Statement of Senator Jim Jeffords
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Hearing on the Kennedy Center Plaza Project
June 4, 2002
President John F. Kennedy, in a 1963 speech at Amherst College, said it best: "Art establishes the basic human truths, which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment." The performing arts teach us these important truths through Sondheim and Gershwin, through Baryshnikov and Bach. For over 30 years, we have had the good fortune of having the Kennedy Center serve as our national classroom.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts began as the National Cultural Center in 1958. During the early 1960s, President Kennedy led the charge to raise funds for this national center for the performing arts. In January 1964, Congress dedicated the National Cultural Center as a living memorial to President Kennedy in recognition of his tireless efforts to promote the arts.
Since its opening requiem in 1971, the Kennedy Center has presented a unique perspective into the development of our national identity through the performing arts.
But to continue to serve as a national symbol for the arts and a model for arts education for students both young and old, the Kennedy Center must grow. As part of this growing process, the Department of Transportation conducted a comprehensive study of ways to improve access to the Kennedy Center. The study proposes some ambitious infrastructure enhancements to the Center with many public and private partners.
The goal of the enhancements is to improve access to the Center and to link the Center to the National Mall and the surrounding neighborhoods. The goal of the enhancements is also to provide more rehearsal and education space for the Kennedy Center.
To meet this goal, the study proposes construction of a plaza on top of the maze of city streets and Interstate 66 running in front of the Center, and construction of a rehearsal and education center on top of the plaza. Today, we convene to discuss this proposal.
I have long been a supporter of the arts, and I applaud the Kennedy Center's efforts and mission as an international ambassador of the performing arts. But the proposal before us today represents a major construction project, and major construction projects are expensive. I am concerned about the lack of an accurate cost estimate for this project and I hope today's hearing will help clarify some of the uncertainties surrounding the cost of the project.
I am also hopeful that today's panel will help us better understand the role each entity will play if the proposed plaza project moves forward.
Again, thank you all for coming today, and I look forward to hearing from each of you.