WASHINGTON – The first major expansion of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is commencing nearly 50 years after construction began on the cultural center, with a ceremonial groundbreaking Thursday led by Vice President Joe Biden.
The $100 million expansion will add space for arts education, programs, rehearsals and interaction between artists and audience members. It also will add new memorial elements in a new garden honoring the 35th president.
At the ceremony, Biden said Kennedy let people imagine what was possible and that the arts were part of Kennedy's vision for America. Biden said the expansion will reimagine what the living monument to Kennedy can be.
"I think it was Picasso who said that all children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist when he grows up," Biden said. "I think that's what this is about. I think that what you're doing today will help solve that problem of keeping children artists and being able to grow up and remain artists."
Officials plan to open the new addition on May 29, 2017, the 100th anniversary of Kennedy's birth.
President Lyndon B. Johnson originally broke ground for the Kennedy Center 50 years ago this week in December 1964. There were some delays as planners considered whether to move the center to the National Mall. But it finally opened to the public in 1971.
Rose Kennedy Schlossberg, Kennedy's 26-year-old granddaughter who recently joined the center's board of trustees, said the addition will expand the Kennedy Center from a performing arts stage to a place where new things can be dreamed up, practiced and perfected.
"My grandparents both cared deeply about the arts and truly believed in their power and in honoring and respecting our nation's artists," she said. "They recognized that in order to demonstrate our full commitment to freedom, democracy and the human spirit, our nation's capital needed a world-class performing arts center."
Architect Steven Holl, who is designing the expansion, said it includes a mostly underground building that will be integrated with the landscape and a pedestrian bridge to connect with a new performance pavilion floating on the Potomac River.
The garden will include an outdoor amphitheater for simulcasts of performances, a grove of 35 gingko trees for the 35th president and a reflecting pool the length of Kennedy's PT-109 naval boat that was sunk in 1943 during World War II.
"What was once a parking lot and a hardscape is now turned into a lush landscape that is changing with the seasons," Holl said.
Planners hope to begin major construction in March.
More than $100 million has been raised to build the addition. Officials hope to raise at least another $25 million to fund programming. Businessman and philanthropist David Rubenstein, the center's chairman, pledged $50 million to fund the expansion.