On Sept. 18 President George W. Bush signed the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Plaza Authorization Act into law. The act will allow the Department of Transportation to spend up to $400 million to create a new plaza over the Potomac Freeway, which will make the Center more accessible to pedestrians, bicycle riders and those coming from the National Mall and downtown Washington, D.C.
The Act, which was passed by Congress in early September, will also allow the famed Center to build — with private donations — two additional buildings: an arts education center and one that will feature expanded office and rehearsal space. The education center will include exhibitions devoted to the history of the performing arts in America drawn from collections of the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institute. Interactive displays — conducting an orchestra, designing sets/costumes, planning a concert season — will also be part of the new building.
In a statement, Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser said, "The new buildings on the plaza, which will reshape the current landscape, will be constructed with privately raised funds. This will be no small undertaking on the part of the Center. However, there is great enthusiasm for this project, and I am confident the private funds required can be raised."
In addition to the education center, a second building providing rehearsal space and administrative offices will be erected. This building will also provide space for The Washington Opera, an independent organization that performs at the Kennedy Center. About the new building, Plácido Domingo, the artistic director of the Washington Opera, said, "For some years I have known of this plan and I have been waiting and hoping that it would happen. I congratulate the Kennedy Center, where The Washington Opera performs, on this grand venture which will make the attendance of opera even more exciting — and I salute all the members of Congress and other government officials for recognizing the important role the arts play in our society. This is truly a unique endeavor." Opera buffs will also be able to view selected rehearsals in the new facility.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, America's living memorial to President Kennedy, is the nation's busiest performing arts facility. For more information, go to www.kennedy-center.org. —By Andrew Gans