Yo-Yo Ma to Serve as Artistic Advisor At Large for The Kennedy Center’s Yearlong Celebration Marking Centennial of John F. Kennedy’s Birth

Yo-Yo Ma
Kennedy Center

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Yearlong Celebration Marking Centennial of
John F. Kennedy’s Birth

As JFK’s “Living Memorial,” Center to offer a wide range of programs reflective of late President’s vision, ideals, and legacy
from April 2016–May 2017
alongside forward-looking initiatives reflecting
contemporary spirit of America

Yo-Yo Ma to Serve as Artistic Advisor At Large, Advocating and Fostering JFK Ideals through Programming and Public Engagement

Hip Hop becomes a core programming area
with Q-Tip Appointed its first Artistic Director of Hip Hop Culture

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts today announced an expansive, yearlong initiative marking and honoring the 100th anniversary of the birth of its namesake, the late President John F. Kennedy (JFK), and initiatives reaching far into the future. Under the visionary leadership of Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter, the Kennedy Center is revitalizing and focusing its mission at a pivotal time in its history—seeking to be an institution that explores, challenges, and truly reflects the contemporary spirit of America. Through a range of creative and dynamic programming—from performances to public initiatives to interactive events—the Kennedy Center aims to evolve and transform the institution to strongly connect with the ideals and legacy imparted by America’s 35th President. Presenting and collaborating with many of today’s leading artists, and working across genres, the Center aims to be a home for classical and contemporary arts. Centennial programs are designed to encourage dialogue and personal creativity, highlight the role of culture and artists in society, bring people together, and connect artists and audiences in more powerful ways—goals long championed by acclaimed cellist and humanitarian Yo-Yo Ma, who begins a three-year relationship with the Center as its newly appointed Artistic Advisor At Large.

“We want to do more than just commemorate a great President on the 100th anniversary of his birth,” commented Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter. “It is important to all of us here at the Center, that we live, breathe, and demonstrate his legacy, and be guided by the essence of his remarkably enduring contributions: idealism, hope, and empowerment. Through our artists and bold, creative initiatives, the Kennedy Center is also blazing a path toward the future. Already we have made huge strides, and this season is designed to encourage our institution to become more and more a true reflection of our rich, diverse culture and the world in which we live.” “I am an immigrant; one whose first experience of the United States came during John F. Kennedy’s presidency,” stated Yo-Yo Ma. “Many of the ideals his administration represented—championing the arts and sciences, empowering youth through education and service—became mine at that time, and I hold them still. It is an honor and a privilege to be celebrating the centennial of JFK’s birth at this great institution that commemorates him.”

The underpinning of the JFK Centennial is a creative vision inspired and informed by the ideals of John F. Kennedy himself: Courage, Freedom, Justice, Service, and Gratitude—quintessentially American values that represent the aspirational best of the country’s character. These important ideals, infused with creativity, serve as a visionary springboard for a renewed, long-range way of thinking at the Kennedy Center. The Center will champion these ideals through artistic and audience-based initiatives organized around three broad themes. “Celebrating the Man and His Legacy,” “Citizen Artistry,” and “Playing it Forward.”

As part of “Celebrating the Man and his Legacy,” the Center presents IRELAND 100: Celebrating a Century of Irish Arts & Culture, which will feature performance of Tiny Plays (May 24 & 25, 2016), staged readings of short 500+ word plays reflecting Kennedy’s legacy that were submitted by both Irish and American residents as part of a playwriting challenge. Also part of the IRELAND 100 Festival, on May 26, 2016, the Center presents three documentary film screenings chronicling President Kennedy’s historic visit to Ireland in 1963.

The Centennial celebrations will officially kick off with an evening ceremony and special Millennium Stage performance on May 29, 2016 (Kennedy’s 99th birthday). Centennial events will culminate with an Open House the weekend of May 29, 2017, when the institution will throw open its doors for a free, festival showcasing street arts, Hip Hop, and skate culture, as well as classical and contemporary arts, in spaces inside and outside the building.

“Citizen Artistry,” which embraces the idea of using the arts to bring about positive change in people’s lives, will be explored throughout the season, starting with the third annual Arts Summit on April 25, 2016. Co-curated by Ma and fellow Artistic Advisor At Large Renée Fleming, the Summit brings together thought leaders from across the arts and related fields to engage in conversation focused on the enduring power of President Kennedy’s ideals and the importance of individual participation. Through a series of interactive events, the Kennedy Center will invite the public to respond to President Kennedy’s call, finding their own place and voice at the Center, and actively taking part in the cultural and civic life of their communities, the nation, and the world.

“Playing It Forward” moves the artistic and civic dialogue firmly into the present, with a range of artists whose work across disciplines shapes and reflects our society today. The Center’s yearlong celebration, comprising more than 30 individual events, including special JFK-related, institution-wide commissions, will echo and champion John F. Kennedy, while showing how artists are carrying Kennedy’s timeless ideals forward:

• Hip Hop, the uniquely American culture rooted in innovation and courage and achieving ever-widening global impact, will expand to become a core area of programming at the Center. MC/rapper, record producer, and Hip Hop pioneer Q-Tip joins the Kennedy Center as its first Artistic Director of Hip Hop Culture, with programs starting in the summer of 2016.
• Terence Blanchard will be an Artist in Residence during the 2016–2017 season. With Terence Blanchard All-In, the multi-Grammy Award®-winning artist and educator comments on social justice in contemporary America with Breathless (a nod to Eric Garner’s “I Can’t Breathe” quote) with contemporary electronic group, the E-Collective; Bud, Not Buddy, his work scored for jazz ensemble and actors; and collaborations with D.C. Public Schools.
• Washington National Opera presents Blanchard’s Champion, an opera about Emile Griffith, the welterweight world champion and closeted gay man whose story addresses violence, gay prejudice, and racism in 21st-century America, as well as Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, the emotional and though-provoking opera based on Sister Helen Prejean’s relationship with a Death Row inmate.
¡Que Viva Cesar! Celebrating the legacy of Civil Rights activist and labor leader Cesar Chavez, an intimate look at the man and the myth, will explore the intersection in Chavez and Kennedy’s fight for justice and civil rights.
• (IN)SECURITY or Jack and Niki Do the Cold War Tango, a piece by Company E, will invoke the story of Kennedy’s relationship with Soviet Premier Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev.
• The Center will present tributes to civil rights activists and remarkable artists Abbey Lincoln, Pete Seeger, and Nina Simone.
• In a weeklong National Symphony Orchestra residency, Kennedy Center Artist-in-Residence Joshua Bell performs and collaborates on a host of artistic and educational events.
• JFK-inspired programs will also feature the work of playwrights, choreographers, opera composers and librettists, emerging poets, and international choirs who hail from countries where Kennedy’s Peace Corps have helped to promote peace and diplomacy.

Read the full press release and view a complete listing of scheduled JFK Centennial performances and events here.