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The Kennedys and Performing Arts

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Although guest artists had been entertaining at the White House for more than a century, President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy made the White House a true showcase for the performing arts and their creativity and dedication provided a model for succeeding administrations to the present day. By inviting the media to White House cultural events, they placed a spotlight on the White House and demonstrated that the Executive Mansion could indeed be an influence in encouraging public acceptance of the arts. Reflecting Jacqueline Kennedy’s assertion that she wanted "only the best," America’s finest performing arts organizations were featured: The Metropolitan Opera Studio, Jerome Robbins Ballet, American Ballet Theater, American Shakespeare Festival, New York City Center Light Opera Company and many others. When Lyndon Johnson became president upon John Kennedy’s tragic death in 1963, many White House performances comprised such a large cast that they were held outdoors on a special stage or indoors in the East Room on a portable stage donated by the Harkness Ballet in 1965.

President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy speak with cellist Pablo Casals, who preformed in the White House East Room on November 13, 1961.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library/NARA