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When the Kennedy Center does something, they don’t do it halfway. From their daily free programing to their Washington National Opera shows to their eclectic festival schedule (skateboards anyone?), when they set out to create something, they go all in. It’s no surprise that the REACH, their physical and cultural expansion that has been six years in the making is no different. Rising up out of the ground on a space that used to hold bus parking, the REACH nails the details, oscillating between organic, modern, stately and approachable. But more than any of those things, the goal of the REACH is to be welcoming. As inscribed on the walls of the welcome lobby, it’s a gift to the nation.

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And that gift is jammed with nods to (who else?) JFK. The most obvious references are his art focused quotes, which are etched into glass throughout the REACH. Step into the PT-109 break out room (named after the boat JFK commanded during WW2) and you’re greeted to: “Art knows no national boundaries. Genius can speak in any tongue and the entire world will hear it and listen.” Swing by the River Pavilion and you’re confronted with the slightly more somber: “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

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If you look hard enough, the references don’t stop there. The Moonshot studio, which serves as a learning space / art room, is named after what is arguable JFK’s most famous. Studio J, Studio F and Studio K, which are a mixture of performance and practice spaces, are an overt nod to the former president. The Victura Deck, an outdoor space that looks into the Moonshot Studio, is a reference to JFK’s childhood sailboat. The Macaroni and Sardar classroom spaces are both named after former pets (a pony and an Arabian horse, to be exact) while the Peace Corps Gallery gets its name from Kennedy’s 1961 executive order.

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The best thing about the REACH, is that you don’t have to know or care about any of that information to make the most of it. You can take a deep dive into the history and nerd out about the references or you can ignore all of it and use the space. The three connected pavilions are filled with performance spaces, practice spaces, class rooms and rooms that can be all three at once. There is a grove of gingko trees where you can soak up views of the Potomac, a pedestrian bridge that connects the REACH to the memorials, a cafe built for grabbing a cup of coffee and hanging out, a video wall that is going to change D.C.’s outdoor movie game and countless more gathering spaces, all built with the functionality that can transform them from entertainment spaces to event spaces and back again.

No matter what your connection or interest is, the REACH wants you to come hang out.

Get up close and personal with the REACH at the Kennedy Center’s opening festival this September 7-22.

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