Established in 1958 through bipartisan legislation by President Eisenhower, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts first opened its doors on September 8, 1971.
Opening with a gala performance and Requiem mass in honor of President Kennedy— who was a strong advocate for the arts and spearheaded the fundraising of the $70 million dollar facility—the Kennedy Center works to provide the district and the nation with various cultural and educational programs spanning from music to theater, and everything in between.
The piece— MASS— performed at the debut was created by “West Side Story” composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. You can still read the original program, which includes quotes from President Nixon, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Mamie Eisenhower.
“Most people think of Washington, D.C. as being purely a political town, when in fact we have a dynamic arts community that actively plays a huge role in the way we experience our world,” says Deborah F. Rutter, the Kennedy Center’s president.
Here are some photos from the Kennedy Center’s construction and 1964 groundbreaking ceremony: