The Wash

“Culture park on the river” at the Kennedy Center draws crowds to Foggy Bottom

Opening ceremony draws huge numbers to new hub for the arts

by Shabnam Danesh

Imagine listening to outdoor reggae music on a warm evening accompanied by a magnificent sunset on the Potomac River. That was the scene at the closing event of the REACH Festival, a 16-day celebration that drew huge numbers of visitors.

Groups gather on the lawn to enjoy music at the REACH. Junior Marvin was the closing act for the celebration (Shabnam Danesh/The Wash)

Rachel Stambaugh, public relations coordinator at the Kennedy Center, told The Wash that more than 100,000 people attended the grand opening of the $250 million, 4.6-acre expansion of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

According to Billy Andrews, marketing manager at the Kennedy Center, the opening celebration was a great success, with many of the 500+ events having lines out the door.

Andrews said that residents are “intrigued” about the new campus and that it’s a huge draw for the city.

“It’s about bringing community into the Kennedy Center, rather than people come in, see a show, and leave immediately,” Andrews said. “Even if you’re not coming for a specific activity… you can hang out on the lawn, have a coffee, or a meeting on the water.”

Designed by Steven Holl Architects, the REACH expansion is the first of its kind since the Kennedy Center opened in 1971. It took six years to complete.

The REACH features 11 dynamic spaces across three pavilions with floor-to-ceiling windows, an outdoor stage for concerts and films and 130,000 square feet of outdoor space.

The spaces will be used for performances, workshops, art creation, classes and events. They are named in relation to President Kennedy and his legacy.

Festival guests grab a bite to eat from on-site food trucks. (Shabnam Danesh/The Wash)

There is also casual arts café for guests to hang out, with lots of food and drink options. Food trucks are also on-site, adding to the variety.

The festival commenced on September 7 and ended on September 22, featuring over 500 unique events. Culture, art and community are truly at the heart of the REACH.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph, vice president and artistic director of social impact at the Kennedy Center, describes REACH as a “culture park on the river.”

“REACH brings culture at the scale of our common humanity and the opportunity to have real feelings together while watching great art together,” said Joseph, who is also a 2017 TED Global Fellow.

Most of the programming at the REACH is free and open to the public.

There is something for everyone at the REACH. Ruth Herman, a Foggy Bottom resident and usher at the Kennedy Center for the past 19 years, highly recommended the Moonshot Studio, which features various interactive workshops.

“It is hands on and strikes me as a great place for grandparents to bring their grand kids,” Herman said. She also recommended the Justice Forum for its “cutting edge” films.

Aside from the Justice Forum, which has fixed seating, Joseph says that the spaces at REACH are designed to be flexible with multipurpose uses.

“You can transition a space from a dance studio to a concert hall in 15 minutes,” Joseph said.

From October 7 – November 15, the REACH is featuring an art exhibit that is sure to draw large crowds. Entitled Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors, the exhibit features a collection of 66 oil portraits painted by former President George W. Bush.

“It is his way to pay tribute to them and the sacrifices they made,” Stambaugh said. Like most free events at the REACH, timed-entry tickets to the Portraits of Courage exhibit need to be procured online beforehand.

The Center also has plans for a Culture Caucus consisting of over 20 different organizations and individuals representing all of DC. Joseph calls them the “first culture makers in residence.”

“It’s a creative ecosystem. They do more than make art, they make culture,” Joseph said.

One thing is for sure – it will be a culture that is uniquely DC.

Shabnam Danesh

Graduate journalism student at American University

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