"If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth. -President Kennedy, Remarks at Amherst College, October 26, 1963

The Kennedy Center opened to the public in September 1971, but its roots date back to 1958, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed bipartisan legislation creating a National Cultural Center.

President John F. Kennedy was a lifelong supporter and advocate of the arts and frequently steered the public discourse toward what he called "our contribution to the human spirit." Kennedy placed his administration firmly behind the endeavor, taking the lead in raising funds for the new “National Cultural Center” and holding special White House luncheons and receptions focused on the arts. President Kennedy also appointed his wife, Jacqueline, and Mrs. Eisenhower as honorary co-chairwomen of the institution.

President Kennedy also discovered the man who would become the Center's guiding light for nearly three decades. By the time Kennedy appointed him as chairman of the Center in 1961, Roger L. Stevens would oversee the Center's construction, before shepherding the Center to prominence as a crucible for the best in music, dance, and theater. Two months after President Kennedy's assassination in November 1963, Congress designated the National Cultural Center as a "living memorial" to Kennedy, and authorized $23 million to help build what is now known as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Today, the Kennedy Center for the Arts acts as a leader in arts education and continues to fulfill President Kennedy’s vision by hosting a variety of musicals, dance and ballet, theater, and musical performances of all types.

In honor of President Kennedy's dedication to establishing a national cultural center, a bust of the president sits in the main theater lobby. See the bust up close on the Kennedy Center's website.