Skylight Pavilion features very large glass windows providing views of the Potomac River. The exterior wall facing the Center functions as a large projection screen for movies, simulcasts and more. (Jonathan Morefield/Kennedy Center)
Skylight Pavilion features very large glass windows providing views of the Potomac River. The exterior wall facing the Center functions as a large projection screen for movies, simulcasts and more. (Jonathan Morefield/Kennedy Center)

Many visions are conjured up when walking through the new venue at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The name of the space, The REACH, points to the Kennedy Center’s stated goal to reach and bring in new and diverse audiences, new performing arts programs, more students through flexible learning spaces and new possibilities beyond the original vision when the palatial entertainment space opened on September 8, 1971.

When people visit The REACH, they will experience connections to the life of John F. Kennedy. For example, some of the spaces have been named to mark milestone moments in Kennedy’s life, like naval vessel PT109, the names of his horses, along with quotes from the nation’s 35th president.

“The REACH was envisioned as an extension and compliment to the Kennedy Center’s mission to help foster connections between creatives and communities,” said Robert van Leer, senior vice president of Artistic Planning at the Kennedy Center. “The expansion is a direct response to the Center’s evolving programming needs and offers a new experience for visitors to see behind-the-scenes.”

Grand Opening Festival Will Attract a Diverse Crowd

The REACH Festival scheduled September 7-22, will represent a free 16-day series of events that include music, comedy, theater, dance, movies and interactive learning sessions. The REACH pavilions and 130,000 square feet of new landscaped green space will host more than 1,000 artists and 500 events at indoor and outdoor spaces.

After the opening day, the festival will have themed days of events. Themes include Broadway, jazz, classical, hip hop, voices, comedy, family day, electronica/DJ culture, and more. A big surprise on the schedule will be Bootsy Collins who’s slated to perform with the Chuck Brown Band. Earlier this year, funk pioneer Collins announced his retirement from performing as his doctor diagnosed a problem with excessive pressure on the funk master’s inner ear and right hand.

Special times have also been scheduled for teachers and community centers to bring school groups and youth centers to The REACH for classroom workshops and to experience the many types of performance arts programs.

An eclectic collection of movies, some shown on an outdoor screen, have also been included in the schedule. Included will be Charles Burnett’s much-honored 1990 film “To Sleep with Anger,” “Amazing Grace,” the documentary about the making of Aretha Franklin’s gospel album and “Hip Hop: The Songs that Shook America,” an upcoming AMC documentary co-executive produced by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Tariq “Black Thought” co-founders of the Roots. During the final night of the festival, Beyoncé’s “Homecoming” will be shown.

The festival will also bring something rarely seen, taking a scientific look inside the brain of performers.

“Yes, the festival will offer free workshops and lectures. For example, our Sound Health program, a discussion and workshops curated by Renée Fleming in collaboration with the American Music Therapy Association and neurosurgeon and musician Dr. Charles Limb,” van Leer said.

“They will explore connections between wellness and the arts by studying the brain scans of Grammy®-award winning artist Esperanza Spalding, international opera bass singer and Morgan State University graduate Soloman Howard, and Freestyle Love Supreme rapper Chris Sullivan aka Shockwave. After the festival, the REACH will continue to be a space where these kinds of programs are regularly offered.”

The Kennedy Center residency artists will not only give performances and learning sessions in The REACH, but in the future, visitors will see rehearsals as productions are being mounted. This open performance and learning approach are the aspirational foundation for everyone who has contributed to the creation of The REACH and the festival.

“The REACH is a space of discovery, learning and experience,” van Leer said. “It changes the relationship between art and audience, between performer and participant.”

Though the festival is free, time passes are required for entry. Some time slots will indicate that there are no tickets available. The Kennedy Center recommends people come to standby as they believe more tickets have been ordered than will be used.

For the full schedule or to order passes, go to

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Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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