Kennedy Center’s 10-year plan seeks artful ways to protect the planet


Alicia Adams, the Kennedy Center’s vice president of international programming, was thumbing through a National Geographic guide to the world’s rivers when she came across an aphorism — “Rivers are the arteries of life” — and found herself awash in inspiration.

Having spearheaded myriad geography-themed festivals over her three decades at the Kennedy Center, Adams saw waterways as a different path to navigating the arts. So Adams and the Kennedy Center brass mapped out a river-themed festival and, along the way, spawned ideas about other environmental pillars ripe with artistic potential.

On Tuesday, the Kennedy Center announced a 10-year plan for environment-themed programming, headlined by a slate of biennial international festivals. That initiative will launch this April with “RiverRun: Arts Nature Impact,” a month of performances, installations, exhibits and other events celebrating the world’s rivers.

“As time has gone on, the climate crisis has become more and more evident in our lives,” Adams said. “There are so many artists now whose voices need to be heard. They are our true voices, and are talking about these issues today because, you know, there is an emergency.”

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The 10-year initiative will continue with “Space” in 2025, to coincide with NASA’s planned return to the moon; “Movement and Energy” in 2027; and “Making Peace With Nature” in 2029, ahead of the United Nations’ 2030 goal for developing a sustainability blueprint. In even-numbered years, the Kennedy Center will host visual and performing arts exhibitions building off the theme of the previous year’s festival.

“Throughout its history, the Kennedy Center’s remarkable international festivals have celebrated the people of the world and their art,” Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter said in a statement. “Now they are taking an exciting new turn, using the arts to explore humanity’s relationship with our planet and beyond. I am proud of the work and the vision of our team as we seek to utilize our platform as an arts leader to celebrate our planet and highlight the urgency to find global solutions to protect it.”

Starting March 22, on World Water Day, and running through Earth Day, on April 22, the “RiverRun” festival will utilize the Kennedy Center’s stages, studios and terraces, as well as the Reach campus’s outdoor spaces — overlooking the Potomac River — and other locations across the city.

The festival’s dozen-plus performances will include “Armstrong by the Delta” in the Eisenhower Theater, with Grammy winner Nicholas Payton leading a jazz band tribute to the Mississippi; “Rolling on the River,” a free pop concert of river-inspired tunes on the Wharf’s floating stage at the Southwest Waterfront; and a Terrace Theater show from Terje Isungset’s Ice Quartet, which creates and plays instruments made out of ice.

The programming also will feature installations such as “Portraits of Wisdom,” a collection of Amazon-inspired graffiti art by Raiz Campos that will be displayed in the Hall of States, and Roberto C. Fabelo Hung’s “Spiral,” a metal sculpture — displayed on the Reach grounds — covered with UV impressions and resin that symbolize rivers’ headwaters. And the Earth Commons, a new Georgetown University institute, is among the Kennedy Center’s partners on “Ferry Tales,” storytelling performances to be staged at riverside locations across the city.

“The universities are a way for us to engage very much with the young people, who are really the ones who are putting so much energy into these issues,” Adams said.

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Underscoring John F. Kennedy’s commitment to the environment, Adams pointed to the 35th president’s 1963 address to the United Nations, in which he said: “Never before has man had such capacity to control his own environment, to end thirst and hunger, to conquer poverty and disease, to banish illiteracy and massive human misery. We have the power to make this the best generation of mankind in the history of the world — or to make it the last.”

With that quote in mind, Adams emphasized that the 10-year initiative is fueled, in part, by the Kennedy Center’s mission to uphold the ideals of its namesake.

“I’ve always considered these festivals to be knowledge festivals — you know, a place where people actually learn about people, the arts, the culture, how it was derived, the history of it,” she said. “For this festival, that’s a piece of it. But I also see that the Kennedy Center could play a very important role in terms of leading in the field, with other arts organizations, on this issue.”

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