Report: The 2017 ‘Kennedy Center Arts Summit’

Two-hundred and fifty artist citizens, teachers, members of arts non-profits, business executives, scientists and technologists from around the world, came together for a full day at the fourth annual Kennedy Center Arts Summit. The summit was organized around the three concepts of Think, Explore and Act, and was enlivened by performances from musicians, speakers and dancers, the most recognizable being Yo-Yo Ma and Dr. Condoleezza Rice.

Eric Kandel, Angela Olinto, Paul Stebbins, Yo-Yo Ma, Rice and Damian Woetzel. Photo by Yassine El Mansouri.

The series of high power panels analyzed commonalities including increasing human interaction, pushing boundaries and reliance on creativity. Numerous panel members recounted the results of implementing arts programs for people in all types of settings. For example, the introduction of an arts program in Savoy Elementary in Washington, DC coincided with an enormous jump in student test scores over only one year. Nursing home patients expressed a greater degree of satisfaction when they had an opportunity to participate in song and dance. Another panel member spoke about the impact that painting large murals on the walls of abandoned buildings in a dilapidated town in Florida; it transformed the area from a ghost town to the host of over a million visitors each year who came to see the community art.

Last year, The Kennedy Center started a fellowship program for ‘citizen artists’ who use the arts in addressing their community’s greatest challenges. Last year’s fellows were honored and The Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellows for 2017/2018 were announced.

In addition to the panel discussions, participants had the opportunity to discover the Hall of Wonder where visual and sensory experiences illustrated how much the arts and sciences share and how they can help us see solutions outside of the box.

Here are short summaries of the Arts Summit’s three areas of exploration:

Finding the Art’s Allies: Shared Values and Social Goals in Cultural Disciplines was moderated by Damian Woetzel, a former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet and currently Director of the Aspen Institute Arts Program. The surprising lineup of the panel included 2000 Nobel Laureate Dr. Eric Kandel; former Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice; world renowned cellist and arts ambassador Yo-Yo Ma; neuroscientist Dr. Olivier Ouillier; astrophysicist Dr. Angela Olinto; advocate for community arts programs that transform declining areas Jessica Goldman Sbrenick; and Paul Stebbins, Chairman and CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

Everyone had both opinions and specific examples to share. Yo-Yo Ma and Dr. Rice spoke about the need to understand cultures in order to gauge reception of both diplomacy and music. Nobel Laureate, Dr. Eric Kandel, spoke extensively on the importance of feedback loops from society to individuals in developing and transforming behavior. Paul Stebbins emphasized that creativity and pushing boundaries are important in business as well as the arts and sciences.

Using Arts to Educate: Youth Development and Mentorship Programs at Work

What Can Cultural Citizens Do Together That They Can’t Do Alone? Moving from Inspiration to Collective Action Through Collaboration

Art and Science at the Edge: Innovations in Art and Science That Create New Culture.

The session I attended, Art and Science at the Edge, involved human-centered science and technology used to increase human creativity and interaction and evoke social change.

Moderated by neuroscientist Dr. Cori Lathan, the panel included Professor Tod Machover from the MIT Media Lab; artist/technologist and virtual reality developer Drue Kataoka; engineer Dr. David Edwards; and neuroscientist Dr. Olivier Oiullier.

Dr. Oiullier has developed a system that allows for collective synchronization of brain waves and a shared and expanded experience. He is the founder of Neuromix which combines DJing, live music, digital art and neurotech. Using special wave detecting headbands, either the DJ or participants in music events have the collective power to change the digital art and colors projected around them. This, in turn, presents a feedback loop that changes experience and begins a new cycle of change in digital art.

Drue Kataoka, currently Google’s Virtual Reality Tilt Brush Artist in Residence, believes that virtual reality can be used to help expand both individual and global experiences of multiple environments, thus expanding individual and communal growth. Many of her projects include interactive artwork with significant social impact using cutting edge technologies, brainwaves and mobile platforms. For her Up! project, she presented an astronaut with a picture. The astronaut cut out a segment and took it into space. Since time is slower in space, she was able to mount in one frame pieces of the picture painted at one time — however one was currently younger than the other.

Dr. David Edwards, founder of Le Laboratoire in Paris and Cambridge, MA, is actively working on projects to find surprising results. One of his foci has been edible packaging (such as the edible water bag). He is also exploring digital scent and breathable insulin. His interest in digital scent stems in part from the power of scent in triggering memories.

Yo-Yo Ma and Condoleezza Rice perform at The Kennedy Center Arts Summit. Photo by Yassine El Mansouri.

Taking Action: Collaborating Effectively Now as Artists and Cultural Citizens

Prior to splitting into working groups, the attendees had the opportunity to listen to Eric Liu, founder of Citizen University, which promotes the power of citizens to foster change and empower youth. The university provides civic education and a national network of leaders.

The Arts Summit clearly reflected a priority of Deborah F. Rutter, President of The Kennedy Center. In addition to fostering excellence in performing arts at The Center, she promotes community education and participation. Her remarks closed the Summit prior to a reception.

The Kennedy Center Arts Summit was hosted by Yo-Yo Ma for the Kennedy Center and presented in collaboration with The Aspen Institute Arts Program, Citizen University, and The Wallace Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

The Kennedy Center Arts Summit took place on May 6, 2017, at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. To purchase tickets to future events, call (202) 467-4600 or go online.


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