President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s advocacy for the performing arts endures as a vital part of the Kennedy White House legacy. From 1961 to 1963, the White House became a focal point for arts and culture as the administration hosted numerous concerts and performances. One of the most significant White House concerts during the Kennedy years took place on November 13, 1961. Cellist Pablo Casals performed in the East Room for 200 guests, invitees who represented the best of American arts, music, and culture.1
The White House established the position of Special Consultant on the Arts in March, 1962 with the appointment of August Heckscher, an expert lecturer and writer on the politics, the arts, and public affairs.2 Referring to a burgeoning nation-wide cultural embrace of the arts, Heckscher reasoned that the government could help facilitate popular appreciation of the American arts. Speaking at the National Press Club in September 1962, he told the audience that, “Government must and does realize that we must build by calling on our finest geniuses. From a postage stamp to national roadways . . . government should plan with aesthetic consideration in mind.”3
In June 1963, Heckscher left the Kennedy administration to devote more attention to his ongoing role as Director of the Twentieth Century Fund in New York, but not before submitting a report, "The Arts and the National Government,” that provided numerous recommendations for sustaining government support of the arts, including the creation of an arts advisory council.4 In a letter accepting Heckscher’s resignation, President Kennedy reaffirmed his own dedication to the arts, remarking, "I have long believed . . . that the quality of America's cultural life is an element of immense importance in the scales by which our worth will ultimately be weighed." He further declared that the arts were equally important to society as the sciences.