<i>Maura Currie/WAMU</i>

Maura Currie/WAMU

Six years after it was announced, the Kennedy Center’s newest addition is finally welcoming artists and visitors inside. Part classroom, part rehearsal space, part art gallery, and part coffee shop, the REACH is filling niches that the Kennedy Center hasn’t forayed into since its opening in 1971.

REACH is as fluid a space as it sounds, and with good reason: the concept is that it will be a place where people gather and get creative. Unlike the austere halls of its neighboring Edward Durell Stone Building, the REACH is bright and airy, with windows and balconies designed to let visitors view art in progress… for free.

But will it work? And will it meet the needs of D.C.’s growing — and fraught — local arts community?

Leaders from the Kennedy Center will take a crack at those questions and share more about the weeks-long festival kicking off this weekend to celebrate the REACH.

Produced by Maura Currie


  • Deborah Rutter President, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; @KenCenPrez
  • Sage Dolan-Sandrino Activist and Artist, Alumna of Kennedy Center Youth Council; @graceadvocates

Photo Tour Of The REACH


  • 12:52:19

    KOJO NNAMDIWhen we talk about The Kennedy Center, you likely already have an experience in mind. You pay a not-unsubstantial price for a ticket. You dress nicely, you go, you sit quietly. You enjoy art from a distance. That's a nice experience, but it doesn't work for everyone. And while The Kennedy Center does offer free programming, it's not the focal point, or at least it hasn't been. The REACH, a new annex next door to The Kennedy Center's main building opens this Saturday, and it was designed, literally, to bring visitors face-to-face with art in progress for free. Here to tell us more about the reach is Deborah Rutter. She's the President of The John F. Kennedy Center for The Performing Arts. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:52:56

    DEBORAH RUTTERGood morning. I'm thrilled to be here.

  • 12:52:58

    NNAMDITell us about The REACH, generally. How long has it been in the works? And, broadly, what will it be used for?

  • 12:53:02

    RUTTERWell, thank you. And that's about a three-hour answer. I hope you have enough time for me.

  • 12:53:07

    NNAMDIIf you can get it down to two minutes.

  • 12:53:09

    RUTTEROkay. The project really started when David Rubenstein became the Chair of the Board. And he had this vision that it was time, and in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the building, for us to maybe have a facelift, think about audiences of the future, do something that would spiff up the place a little bit. When I came to the center five years ago, I sat down with staff, and I said, what do we do well? What could we do better? What do we see is the need for the future? What are the artists and audiences telling you? And, as a result, we now have these beautiful, spectacular sets of buildings and spaces, all of which are very open to the public. You can look in through windows. You can enter and do it yourself.

  • 12:53:56

    RUTTERAnd whether you're inside the building, or maybe even in the garden looking inside the building, there is art all around you, at all times.

  • 12:54:03

    NNAMDISo, most of the spaces in The REACH are not designated for any particular use?

  • 12:54:09

    RUTTEROne of the things I'd like to say is that many -- all of us really know The Kennedy Center in many different ways. And each of the nine stages is really designed with an idea of what will take place there. The Concert Hall is for music. The Opera House is for dance and opera and musical theater. Millennium Stage, even the ones in the lobby which has our free programming, is there to be multi-functional, but it is a stage. The idea is the 10 new spaces in The REACH all are designed to be as flexible as possible, so that any idea for any artist, wherever they are in the development of their art, have the ability to be creative in those spaces.

  • 12:54:52

    NNAMDIWe went on a field trip to The REACH last week, and took pictures. You can find them at kojoshow.org. But for those listeners who haven't been able to see it yet, tell us what they can expect. The REACH just looks very different from the existing Kennedy Center.

  • 12:55:06

    RUTTERWell, what I love about this design is that it looks different from anything else in Washington, D.C., or our region. It's designed by Steven Hull, and what he has essentially done is capitalize on an old parking lot that was used for school buses and trucks and shuttle bus parking.

  • 12:55:22

    NNAMDII remember that lot.

  • 12:55:23

    RUTTERAnd created a green roof, and all of the spaces are under that green roof. But all of the spaces, save one, have natural light. So that, contrary to what we have at The Kennedy Center, all of it makes you feel like you're sitting in a garden setting. You can see the river. You can see the garden. You can see reflecting pools. You can see art from inside and from the outside. You can see into where the artists and the audiences are participating in activities.

  • 12:55:53

    NNAMDIOne of the big shifts is that, unlike the main stages in the main Edward Durell Stone building of The Kennedy Center, this space is designed to be accessible to local artists. We talked a little bit about this concept during our arts and gentrification town hall earlier this year. Here's Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Vice President of Social Impact at The Kennedy Center.

  • 12:56:11

    MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPHWhat I found is that The Kennedy Center offers a fulcrum to be, not only a local leader, but a national leader in this discourse about how to reevaluate the actual value of creative practice. We have the capacity to do more than just show people what we do. We have the capacity to invest in others, so that they may do.

  • 12:56:34

    NNAMDIHow does The Kennedy Center intend to do that, to make that community engagement a reality? To make sure that local artists are supported by and included in the space?

  • 12:56:44

    RUTTEROn multiple levels. It's a really great question. Of course, there are established arts organizations, and they are often seeking a venue either on a temporary basis or on a regular basis. But more importantly, we are investing in local artists who are taking whatever their interests, whatever their art form might be, and bringing it to the center. And we're giving them the space and the visibility and the support to experiment. And we're really delighted, because over a period of time, we've gotten to know artists, whether it's through our schools programs, through our reach to increase the number of citizen artists involved with our organization. And we've really been able to develop a relationship over a number of years. And we've invited those individuals to come and be a part of our culture caucus, and to develop a social impact residency at The REACH.

  • 12:57:40

    NNAMDIDeborah, what existing initiatives of The Kennedy Center are getting moved to The REACH?

  • 12:57:44

    RUTTERWell, actually, quite a lot. One of the things about the marble building of the Edward Durell Stone is that when you come and visit at a non-performance time, you think it's quiet and nothing's happening, when, in fact, it's a beehive of activity behind those marble walls. It's just that the way the building was designed didn't give you the opportunity to see it all. So, a lot of our educational activities, our training programs for pre-professional activities, the Teen Council that we developed just a handful of years ago have been busy helping us think about the kind of activities that we want to have in The REACH. All of those have been taking place at The Kennedy Center, but nobody knows that they're taking place. So, now you can come and see and participate, firsthand.

  • 12:58:33

    NNAMDIDeborah Rutter is the President of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She joins us in studio, along with Sage Dolan-Sandrino, who is an artist and alumna of The Kennedy Center Youth Council. Sage, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:58:46

    SAGE DOLAN-SANDRINOThank you so much for having me.

  • 12:58:48

    NNAMDIThe Kennedy Center Youth Council, it's my understanding, has made use of The REACH already. What's been your impression of the space so far?

  • 12:58:55

    DOLAN-SANDRINOWell, the space is just gorgeous, just like Deborah said. And I am an alum of the center, and I actually got to be a part of this pre-activation that the Youth Council did just a couple of weeks ago. I got to lead a digital media workshop. And there were some folks leading photography studios, and they were doing open mike and open jam sessions, as well. So, there's a lot coming, and they're going to be doing a day full of these activations again on the 22nd, actually. So, it's just great to see young people running around in this open space, really making the most of it.

  • 12:59:35

    NNAMDIYou're also an artist, in your own right. I'm told you're going to be able to use some of the facilities in The REACH, quoting here, “a social practice resident.”

  • 12:59:43


  • 12:59:44

    NNAMDIWhat exactly does that mean?

  • 12:59:45

    DOLAN-SANDRINOSo, the focus of the social practice residency is to really reiterate the fact that The Kennedy Center, and specifically The REACH, are places for community. And all community members in the area, but also nationally, are encouraged to come and visit and see art happening in real time. I get to lead another exciting activation on September 14th. It's called Thrift's Thrift. Thrift is my artistic tag. And I'm going to be hosting an open pop-up thrift. And young people are encouraged to come, shop clothes that I've thrifted for as low as $3. And we're even going to have some clothes available for free. We're also going to have a pop-up photo studio, and live artist performances with DJs traveling from Philadelphia.

  • 13:00:33

    NNAMDIThrift is Sage Dolan-Sandrino. She's an artist and alumna of The Kennedy Center Youth Council. She joins us in studio, along with Deborah Rutter, the President of The John F. Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts. Here's Melissa in North West Washington. Melissa, you're on the air. Go ahead please.

  • 13:00:48

    MELISSAHi. So, my partner and I just moved into Washington, D.C. I've been living in the Bethesda area pretty much all my life and putting voice and now aerial arts, as an aerialist, and as a dancer all my life. And I'd love to be a part of this festival, or see how the space can be used to grow that industry in this area, because it's small, but it's growing.

  • 13:01:15


  • 13:01:16

    RUTTERWow. I had a vision of the aerialists that we had in the Concert Hall a couple of different times as you were describing your new vocation. I'm so impressed. Singing and aerialist. That means you're really good with your body, I guess. Well, we welcome you to come to the festival. And we will be all over the place, staff, programmers, etc. And we'd love to get to know you. We have a number of different workshops. We have workshops with dancers. We have workshops with spoken word and vocal. We have a variety of opportunities for you to actually participate, and then for us to be able to get to know you, as well. Really, this is a space that I am excited about having been part of developing, because it is not a space that we have a predetermined set of activities.

  • 13:02:15

    RUTTERAnd if we need to figure out how to hang hooks from the ceiling for an aerialist workshop, we'll figure out how to do that. And I think that would be a lot of fun. So, come on down. We are there for all 16 days. And, in fact, I think that as people come to see the spaces, our artists -- amateurs, as well as professionals, as you clearly are. We'll have a new set of aspirations of what they can do in this space. And that's what I'm really thrilled about. I want The Kennedy Center to be a place for all art forms and all types of artists. And so many people think of a performing center as just those traditional art forms that have been a part of the center for decades. And as we think about aerialists, I will say, what it takes to do that and how I have seen it with music and lighting and visual art is exceptional. And I think that might be fun.

  • 13:03:16

    NNAMDIThank you so much for your call, Melissa, and good luck to you. We've got to take a short break. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:04:04

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about the new space at The Kennedy Center called The REACH with Deborah Rutter, President of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, who's already suggesting a possible town hall in that facility, something we can surely think about. Sage Dolan-Sandrino is an artist and alumna of The Kennedy Center Youth Council. Deborah Rutter, how did you envision that the public would use The REACH? Besides the Kojo Road Show.

  • 13:04:29

    RUTTERThe Kojo Road Show will be a very popular one, I know that. The idea is that you don't need a ticket to come and explore. And you may not even know what you'll find when you get there. But we have art. We have a brand-new part of The REACH, there is a copy of the Declaration of Independence that David Rubenstein has loaned to us. We have places for you to participate and engage directly in it. But there's just the opportunity to come and be in an artistic environment. And that's sort of the simplest way to describe it. Sage and I have been talking about this a little bit, and the idea that what your expectation of how you will use your time varies from generation to generation. And as a boomer, I'm very used to appointment activity.

  • 13:05:21

    RUTTERAt 3:00, this is what I will be doing. But I think that what we're trying to do with The REACH is about having an opportunity to have an spontaneous experience. Come, know for sure that you can have a cup of a coffee or a sandwich.

  • 13:05:35

    NNAMDIThere's a coffee shop with lots of seating.

  • 13:05:37

    RUTTERThere's lots of seating. There's lots of art. There's lots of beautiful setting to do all of this in. And then you will have the opportunity for spontaneous artistic experiences. Sit down and it turns out the person sitting at the table next to you is Sage, and she'll be talking to you about her program. Or it could be a ballerina coming out of Studio J, having just had a ballet class. It is that kind of an environment. It is meant to be casual, informal. A third place, a place other than your home and your workplace or your school where you can come and have a shared experience with other people.

  • 13:06:13

    NNAMDIIf a member of the public wants to actually participate in art, what will they find at The REACH? Tell us about the Moon Shot Studio, and what goes on in there.

  • 13:06:23

    RUTTERSo, the Moon Shot Studio, first of all may, I'll take a little diversion to say, each of the spaces have some name associated with John F. Kennedy, if they are not just a local place.

  • 13:06:35

    NNAMDII was going to get to that.

  • 13:06:35

    RUTTERSo, the Moon Shot, which is obvious, is the place where you can experiment and you can participate in the art making itself. It is not an educational, because everybody hears the word education, and they either think, oh, well, I don't really want to go back to school, or I don't want to demonstrate that I'm not really a good artist. It's a maker space. It's a place to discover, experiment, do it yourself. It is inter-generational, which is not some -- it's a fancy word for, for all ages. So, I'm having a party there to celebrate the opening of The REACH after the festival to invite my friends just to come and get our hands dirty, paint, draw, make pottery. Maybe do a JFK speech in front of a green screen. It is a maker space. So, you get to actually do it yourself, in a safe place.

  • 13:07:25

    RUTTERNobody is going to, you know, be evaluating you. But you get to actually be a part of it. And if you want to just watch, you can just watch, as well.

  • 13:07:33

    NNAMDIYou've been in a soft opening for the past several weeks. How have people reacted when they use the space for the first time? Have you gotten people who are confused by how different this is from the usual Kennedy Center offerings?

  • 13:07:44

    RUTTERWell, that's very nice of you to ask it that way. But I think that you can also ask Sage this question. Every time I walk in there with somebody who hasn't been there, there is this moment of sort of an intake of breath. I won't say gasp. In some cases, it's a gasp. But it is so beautiful. It is so inviting. It is so not what you expect in Washington, D.C. It's contemporary, but not so forward contemporary that you feel uncomfortable. It is sweeping views and high ceilings, and yet it's very intimate. It's got concrete, beautiful textured walls. And yet it feels comfortable. It has innovative lounge seating. It has a really interesting set of opening artwork that are on the walls. And yet it doesn't feel stuffy or off-putting at all. So, it is something that people come to, and they're just, their minds are blown, because it's so beautiful.

  • 13:08:49

    NNAMDIWell, you and I are boomers, and it clearly appeals to us. But you're right, I should have asked Sage...

  • 13:08:53

    RUTTERYes, ask Sage what she thinks.

  • 13:08:55

    NNAMDI...how she feels about this space.

  • 13:08:56

    DOLAN-SANDRINOWell, I definitely share that sentiment. I think that this gasping moment is that I can describe it as when I first walked in that a space so beautiful exists in D.C., but also that this space and its beauty are free to access, and within these walls, I can make almost anything happen. I think that that's this possible confusion that we might be talking about, is how something this beautiful, this rich of a resource can exist in the center of our city and really be available for everyone.

  • 13:09:35

    NNAMDIHere now is Karen in Columbia, Maryland. Karen, you're on the air, go ahead please.

  • 13:09:40

    KARENHi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I have a very similar business model in Columbia, Root Studio. And I've been here for three years, and it's the exact same concept, as far as having people come experience with a blank slate. And it has been such a challenge. And my question is, what advice, or what have been the most successful methods to getting people to understand exactly what that is?

  • 13:10:13

    RUTTERKaren, I wish I had met you a few months ago, because I think you're absolutely right, that the best people to tell the story about what the experience is, is not me, but it's Sage. And Sage is, that's why I have Sage sitting right next to me here. Because the words don't always make sense, particularly to people who like me, you know, for those of us who are used to appointment, television appointment, you know, experiences. The idea of showing up whenever you feel like it and not having a pre-planned experience in mind is something that most of us, of my generation, understand. And, in many ways, the building of The REACH was intended specifically to say, not everybody will always want appointment experiences.

  • 13:11:05

    RUTTERThey want to just explore on their own. So, I would find those individuals, that's what I'm working on. I'm a work in progress, Karen. So maybe we should confer again in a few weeks or months. But it is really helpful for me to find the artists, as they have been really great about communicating about this, as well as the participants. So, Sage fits into both. She's an artist and an experiencer.

  • 13:11:34


  • 13:11:34

    RUTTERAnd those are the ones who have been able to help tell the story even better than I could.

  • 13:11:40

    NNAMDIYou mentioned this earlier. Throughout the building -- and, by the way, thank you for your call Karen. Good luck to you. Throughout the building there are homages to President Kennedy. Talk a little bit about those homages and how The REACH aligns with Kennedy's philosophy.

  • 13:11:50

    RUTTERRight. And we're coming to a point where there are people who weren't there and remember where they were when they heard about JFK and his assassination, or who don't have him central to their sense of the history of America. And so we really wanted to be able to have these spaces link back to the main Kennedy Center building, where we have a quite a bit of memorial interpretation, but to tell the story of who he was and what he stood for in another way. So, each of the spaces are a connection back to JFK and the family. So, we have Studios J, F and K. We have the PT109, which is a beautiful, multi-purpose room that will be used in a variety of ways. But it's called PT109 because we want to be able to tell the story of his service in the Navy, why that was so important to him, why he wanted to serve his country in that way.

  • 13:12:45

    RUTTERThen, just adjacent to PT109, we have a mahogany deck and a reflecting pool the exact length of a PT109 boat. We have on that wall one of the four inscriptions of quotes that we have of JFK that appear throughout the building. The other spaces are the Peace Corps Galley, the Freedom Corridor, the Macaroni Classroom, which is the pony that Caroline, his daughter had, and Sardar, which was the horse that Jacqueline had. The Hammersmith Lounge. So, these references back to JFK and his family are intended to sort of give the story of who he was, as a person.

  • 13:13:33

    NNAMDIMuch more, we don't have a lot of time, so you got to tell this. The festival celebrating The Reach starts this weekend on the 7th, It goes all the way to the 22nd. Give us a sense, briefly, of what people can expect.

  • 13:13:44

    RUTTERThis is going to be a birthday party, or maybe not a birthday coming up, a welcoming, an open house, the first moment you get to see what we do. And, at first, we thought, well, we'll do it over a weekend. And then we said, well, we have too many things we want to do, two weekends. Well, it turns out with the full-scale programming that we actually have across The Kennedy Center, and to do that and to truly welcome our community of D.C., DMV artists to the center, we needed 16 days. And we really wanted to demonstrate that it is really free. So, everything for 16 days is free at the center. We have more than 500 performances, more than 1,000 artists coming to celebrate with anybody who can come.

  • 13:14:32

    NNAMDILots of local artists and creatives. Sage, it's my understanding that the Youth Council is involved with some of the festival events. Can you share a bit about what's being planned?

  • 13:14:40

    DOLAN-SANDRINOYes. On the 22nd, there is going to be a day full of teen takeover workshops, some including photography studios, and that's going to be a Youth Council member teaching you all how to get those perfect golden hour photos. There's also going to be another digital media workshop, How To Be a Digital Creator in 2019. Also there's going to be a pop-up on micro-poems, and pretty much the spoken word of the present. So, you guys have a lot to be excited for, and a lot of young people who are eager to teach you how to get down.

  • 13:15:17

    NNAMDIAre these events and speakers of the festival meant to have connections to The REACH? Or is this more like a general celebration?

  • 13:15:23

    RUTTERMost of the people coming have a connection to the Center, one way or the other. We really wanted to celebrate with family. That's why we invited Sage and her fellow alums to really guide us on those days, in particular. But there is an important aspect of this, which is that, increasingly, we have a focus on indigenous peoples, and the peoples who were here first. So, we actually are blessing the land on the first day. And then three days later, on the Tuesday, we'll have a full day celebrating indigenous people. And they are really coming from all over the country. Those will be new invitations to the Center.

  • 13:16:03

    NNAMDIIn the two minutes we have left, let me see if I can get this all in. Michael in D.C., you're on the air. You don't have a lot of time. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:16:10

    MICHAELYeah. I just wanted to let you know that I'm working with District of Learning. We're super-excited about the opening of The REACH, and to let people know that we've created a playlist of learning opportunities to help navigate, help teens navigate what they learn there, and take credit. So, we've tweeted that out, but you can learn more at Districtoflearning.org.

  • 13:16:32

    NNAMDIOkay, thank you very much for your call, Michael. Richard e-mailed: are tours available at the new facilities? That's a good point.

  • 13:16:38

    RUTTERYes, we have tours every day at The Kennedy Center, and they will start expanding to include The REACH. And so you can either come spontaneously to have a tour -- you don't really have to have a tour to get to The REACH. Basically, you can see everything there on your own. But a tour will help you tell the story. You'll learn a lot more about the architecture, what we are planning on doing, and all of those are free. And they begin this weekend, of course.

  • 13:17:06

    NNAMDIAnd Elaine e-mails: it's not clear how The REACH Festival will be welcoming to those with limited mobility.

  • 13:17:13

    RUTTEROh, my gosh. We were talking about this earlier. We are the country -- and maybe the world's -- expert on arts and disabilities, for artists with disabilities and for individuals with disabilities or access issues. And we have built this space very specifically to ensure that all people, whatever their mobility, whatever their disability might be, have the opportunity to really experience it as fully as everyone else.

  • 13:17:45

    NNAMDISo, Elaine, it should be a very welcoming experience for you. Deborah Rutter is the President of The John F. Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:17:53

    RUTTERThank you Kojo.

  • 13:17:54

    NNAMDISage Dolan-Sandrino is an artist and an alumna of The Kennedy Center Youth Council. Sage, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:18:00

    DOLAN-SANDRINOThank you.

  • 13:18:01

    NNAMDIComing up tomorrow on the Politics Hour, Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin joins us to talk about fighting the opioid crisis, Medicare for all and cuts to funding for military projects in Maryland. Plus, the new D.C. Council session is just around the corner. Councilmember Robert White will be here to talk about the agenda for this session, D.C.'s sports bidding contract, and the latest with the Ramada Board. That's all tomorrow on the Politics Hour, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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