Artists with disabilities from around the world will convene in 2010 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the largest ever showcase of their work, the center announced Tuesday.
The festival will feature appearances by Claire Danes, Marlee Matlin and comedian Brett Leake, who appears regularly on PBS, as well as theater, musical acts and an art exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution, to mark the center's 2009-2010 season. It also celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Organizers said they hope the International VSA arts Festival in June 2010 can change perceptions of disabilities by highlighting what people can accomplish, despite their challenges.
"The single biggest challenge people with disabilities continue to face is stigma," said Soula Antoniou, president of VSA arts _ formerly Very Special Arts _ a nonprofit Kennedy Center affiliate devoted to artists with disabilities. The festival will focus on the "largest underserved community in the world," which includes 54 million Americans and 650 million people with disabilities around the world, she said.
Danes, who will play an autistic woman in the upcoming HBO biopic "Temple Grandin," will introduce a performance at the festival created by her family friend, choreographer Tamar Rogoff. A dance created by Rogoff for the festival includes a dancer with cerebral palsy.
The festival is part of a full programming slate announced Tuesday by Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser, despite a $10 million reduction in the center's $160 million budget due to declining private donations and endowment revenue. Kaiser trimmed the budget by 6 percent _ including $30,000 in savings by eliminating free coffee for the staff _ to avoid any cuts to programming, he said.
"Thirty-thousand dollars is a modern dance engagement," he said, adding that coffee was a sacrifice his staff could accept.
The performance slate brings the beginning of a two-year "Focus on Russia" series. It will include performances by the Mariinsky Ballet and the Mariinsky Opera and Orchestra from St. Petersburg performing "War and Peace," in February 2010. The tale of Russian society during the Napoleonic Era will include more than 200 people on stage "and will be a technical nightmare," Kaiser said, drawing laughs from an audience of staff members.
The series also will feature Russian soloists and conductors performing with the National Symphony Orchestra beginning in November.
Unlike some other cultures the center has explored in recent years, including China, Japan and a current festival of Arab arts and culture, Russia and its arts are familiar to many Americans.
"We have such an affection for Russia," Kaiser said. "I think it's time to celebrate that when there's a lot of political stuff going on."
The theater season will present three plays about opera in 2010 by acclaimed playwright Terrence McNally, including the new play "Golden Age." The show was co-produced with the Philadelphia Theatre Company and commissioned for the Kennedy Center.
The season also will feature Cate Blanchett starring for three weeks in "A Streetcar Named Desire" this October and November.
At a time when many arts organizations across the country are canceling their seasons or cutting performances because of the financial crisis, the Kennedy Center recently began offering free consulting for struggling arts groups. More than 250 groups have signed up for the free financial advice in the past three weeks, Kaiser said.
Kaiser said the groups include some with budgets as small as $20,000 per year, in need of financial help from a $50 million fund that was included in the federal economic stimulus package for the National Endowment for the Arts.
"You realize how un-elitist the arts are across the country," he said.
On the Net:
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: http://www.kennedy-center.org/
VSA arts: http://www.vsarts.org/
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