Wor­thy of the Kennedy name

A stun­ning pri­vate gift kick-starts ex­pan­sion of Washington’s pre­mier per­form­ing arts venue.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

EIGHT YEARS af­ter its am­bi­tious build­ing plans were side­lined by Congress’s re­fusal to pro­vide funds, the John F. Kennedy Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts un­veiled a scaled-back — but still ex­cit­ing — vi­sion for ex­pan­sion. The project would pro­vide needed re­hearsal and class­room space and en­hanced ac­cess and space for the pub­lic as well. The money will be pri­vately raised — half be­ing do­nated by the cen­ter’s chair­man — set­ting an ex­am­ple of civic-mind­ness.

“I am very much in­ter­ested in pro­mot­ing the idea that the fed­eral government can’t do all of the things it used to be able to do,” cen­ter chair­man David M. Ruben­stein, told the New York Times of his ex­tra­or­di­nary gift of $50 mil­lion to­ward de­sign and con­struc­tion of the new build­ing. Mr. Ruben­stein said he felt an obli­ga­tion as chair­man “to be a leader” and he hopes that more Amer­i­cans will, as the fed­eral bud­get tight­ens, in­clude non­profit fed­eral en­ti­ties in their phi­lan­thropy.

Pre­vi­ous plans to cre­ate a plaza over the jum­ble of roads lead­ing to In­ter­state 66 would have bet­ter con­nected the cen­ter to the Mall. But ab­sent fed­eral trans­porta­tion funds, that am­bi­tious project had scant chance of coming to fruition. So de­signer Steven Holl, whose con­cept was un­veiled last week, looked to the Po­tomac River as a way to open what has been an al­most mono­lithic struc­ture and bet­ter in­te­grate it into the sur­round­ing land­scape. Cascading south from the main build­ing, the ad­di­tions will in­clude pub­lic gar­dens and an out­door stage.

The cen­ter hopes to break ground in 2016 with com­ple­tion in 2018, but there is still much to be done, start­ing with a com­pleted de­sign by Mr. Holl and his team. A va­ri­ety of agen­cies will need to sign off. If re­al­ized, the ex­pan­sion prom­ises to con­tinue the cen­ter’s mis­sion as “a liv­ing me­mo­rial” that hon­ors a pres­i­dent and his ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the arts as well as his love of the water.

REN­DER­ING COURTESY OF STEVEN HOLL AR­CHI­TECTS

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