November 7, 2019

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts marked a major milestone with the launch of the REACH this fall. Representing the first expansion in the center’s 48-year history, the new space opened in September with an inclusive, multi-genre, 16-day festival. Offering 500-plus events at the nation’s cultural center, this attracted crowds of more than 100,000 people and inspired a wealth of positive press. “The REACH will contribute to the cultural health of the city,” declared the Washington Post. “The Kennedy Center’s new complex is not just more fluid, usable, and versatile than we had any right to expect,” marveled New York magazine, “it is also the rare project that improved on its way from concept and digital renderings to final construction.” Recognizing this historic achievement, PBS devoted a NewsHour segment to the story and Fox News’s Sunday with Chris Wallace named Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter its “Power Player of the Week.” Click here to see the dedicated feature on PBS’s NewsHour.

Comprising three new sunlit pavilions and more than 130,000 square feet of new landscaped green space, the REACH was designed by preeminent architect Steven Holl as a home for non-traditional programming with an emphasis on active participation and access. As Rutter told Chris Wallace:

“We need a place that is informal, inviting, and a place where we can put the artist and the audience really close together and see what happens. … [Today’s audience] wants to know the artist, know the process by which the art was created, know the backstory, know where did they buy that beautiful costume: there’s a much deeper connection.”

Numerous critics have responded to the ways the REACH is fostering new kinds of interaction between artists and their audience. The Atlantic’s CityLab observes:

“The REACH was made for accidents, whether that’s the office worker who wanders in for coffee and lingers to watch a cellist rehearse, or a jogger who catches a glimpse of ballet while running on a drizzly day, or a couple with a 7:30 curtain who bail for a comedy set instead. The REACH is painstakingly, exquisitely, exactingly designed for chance.”

On Tap affirms:

“The three sloping structures opening to the public this month were built upon the pillars of inclusivity, accessibility and interactivity. … They ultimately exist as a platform for artists and the community to connect on their own terms.”

NPR adds:

“Movement is central to the experience the Kennedy Center is trying to achieve with the REACH. Curved walls, light-filled, flexible performance spaces and views of the flowing Potomac River all contribute to the effect. Architect Steven Holl says the ‘swooping lines’ were inspired by the glissando in music: fitting for a campus where professional performers, apprentices, summer campers and audiences will intentionally commingle.”

As PBS’s NewsHour puts it:

“A weekday rehearsal by the National Symphony Orchestra – and one floor down, dancers finalizing their choreography for an upcoming performance. Nothing unusual, but here at the Kennedy Center, as at most other major performing arts centers, all this is typically behind the scenes off-limits to visitors. Now opportunities to watch artists at work, hear lectures, and participate in workshops on a regular basis are all part of what Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter calls a 21st-century arts campus.”

Hailed as “the D.C. event of late summer – an impressive smorgasbord of comedy, dance, theater, music and family activities” (Washington Post), the Opening Festival featured local and national headliners including Arrested Development, De La Soul, Kronos Quartet, Roomful of Teeth, The Second City, Thievery Corporation, Debbie Allen, Yalitza Aparicio, Bootsy Collins, Renée Fleming, Judah Friedlander, Robert Glasper, Angélique Kidjo, Alan Menken, Tiler Peck, Carrie Mae Weems, Mo Willems and Dan Zanes, many of whom connected with audiences not only through performance but also through workshops, masterclasses and residencies. The New York Times captured a typical scene in snapshot:

“A mid-September breeze swept over the lawn, where a free outdoor screening of The Black Panther on a giant new video wall had drawn an audience of hundreds the previous night. In the nearby Moonshot Studio, middle schoolers were making zoetropes inspired by the children’s book author and pigeon portraitist Mo Willems. Olmeca, a hip-hop artist, was getting a small crowd to clap to his beat in Studio K, just past studios J and F, while, in a nearby lecture hall, Rosdely Ciprian, a 14-year-old actress in the play What the Constitution Means to Me, spoke with an interviewer who had some thoughts on that subject: Justice Sonia Sotomayor.”

On seeing her vision become a reality, Rutter reflected: “It has been an experience that you dream of in a career but you’re not sure if you’ll ever experience directly. And I have! I’m ecstatic.” Click here to see her conversation with Chris Wallace on Fox News.

The REACH is currently exhibiting its first visual arts show, “Portraits of Courage”: a series of 66 watercolor portraits of veterans by former president George W. Bush. Paying tribute to members of the armed forces in honor of Veterans Day (Nov 11), the collection will be on view through November 15.

Veterans Jim Herring and DeWitt Osborne III with their portraits (photo: Jati Lindsay)

Upcoming REACH highlights include the launch of a new Dance Wellness series and of the Club at Studio K, a multi-genre lounge space designed for local and national acts. Meanwhile, artmakers of all ages and experience levels are invited to roll up their sleeves in the Moonshot Studio, the REACH’s innovative new hands-on learning lab, which is open and hosting free walk-ins every Saturday. Click here to see the full REACH schedule.

Click here to download photos from the REACH’s opening festival.

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Press contacts:

Glenn Petry, 21C Media Group: (212) 625-2038; [email protected]
Louise Barder, 21C Media Group: (646) 532-4372; [email protected]
Eileen Andrews, Kennedy Center: (202) 416-8448; [email protected]

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© 21C Media Group, November 2019