President Kennedy and the Arts
In 1960, John Fitzgerald Kennedy became the youngest person elected President of the United States. As President from 1961–1963, he dealt with international challenges like the Cuban Missile Crisis while encouraging far-sighted American initiatives like space exploration and greater equality for people of color.
President Kennedy was a firm believer in the power of the arts. He knew that art and culture could inspire compassion and unify American citizens, and along with his wife, Jacqueline, fought for legislation and funding to establish a National Cultural Center. Following his death in 1963, it became clear the center should become a living memorial to his memory.
A Year of Celebration and Sharing
May 29, 2017 would have been President Kennedy’s 100th birthday, and The Kennedy Center is celebrating by focusing on the vision he had for the arts, in America and around the world. He believed we all have creative spirits—not just to appreciate art—but to share our unique talents in ways that inspire our communities as well as ourselves.
Waking the Citizen Artist Within
President Kennedy believed in COURAGE, FREEDOM, JUSTICE, SERVICE, and GRATITUDE as core American values—ideals that bring us together and help us build a better society. These ideals are at the center of this yearlong celebration of his life and legacy.
To be part of the celebration, consider the role of the arts in today’s society and explore your creative side. Find ways to challenge your imagination and give back to those around you through artistic expression.
Take The Citizen Artist Challenge
President Kennedy believed that to be an active artist was to be a true American citizen—someone who uses their creativity to improve lives and change society for the better.
Challenge 1: Create a Quote Collage
Choose a quote from a person whom you admire focusing on one of President Kennedy’s ideals: COURAGE, FREEDOM, JUSTICE, SERVICE, and GRATITUDE.
For example, here is one of President Kennedy’s most famous quotes about the ideal of SERVICE: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
For inspiration, take a virtual tour of the quotes by President Kennedy carved into the walls of The Kennedy Center.
Build your quote into a collage—using paper, digital tools, or other media. Surround the words with images and objects you believe represent the theme. You might include pictures cut from old magazines, images downloaded from the Internet, or photographs and objects you create.
Share your collage with us! Follow us on Instagram (@artsedgekc) and share a pic of your work using the hashtag #JFKCed.
Challenge 2: Build a Playlist
After President Kennedy died, conductor Leonard Bernstein led a performance in tribute to Kennedy’s service to America and spoke in gratitude about Kennedy’s support of the arts. Listen to the first movement of the symphony he conducted. What does this music make you think of?
Choose a theme related to one of the ideals: COURAGE, FREEDOM, JUSTICE, SERVICE, and GRATITUDE. Find songs related to that theme. Some examples of songs that share and promote President Kennedy’s ideals are:
- “Brave” by Sara Bareilles (COURAGE)
- “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke (FREEDOM)
- “Blackbird” by The Beatles (JUSTICE)
- “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers (SERVICE)
- “Thank You” by The Descendents (GRATITUDE)
Create a Spotify playlist of songs on your theme using music styles you enjoy—hip hop, pop, country, rock and roll, R&B, jazz, classical—whatever you love. Share your playlist to the ARTSEDGE Facebook group!
Challenge 3: Poetry and Service
President Kennedy said that art is a form of truth. Telling the truth can take COURAGE. For inspiration, watch the young poets participating in the Brave New Voices event perform their truth on the stages of The Kennedy Center.
American poet Robert Frost wrote a poem for the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. Think about what truth is important to you and your community and compose a poem for the inauguration of the next American president that tells that truth. Share your poem or video if you reading your poem to the ARTSEDGE Facebook group using the hashtag #JFKCed.