By DANA GRAY, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON, DC — The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ sprawling new expansion, the REACH, aims to further the institution’s mission of connecting the arts with the diverse community in the nation’s capital.
“The name reflects a quote by (President Kennedy) that reads ‘I believe the problems of humanity are not beyond the reach of human beings,'” explained Kennedy Center volunteer Roberta Gluck.
The REACH is offering both free, public events and private rental rooms to accommodate visitors and artists alike.
“The whole concept here is to bring the performer and the audience closer together,” said Gluck. “There will be performances here that you’ll have to buy a ticket for. But, for instance, the Moonshot Studio for families will always be free.”
After nearly six years of construction, the $250 million REACH marks the first expansion of the Kennedy Center since it first opened to the public in 1971.
The sleek, new space includes three towering, white pavilions containing interactive learning labs, rehearsal studios, art installations, and quotes from Kennedy scattered throughout. A pedestrian bridge that for the first time connects the Kennedy Center to the National Mall, as well as indoor and outdoor social spaces, are also elements of the 130,000-square-foot expansion.
“As the nation’s cultural center, the Kennedy Center strives to reflect and advance the cultural interests of our community. More and more, today’s audiences crave connection—with art and with each other—while artists and arts organizations desire customized spaces that nurture their creative endeavors,” said Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter. “The REACH will fulfill many of those needs, all within a one-of-a-kind design that is a work of art in and of itself.”
The Kennedy Center originally was to be known as the National Cultural Center, created by a 1958 law signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Kennedy, his successor, was active in helping to raise money for the center.
Two months after Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, Congress designated the center as a “living memorial” to the 35th president. Construction began in 1965.
Designed by Edward Durell Stone, the massive marble edifice on the Potomac River has been the setting for classical concerts, dramas, musicals, dance recitals, experimental works, glittering inaugural balls and the Kennedy Center Honors, an annual gala recognizing those who have made lasting contributions to the performing arts.
“It’s really pretty,” said Kendall Grady, who attended the REACH in its opening week. “It’s very new looking, just a nice area to be in.”
During its two-week opening festival, which ran from Sept. 7 through Sept. 22, the REACH saw over 100,000 people attend nearly 500 free events.
The opening festival featured live performances, workshops, interactive installations and film screenings to help introduce the REACH to the public. Local and national headliners, including composer Alan Menken, Arrested Development, comedian Judah Friedlander and the National Symphony Orchestra, hosted performances and master classes throughout the 16-day festival.
Menken, who is largely known for lending his songwriting talents to Disney and Broadway classics, attracted large crowds to the space. His nighttime performance of some of his greatest hits, featuring Broadway stars and the National Symphony Orchestra, drew strong praise from those in attendance.
Guests saw a variety of entertainment genres that went beyond the theater during the opening festival. Different cultural offerings, including comedy, jazz, classical music and dance, were featured and will continue to be highlighted at the REACH.
Friedlander, a Gaithersburg, Maryland, native who grew up attending events at the Kennedy Center, said that “it’s cool to be doing shows at it,” including his featured act at the REACH.
“The bulk of my act is jokes and satire on American exceptionalism and how our country deals with all its human rights issues,” Friedlander said. As a featured comedian during the opening festival’s comedy day, Friedlander gave the largely Washington-based audience a laugh during his set.
Designed by architect Steven Holl, the REACH was created as a compliment to the Kennedy Center and create a unified campus for the arts.
“The REACH’s unique design will inspire a wide population to share and own their arts experiences. Building on the Kennedy Center’s rich ongoing programming portfolio to reflect the art of our entire nation,” said Rutter.
“It’s going to be a great asset to the Kennedy Center,” said Raymond Schilling, a frequent visitor who was present at the REACH’s opening festival. “It’s going to bring many more people here.”