JUNE 11, 1962
NEW YORK—Though we have been hearing about it for the last several months, I think too few people in the country as a whole are aware that the National Cultural Center to be built in the city of Washington, D. C. may soon cease to be a dream and turn into a reality.
The hopeful outlook may be due to the fact that Roger L. Stevens, the new chairman of its board of trustees, and the many able men and women who are working with him as trustees and advisors on the arts are employing more direct communication than before. Or perhaps it is just that the time is ripe to bring the project to the attention of the American people, who certainly seem to be more interested in the performing arts than ever before in history. At any rate, plans are now under way for a nationwide closed circuit telecast from coast to coast next November 29, the Thursday after Thanksgiving, which can be viewed in 150 cities for admission prices ranging from $5 to $100—the purpose being to help raise the money to build the center as soon as possible.
Congress gave a 13-acre site for the project in 1958, but stipulated that money for erecting the center would have to come from public contributions. More than $1,000,000 has already come in from interested individuals and patrons of the arts. But the closed circuit show will give a wide potential audience a chance to demonstrate its approval of the idea.
Once the general public realizes that this plan is under way, I am sure everyone will want to be a part of this new center, no matter how small his contribution may be. I would hope particularly that young people would be allowed in their schools and universities to identify themselves, through joint contributions, with this plan.
That we badly need a center of this sort in the nation's capital is evident to anyone who has traveled to the capitals of other countries, especially in Europe. As a matter of fact, the absence of such facilities in Washington has been the subject of much criticism and misunderstanding by foreign visitors and news correspondents. They have assumed that, because we have nothing to compare with London's Old Vic and Covent Garden or Paris' Opera and Comedie Francaise, our people are just not interested in music, the theatre and the dance. Most of them, of course, have not visited other cities of the United States outside New York, which is the recognized headquarters of the performing arts in our country, and are not aware of the thousands of little theatres, symphonies, opera companies and similar groups that have sprung up in recent years. Many of these groups are doing remarkably good work.
Nonetheless, in our national capital there should be a symbol of what is going on culturally in the nation as a whole, so that all who visit may realize that we are a people to whom the finer things of life have real and vital meaning. More than 400 national organizations have their headquarters in Washington, but our musicians, writers, actors, dancers and poets as yet have no building there to serve as their headquarters.
The National Cultural Center will not only be a stage for our most celebrated artists and for those who visit us from abroad but also a place where talented actors, musicians, singers and dancers from Oregon, Iowa, Maine, South Carolina or any other state may perform, having been chosen by national competitions or festivals each year. This is to me the most exciting aspect of the center—its search for new talent and recognition of that talent by presenting it at the National Cultural Center.
This will bring together the whole cultural effort of the nation and give a place of recognition which will draw upon the achievements of the nation in small and large centers all over the country. They will have an objective in the national capital where their particular art can reach a wider audience, including the international representatives of the world.