The Kennedy Center Announces Long-Term Social Impact Initiatives

By Chris Ruel

On Thursday, July 9, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced the continuation and expansion of long-term Social Impact initiatives leveraging the arts for non-arts outcomes.

Under the leadership of Vice President and Artistic Director of Social Impact, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and the Social Impact team, the Kennedy Center is harnassing the momentum it has built across its artistic and educational programs to grow its social impact footprint. The Center outlined an eight-channel framework with activities prioritized, pursued, and woven throughout the institution. Major support for the Social Impact Initiatives is provided by the Ford Foundation and David C. Frederick and Sophia Lynn, with additional support from the Bernstein Family Foundation and the Orlebeke Foundation.

On June 2, 2020, the Center stated its support of Black lives, Black artists, and Black culture. The statement promised to create strategies for providing more comprehensive co-operation and engagement with Black artists, audiences, and communities, using the art presented on the Center’s stages, and serving as a home for critical conversations.

The Center’s announced initiatives are not quick solutions, but long-term strategies to foster systemic anti-racism within the organization and across the performing arts. The Center has identified key internal metrics by which it will hold itself accountable. These include a deep focus on organizational self-evaluation; its advancement as an anti-racist institution. and the development of tools to measure the efficacy of processes and relationships at the institutional and community levels.

Additionally, the Center will explore how alternative language, aesthetics, and modalities can play a key role in better communication with newer constituency groups and under-represented communities. The stated goal of the internal evaluation is to empower staff culture and create a strong environment of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Hiring practices, training, mentoring, and building an inclusive culture through actions and commitment will also be reviewed on a continual basis.

Local Creative Economy

This area concentrates on the incubation of local cultural leaders and arts-centered education systems through financial support, marketing visibility, performing platforms, and access to the REACH — the Center’s space in which visitors, audiences, and artists can meet for collaboration, experimentation, and exploration in the spirit of President John F. Kennedy.

Sub-initiatives housed within this area include The Kennedy Center Culture Caucus, a group of D.C. individuals, organizations, and initiatives that the Center honors, supports, and holds space for in its programming at the REACH; school partnerships and programs supporting arts education in schools and communities in the D.C. region, and Social Practice Residencies consisting 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. The Millennium Stage will continue its 23-year history of providing free, daily performing arts programming.

REACH Activations

Programming at the REACH will prioritize public, psychological, and social health, by adhering to physical distancing best practices; helping individuals and communities feel comfortable in public spaces again, and focusing on anti-racist behavior and a more socially equitable landscape.

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

Led by the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) and Washington National Opera (WNO), this new curatorial music program broadens the scope of orchestral music and opera to embrace equity and talent of diverse backgrounds, challenge organizations and audiences to engage in new perspectives and sources of inspiration, and encourage organizations to pursue contemporary art makers engaging in issues of social importance.

The Center will create a musical map of racial hate crimes across America, using music as both a source of healing and a way to open dialogue about the future of anti-racism. Composers and librettists from regions across the country will be commissioned by the NSO, WNO, and Kennedy Center to create work that responds to an event that has occurred in that region.

The project was inspired by the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a visual interpretation of the moral trauma of U.S. history.

Arts Across America Sponsored by Facebook

On Monday, July 27, 2020, the Kennedy Center will launch Arts Across America, featuring over 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, presenting 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; as well as jurisdictional arts agencies representing U.S. territories; and 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.

The program is designed to uplift artists and showcase art from communities and regions across the country in this time of uncertainty, pandemic, and unrest, as the nation reckons with its history of systemic racism and oppression.

This celebration will serve as a creative platform for addressing inequality and ensuring the livelihoods of artists and art forms. Arts Across America is made possible by Facebook and will continue through December 11, 2020, via live stream. A schedule and more information will be available HERE.

Cultural Leadership

In 2020, current and former Fellows will play key leadership roles in a digitally held Arts Summit.

This work is a continuation of the Center’s long investment with programs such as Arts Summit—which in 2020 will raise and examine issues of race, power, equity, access, and accountability with a lens on the arts’ potential for transformative impact beyond the arts.

The Citizen Artist Fellows is a group of artists from across the country who use their art forms to create a positive impact in their communities, representing the overall diversity of the national audience the Kennedy Center aims to reflect and serve. 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. Major support for Arts Summit is provided by the Annenberg Foundation.


Launching in 2020, #BlackCultureMatters signals the Kennedy Center’s movement toward more cohesive strategies using art as a starting point to generate attention and resources for Black audiences and communities nationwide. Through its nearly 50-year history, the Kennedy Center has been a home for thousands of Black artists.

As part of the initiative, the Center will co-design programs and provide workshop space at the REACH for organizations and creatives that engage in anti-racist work. #BlackCultureMatters recognizes the ongoing need to sustain the Black community at large and the Center will more deliberately connect Black performances on its digital and physical stages to partnerships with leaders in the Black community.

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 the Center’s Community Advisory Board, and forthcoming content partnerships with the Apollo Theater.