National Opera performs fall and spring seasons, and offers training, educational, and enrichment programs year-round.

The Kennedy Center has also co-produced new operas such as John Adams' Nixon in China, and brought such international opera companies as La Scala in its first-ever visit to the United States and Deutsche Opera Berlin in a complete “Ring” cycle. Beginning in 2001, the Center presented the Mariinsky Opera in annual performances over 10 years and continues to present the Mariinsky Ballet.

The Kennedy Center presents festivals celebrating cities, countries, and regions of the world, including the San Francisco and Texas festivals, France Danse, Festival Australia, the Arts of Japan, the Kennedy Center African Odyssey, Art of the State: Israel at 50, Island: Arts from Ireland, UK/KC, celebrating the arts of the United Kingdom, the Tchaikovsky Festival, the French Festival, and AmericArtes, celebrating the arts of the Americas. Other festivals include Look Both Ways: Street Arts Across America, a free, two-week celebration of street performance that took place throughout Washington, D.C., a month-long salute to the traditional, and contemporary arts of China; Country: A Celebration of America's Music, a highly praised three-week festival; a six-month, citywide celebration Shakespeare in Washington; and an exploration of the culture of Japan entitled JAPAN! culture + hyperculture. Recent seasons have seen an exploration of the culture of the 22 Arab nations entitled Arabesque: Arts of the Arab World, an international festival featuring artists with disabilities titled the 2010 International VSA Festival, and maximum INDIA, which celebrated the cultural heritage of one of the most populated countries in the world.

Kennedy Center Jazz, under the leadership of Artistic Advisor for Jazz Jason Moran, presents both legendary artists who have helped shape the art form as well as artists who are emerging on the jazz scene in more than 100 performances a year. The KC Jazz Club, launched in 2002, hosts many of these artists in an intimate setting. Annual Kennedy Center Jazz events include NPR's A Jazz Piano Christmas and the annual Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival, the first comprehensive festival of this kind to be presented by a major cultural institution, created in 1996 by Dr. Billy Taylor. One of the largest non-profit jazz programs in the United States, Kennedy Center Jazz has produced numerous CD recordings.

The Center reaches millions of people every year through its television programs. These include Emmy and Peabody Award-winning The Kennedy Center Honors, broadcast annually on the CBS network, and The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, broadcast on PBS.   

The Eisenhower Theater

In recent years the Kennedy Center has dramatically expanded its education programs to reach young people, teachers, and families throughout the nation.  A clear sign of the Center's commitment to the arts for young people and families is the Family Theater, which opened in 2005. This state-of-the-art, accessible theater of 320 seats presents performances for young people. The education programs of the Kennedy Center have become models for communities across the country and have unlocked the door to learning for millions of young people. Education at the Kennedy Center produces and presents age appropriate performances and educational events for young people and their families; school- and community-based programs that directly impact teachers, students, artists, and school and arts administrators through professional development; systemic and school improvement through arts integrated curricula, inclusive classrooms, and universal design in facilities and learning; creating partnerships around the issues of arts education and arts integrated education; creating and providing educational materials via print and the Internet; and developing careers in the arts for young people and aspiring professionals.

Through its MyTix program, the Center also offers reduced and complimentary tickets to young people and active members of the military, and works with members of the underserved community through its partnerships with community organizations. The Center also offers reduced priced tickets through a Specially Priced Tickets program for students, seniors, selected members of the military, persons with disabilities, and others with fixed low incomes.

The Center also has been at the forefront of making the performing arts accessible to persons with disabilities, highlighted by its affiliation with VSA, the international organization on arts and disability, with which it shares programs and resources. The Center has renovated four of its theaters, the Concert Hall, Opera House, Eisenhower Theater, and Theater Lab, and these venues, along with the Family Theater, are now national models for public accommodation.

John F. Kennedy bust
"I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit."
President John F. Kennedy