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Kennedy Center
2700 F Street NW
Washington, DC  20566
The Kennedy Center is a center for performing arts and living memorial to President John F. Kennedy

The Kennedy Center is a national cultural center located on the shores of the Potomac River in northwest Washington, DC. Its mission is threefold – to serve as a performing arts center, a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy, and a world class arts education center.

Exterior of the Kennedy Center

Exterior view of the Kennedy Center. The interior and exterior are wrapped in Carrara marble gifted from Italy in 1970. The large bronze sculpture was a gift from Germany in 1971.

History of the Kennedy Center
President's Box at the Kennedy Center

President’s Box in the Eisenhower Theater at the Kennedy Center

The idea for a national cultural center dates back to President George Washington’s plan for the federal city. After decades of failed attempts, the idea was finally realized when President Dwight D. Eisenhower put his support behind a bill to create the center, and signed it into law in 1958. Funding for construction of the building was to be paid for with private contributions, but by the time Eisenhower’s presidency ended, little funding had been raised and the project seemed doomed.

Passionate about the arts, next President John F. Kennedy launched a national fundraising campaign that brought in millions toward the project, but was tragically cut short with his assassination. To honor the fallen president, Congress renamed the National Cultural Center to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, appropriated matching public funds to complete the project, and expanded the Center’s mission to serve as a memorial to President Kennedy.

Architect Edward Durell Stone designed the Center, a rectangular structure wrapped in marble spanning 630 feet along the Potomac River. It includes three main theaters – the Concert Hall, the Opera House, and the Eisenhower Theater – with the 63-foot high Grand Foyer, Hall of Nations and Hall of States providing passage between them. Construction began in 1965 and the Kennedy Center welcomed its first performance in 1971.

Kennedy Center Hall of States

Hall of States in the Kennedy Center lined with state flags at the front entrance of the building

Grand Foyer at the Kennedy Center

Grand Foyer at the Kennedy Center lighted with Orrefors crystal chandeliers gifted from Sweden in 1967

In 2019, the Kennedy Center campus was expanded to include “The REACH,” a set of three pavilions located on the south side of the main building. Designed by architect Steven Holl, the new space features venues for indoor and outdoor performances, arts education classrooms, green space, and connecting walkways to make the Kennedy Center more pedestrian accessible.

Missions of the Kennedy Center
As a Performing Arts Center

The Kennedy Center hosts over 2,000 music, theater and dance performances each year covering at least 12 different genres which represent cultures from around the globe. While used by other performers as well, the Concert Hall is the home of the National Symphony Orchestra and the Opera House is home Washington National Opera. The Eisenhower Theater hosts theater and dance performances. Several smaller venues are located on the main and terrace levels, including the Millennium Stage, where free daily performances have been given since 1997.

As a Living Memorial to President Kennedy

The Kennedy Center honors the fallen President in several ways. A 3,000 pound bronze bust of President Kennedy sculpted by Robert Berks is on display in the Grand Foyer flanked by interactive exhibits.

Quotations by President Kennedy in support of the arts are engraved in glass and marble on the exterior of the buildings.

John F. Kennedy Bust

Bronze bust of President John F. Kennedy inside the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC by sculptor Robert Berks

JFK Quote

Quote by President John F. Kennedy etched into the marble walls at the Kennedy Center

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Center, a new bronze statue of President Kennedy sculpted by Studio EIS was unveiled on the grounds of the REACH in 2021.

The most recent tribute, opened in 2022, is a permanent exhibit on the roof terrace level called “Arts and Ideals: President John F. Kennedy” which showcases his enduring support for the arts.

As an Education Center

As a national cultural center, the Kennedy Center works to educate children across the country on the performing arts through youth training programs, videos and lesson plans. Click here for more information. The REACH also provides new space for arts education classrooms, smaller performances and rehearsals in an effort to develop emerging and multi-cultural talent. See more information here.

Ways to Enjoy the Kennedy Center
Attend a Performance

You can purchase tickets for individual performances or concert subscriptions here. If you cannot attend in person, see what’s available for free on the Digital Stage, or on the premium channel Digital Stage+. Free performances on the Millennium Stage are available via livestream, or can be watched later online.

Concert Hall at the Kennedy Center

Concert Hall at the Kennedy Center lighted with Hadelands crystal chandeliers gifted from Norway in 1972

Opera House at the Kennedy Center

Opera House at the Kennedy Center adorned with a crystal chandelier, a gift from Austria in 1969

Tour the Kennedy Center

A performing arts center may not seem an obvious choice for a tour, but it is definitely a unique experience that is different from the monuments and museums on the National Mall. As a national cultural center with international outreach, it has been the recipient of exquisite gifts from foreign countries that are represented in both the interior and exterior of the building. Take a free tour to see and learn about the rooms and objects that you typically won’t see while attending a performance.

Opera House Circles Lounge

Opera House Circles Lounge at the Kennedy Center with murals by Russian artist Valery Koshlyakov and Waterford crystal chandeliers gifted from Ireland

Israeli Lounge at the Kennedy Center

Detail from the wooden ceiling panel by artist Shraga Weil in the Israeli Lounge at the Kennedy Center, a gift of the People and State of Israel in 1971

The Center also offers a magnificent views of the City of Washington from the roof terrace. Be sure to consider the weather forecast when planning a tour.

Roof Terrace at the Kennedy Center

The roof terrace, which wraps all the way around the Kennedy Center, offers fantasic views of Washington, DC and Northern Virginia across the Potomac River

Take Classes

Performing arts classes are available in person and online. Check the calendar for in person opportunities and the Education section for recorded events.

Want to Support the Kennedy Center?

You can support the Kennedy Center by donating, becoming a member, attending performances or volunteering. Check here for details or purchase a gift here.

Kennedy Center Map

Check for opportunities here
or buy a gift here

Edward Durell Stone
Steven Holl

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US Capitol Building in Washington, DC

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