The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is unlike any other theater in the world. The Center, which sits on 17 acres fronting the Potomac River, holds seven theaters on whose stages the very best national and international artists perform in every possible genre: opera, chamber music, comedy, symphony orchestra, dramatic theater, ballet, modern dance, musicals, jazz, children’s plays, you name it. More than 3,000 performances take place here in a single year, attracting audiences whose totals exceed two million.
A typical season might include performances by Russia’s Mariinsky Ballet Company, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Bonnie Raiit, Boyz II Men, the National Symphony Orchestra, Washington National Opera, comedian Jane Lynch, jazz master saxophonist Joshua Redman, and the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre company.
Plus, the Center hosts highly entertaining festivals every year that focus on a particular culture or theme.
Check out the calendar and if you see something on the Center’s schedule that
appeals, go for it. In fact, though, there’s reason to visit even if you’re without a ticket. The Center is open every single day, including Christmas, and costs nothing to tour. The Center is decorated throughout with gifts from more than 60 nations, as well as from artists, individuals and organizations. For example, that magnificent chandelier in the Opera House is from Austria. It’s worth taking a guided tour, but should you walk around on your own, pick up a self-guided tour brochure from the Visitors Center or tour desk. Be sure to stroll the terrace overlooking the Potomac and try to attend the free one-hour Millennium Stage performance, which features a different act (local, international, famous, up-and-coming, you just never know) every evening at 6pm. The Kennedy Center is the only theater in the country that stages a free entertainment nightly.
This is a national theater but it is a gift to the world, intended always as a place where artistry knows no boundaries. Envisioned first by one president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who signed the 1958 bipartisan legislation establishing a National Cultural Center, the arts facility is named for Eisenhower’s successor, John F. Kennedy, who believed that “… as a great democratic society, we have a special responsibility to the arts, for art is the great democrat calling forth creative genius from every sector of society, disregarding race or religion or wealth or color.”
Kennedy uttered those words in a speech given on November 29, 1962 to jumpstart a fundraising campaign to build the Center. The multi-theater facility opened nine years later, on September 8, 1971. Undergoing an expansion, the Kennedy Center is building three pavilions to house additional performance and education spaces, and a pedestrian bridge that will span Rock Creek Parkway, connecting the Kennedy Center with the Potomac River waterfront.
Metro: Foggy Bottom on the Silver, Blue and Orange Lines. The Kennedy Center runs a shuttle to and from the station.