The Kennedy Center introduces multiple social impact initiatives

The DC venue creates programs to support anti-racism in the nation's cultural center

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has recently revealed a plan for several ongoing and long-term social impact initiatives—and the urgency and importance of this work has only grown over the past month. Back in June, the Kennedy Center made a statement in support of Black lives, Black artists, and Black culture, in which they promised to create strategies to be in greater service of Black artists, audiences, and communities—through the art presented on the Center’s stages, and as a home for critical conversations.

Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Under the leadership of Vice President and Artistic Director of Social Impact Marc Bamuthi Joseph and his team, the Kennedy Center is expanding on work that has been gaining momentum across its artistic and educational programs for many years. They have devised an eight-channel framework with activity that will be prioritized, pursued, and woven throughout the institution. These eight areas of work are not immediate solutions, but strategies through which the Center aims to foster anti-racism within the organization and across the performing arts.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph says: “None of us expect our country or our institution to transform overnight, but that doesn’t mean we can tactically idle while proclaiming that we seek to grow. Our Constitution is the foundational document that essentially designed Freedom, but how do we sustain its spirit in the present day? And, pertinent to today’s announcement, what is the role of our cultural centers in America’s contemporary freedom design? Social Impact is woven throughout our efforts at the Kennedy Center to be a willing and compassionate mechanism for our national ambition to be systemically anti-racist and structurally inclusive in the pursuit of inspiration for all.”

“Social Impact is fundamentally about who we are as the Nation’s Cultural Center and the change maker the arts can be in the world,” said Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter. “While our plans to introduce future phases of our Social Impact initiatives have been in the works for over a year, current events have re-focused and re-doubled our efforts. I applaud the incredible vision of Marc Bamuthi Joseph as both an artist and leader, and the way his team has synthesized new and continuing initiatives in every division of the Kennedy Center.”


Local Creative Economy

The incubation of local cultural leaders and arts-centered education systems through financial support, marketing visibility, performing platforms, and access to the REACH. Initiatives include:

  • The Kennedy Center Culture Caucus, a group of DC individuals, organizations, and initiatives that the Center honors, supports, and holds space for in its programming at the REACH.
  • School partnerships and programs that support arts education practices in schools and communities in the DMV.
  • Social Practice Residencies, a group of cultural leaders known for their work with the Deaf, African American ecumenical, Latinx youth, female refugee, Trans youth, and indigenous communities. This investment in local leadership provides broad support, including access to the REACH’s flexible studio spaces and opportunities for collaboration.
  • Millennium Stage, which is in its 23rd year of providing free, daily performing arts programming.

REACH Activations

On-campus activations re-igniting institutional programming at the REACH—the Kennedy Center’s recent expansion—through a public health lens to prioritize:

  • Physical health: activations designed with physical distancing in mind
  • Psychological health: helping individuals and communities feel comfortable in public spaces again
  • Social/sociological health: an acute focus on anti-racist behavior and a more socially equitable landscape that foregrounds the social health of the body politic.

These programs will launch with a Labor Day activation on Monday, September 7, 2020, marking the one-year anniversary of the opening of the REACH.

The Cartography Project

A new curatorial music program, led by the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) and Washington National Opera (WNO), that expands the radius of orchestral music and opera to embrace equity and talent of diverse backgrounds, challenges organizations and audiences to engage in new perspectives and sources of inspiration, and encourages organizations to pursue contemporary art makers engaging in issues of social importance.

Inspired by the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a visual interpretation of the moral trauma of our history, The Cartography Project seeks to create a musical map of racial hate crimes across America and use music as both a source of healing and a way to open dialogue about the future of anti-racism. The NSO, WNO, and Kennedy Center will be commissioning composers and librettists from regions spanning the entire country to create work that responds to an event that has occurred in that region and also asks, “Where do we go from here?”

Arts Across America
with support from Facebook

On Monday, July 27, 2020, the Kennedy Center will launch Arts Across America, a program to uplift artists and showcase art from communities and regions across the country in this extraordinary time of uncertainty, due to a global pandemic, and unrest, as the nation also faces its history of systemic racism and oppression. This celebration of all who contribute to the culture of the U.S. will serve as a creative platform for addressing inequality and ensuring the livelihoods of artists and art forms. Arts Across America is made possible and livestreamed by Facebook and will continue through December 11, 2020.

Arts Across America leverages Facebook’s expertise in bringing community and the world together in conjunction with the National Cultural Center’s desire and ability to amplify, create, and curate the artistic heritage of all Americans, facilitating a national moment to recognize art and artists from across the country while providing much needed support to the community.

In collaboration with arts organizations from coast to coast, Arts Across America will present 20 weeks of free, online programming available on Facebook Live, Instagram, YouTube, and the Kennedy Center website, five days a week at 4 p.m. EST. A rotating performance schedule will feature performers presented by the Kennedy Center and collaborator organizations Arts Midwest, Mid-America Arts Alliance, Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, New England Foundation for the Arts, South Arts, Western States Arts Federation, jurisdictional arts agencies representing U.S. territories, and

Over 20 weeks, Arts Across America will feature more than 200 diverse, visionary artists who play leadership roles in their communities, exemplify unique regional artistic styles, and are using their medium as a tool for advocacy and social justice.

Gina Belafonte, Executive Director of (founded by Harry Belafonte), said, “We’re excited about working with the Kennedy Center to bring both emerging and world-renowned artists to the people. My mentor has always said artists are the gatekeepers of truth. We are civilization’s radical voice.”

Artists engaged to participate in Arts Across America presentations will include six-time Grammy Award–winning jazz bassist Christian McBride; children’s literature author and poet Kwame Alexander; and musician, singer, and record producer Aloe Blacc.

“On April 10, I had the pleasure of being the first artist in the Kennedy Center’s Couch Concerts series,” said Jason Moran, Kennedy Center Artistic Director for Jazz. “Since then, many artists have chimed in to stream their art directly into homes. With the expansion of our mission, more artists will have an opportunity to share their expressions while engaging a wounded country. The arts will continue to keep a record, and Arts Across America will be an important documentation for the present and the future. How did artists respond to the moment? To quote the saxophonist Charlie Parker, ‘Now’s the Time.’”

A schedule and more information will be available here.

Cultural Leadership

A commitment to identifying and centering cultural leaders whose practices will shape our future, while providing a consistent platform for their thought leadership. This work is a continuation of the Center’s long investment with programs such as Arts Summit—which  in 2020 will virtually elevate and interrogate issues of race, power, equity, access, and accountability with a lens on the arts’ potential for transformative impact beyond the arts—and Citizen Artist Fellows, a group of artists from across the country who use their art forms to create a positive impact in their communities, and represent the overall diversity of the national audience the Kennedy Center strives to reflect and serve.

In 2020, current and former Fellows will play key leadership roles in the Arts Summit, which will be held digitally. The 2020 Citizen Artist Fellows are Damon Davis, Liss LaFleur, Ana Masacote, Anthony Torres, Beatrice Thomas, Yancy Villa-Calvo, and Marvin K. White.  More information on the 2020 Fellows and their work can be found here.


Through its nearly 50-year history, the Kennedy Center has been a home for thousands of Black artists, from hosting Marvin Gaye’s first performance of the What’s Going On album in 1972, to commissioning and producing the 2018 world premiere stage adaptation of Jason Reynolds’s Newberry Honor– and Coretta Scott King Honor–winning book, Long Way Down, and co-producing the BLACK GIRLS ROCK! Festival since 2019. In 2020, the Kennedy Center launches #BlackCultureMatters to name our understanding of how the world of these performances exists within an ongoing need to sustain the Black community at large. The Center will more intentionally connect Black performances on our digital and physical stages to partnerships with community-sustaining visionaries and unsung heroes in the Black community. Through #BlackCultureMatters, the Center will co-design programs and provide workshop space at the REACH for organizations and creatives that engage in anti-racist work.

Beginning in July 2020, #BlackCultureMatters will be an organizing model for curation across the institution through Arts Across America programming and The Cartography Project commissions. Beyond 2020, it will also serve as the inspiration for forthcoming panels, Office Hours (mini-residencies) at the REACH, events produced in conjunction with our Community Advisory Board, and forthcoming content partnerships with the Apollo Theater. #BlackCultureMatters signals the Kennedy Center’s movement from robust but disparate programming that centers Black artists, to more cohesive strategies that use art as a starting place to generate attention and resources for Black audiences and communities nationwide.

INTERNAL CHANNELS: Qualitative Metrics | Evaluative Field Leadership and Sub-Communication Strategy

The Kennedy Center is deeply focused on better self-evaluation as an organization, as well as its progress as an anti-racist institution, and is developing tools to measure the efficacy of our processes and relationships, creating institutional accountability in how we engage community and implement our philosophies and learnings. Additionally, the Center is exploring how alternative language, aesthetics, and modalities could play a key role in communicating more directly and successfully with newer constituency groups and under-represented communities.

Internally, the Kennedy Center is committed to fostering an empowering staff culture and strengthening an environment of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. With an intention to deepen and amplify existing internal efforts, the Center is placing additional focus on hiring practices, training, mentoring, and building inclusive culture through intentional actions and commitment.

Major support for Social Impact initiatives is provided by Ford Foundation and David C. Frederick and Sophia Lynn. Arts Across America is made possible with support from Facebook. Major support for Arts Summit is provided by Annenberg Foundation. Additional support for Social Impact initiatives is provided by Bernstein Family Foundation and the Orlebeke Foundation.

The Kennedy Center has a mission to fulfill now more than ever. But in light of limited operations, the mission is not sustainable without your support. If you have tickets for a cancelled performance, please donate them back to the Center. If you are able to make an online donation, please do. Your gift will be used for programs to create digital educational content and provide virtual performance platforms and support for artists.

Tax-deductible donations can be made on the Kennedy Center website.


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