Statement of Michael Kaiser
President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works
June 4, 2002
††††††††††† Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee: My name is Michael Kaiser. As President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, I am pleased to be able to appear before you today to lend my strong support for legislation that will increase substantially access to the performing arts, and to arts education, for children and adults in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States.†† If enacted, the legislation before you will build upon the success of the Kennedy Center since its founding in 1971 by providing greatly enhanced physical access to those living in or visiting the District of Columbia and by creating the resources required to improve the services the Kennedy Center can offer outside of the District in all fifty states of the union.† This legislation, therefore, provides a natural development of the original vision for the Kennedy Center.
The Kennedy Center is both our national arts center and a living memorial to President Kennedy.† I emphasize the word ďlivingĒ because unlike other memorials whose beauty and majesty lie primarily in their structures, the importance of the Kennedy Center also lies within the people whose lives it touches.† Each year, thousands of musicians, dancers, actors and actresses bring performances to life.† Over five million schoolchildren in all 50 states benefit from our outreach and educational programs each year.† Millions of patrons enjoy performances at the Kennedy Center and millions of tourists visit simply to see our nationís tribute to President Kennedy.
The reach of the Kennedy Center has grown beyond what anyone could have envisioned when the National Cultural Center was first authorized in 1958.† But much more remains to be done.† The proposal before this Committee will ensure that the Kennedy Centerís physical facilities can support our enhanced vision of this nationís living arts memorial in two important ways.
††††††††††† First, the legislation will expand access to the Kennedy Center.† The reconfiguration of the roadways and the construction of a new Plaza will make physically accessing the Kennedy Center more user-friendly.† Traffic will be routed more directly to the Kennedy Center and new bike trails and pedestrian paths will make alternative methods of access a reality.†
These changes not only will provide pragmatic physical access, but also will finally link the Kennedy Center to the rest of the District.† Currently the Kennedy Center is an island in a sea of roadways.† As envisioned in the Department of Transportationís report, the reconfigured roadways, bike trails and pedestrian paths will link the Kennedy Center more directly to other important landmarks and the Mall.† More than four decades after it was envisioned, the Kennedy Center will finally become linked to the heart of our capitalís memorials on the Mall.
Access will be increased not only in a physical sense, but also in terms of the potential audience.† With the expansion of the Kennedy Center through the creation of the Plaza and the construction of two buildings on the Plaza, more opportunities for reaching new audiences can be realized.† The increased green space around the Kennedy Center makes consideration of outdoor concerts viable.† New rehearsal space expands the possibility of master classes or a greater variety of new pieces created for smaller venues.† The greater the variety of the artistic works that can be brought to the Kennedy Center, the broader the audience that the Center can reach Ė a vital goal for an arts center charged with serving a multicultural nation.
The proposal will also help the Kennedy Center fulfill another important part of its mandate Ė to educate the nation about the performing arts.† One of the new Plaza buildings will be dedicated solely to that mission.† The new building will house displays on the history of the performing arts, drawing from the collections of the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution.† Visitors will also be able to experience life in the arts through interactive displays that allow visitors to take part in such activities as conducting an orchestra or designing sets and costumes.
The future of the performing arts in our nation is dependent on educating children about this nationís rich arts heritage and the joy of involvement in the arts.†† This new building dedicated to educating our citizens about our nationís rich performing arts history and increasing an understanding of the potential of our arts future is an essential component to fulfilling the Kennedy Centerís role as our nationís cultural center.
I am proud of all that the Kennedy Center has accomplished over the last 31 years.† It has sealed its place as the center of our nationís performing arts; it has honored President Kennedyís memory with continuous arts performances; and it has educated generations of Americans about all that is great in our nationís performing arts.
The Kennedy Center is now prepared to build upon its success in this new century.† As in the past, we will work in partnership with Congress to bring this shared vision of an expanded national performing arts center to life.† The new buildings on the Plaza will be constructed with privately raised funds.† This will be no small undertaking on the part of the Kennedy Center.† However, I am confident the private funds required can be identified.† The growing enthusiasm for the activities of the Kennedy Center can be seen in the increasing levels of private support we have enjoyed recently. This fiscal year, alone, the Kennedy Center will raise more private money than ever before in its history, increasing contributed revenue 25 percent over the prior year during a difficult economic period.
I feel confident, therefore, that the partnership and shared vision that have bolstered the Kennedy Center to a level of success not imagined at its inception will bring this project to fruition.† Everyone at the Kennedy Center is deeply grateful to this Committee for its consideration of this legislation and its past support and especially to you Mr. Chairman for your continuing interest in the arts and education of this nation. We would also like to acknowledge the tremendous support we have received from the Department of Transportation and Secretary Mineta and the District of Columbia and Mayor Williams.
I stand ready to work with Congress, with the Department of Transportation and with the District of Columbia to realize this vision for our nationís art center and am confident that our historic partnership will bring unimaginable benefits to our nation through an expanded and more accessible John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.