J.F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts History

The initial idea to create a center for performing arts was seeded when First lady Eleanor Roosevelt was discussing ways and means of providing emergency relief to create employment during the Great Depression in 1933. In 1935 the Congress discussed plans to create a department of science, art and literature to build a monumental building near Capitol Hill. In 1938, there were discussions about opening a larger center that shall be called the National Culture Center but nothing really came out of all these discussions.

The idea was discussed again in 1950 when US representative Arthur George Klein introduced a bill to raise funds for a cultural center again. The idea was to create a memorial for President Roosevelt too. Amidst a lot of controversy, the bill was finally passed in the summer of 1958. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the one to sign the bill to make it into a law.

The bill passed in 1958 was the first one in which the federal government was funding something that would further performing arts. Between $10 million and $15 million needed to be raised in in the next 5 years after the bill was passed. The designs submitted by Durrell had an estimate of $50 million and these were almost double of the estimates that the federal government had assumed. Even though the cost increased up to $61 million by November 1959, the center was created. The name of the center was changed to J.F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts after the assassination of President Kennedy.

The fundraising for the center was managed by the National Cultural Center Board of Trustees. This was a team that was set up by Eisenhower in 1959. The fundraising was not too successful and slightly more than $13,000 were raised in the first three years. In 1961, J. F. Kennedy asked Roger L. Stevens to develop the center and take over as chairman of the Board of Trustees.


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