The American Presidency Project
John T. Woolley & Gerhard Peters • Santa Barbara, California return to original document
• John F. Kennedy
Remarks to the Trustees and Advisory Committee of the National Cultural Center.
November 14, 1961

Mr. Stevens, and ladies and gentlemen:

I want to express my appreciation to all of you for coming down today to discuss with Mr. Stevens this effort that we are making.

Somebody once said that Washington was a city of Northern charm and Southern efficiency. In any case it is a city which is somewhat artificial, unlike most capitals of the world, and therefore lacks the great asset which London and Paris and Rome, to name but three--and Moscow itself--has in being the center not only of Government but also the center of national cultural activities.

I think it is most important that the tremendous work which is being done across this country to develop those skills which make liberty worth while--I think it is very important that there be put a national emphasis on this side of our national life, and this is where it must be done--by making a tremendous effort.

In New York City the Lincoln Center is making a comparable effort, and in different ways across the country, and I think that we have to do that in Washington--which after all is not a city belonging only to the people that live here, but is the Capital of the Nation and belongs to all the people, and was established for that reason.

When George Washington participated in the establishment of Washington, he did emphasize that in addition to being the center of Government it would also be a great cultural center.

Now the Soviet Union does not waste its resources. Of course we do not have to point to them to indicate the importance of this work, but it is of significance that they have made a major effort in this field, because they recognize, even though they manipulate this desire, the tremendous interest that people have in the arts.

Last night we were particularly fortunate to have one of the most distinguished artists in the world, and I am hopeful that it will not be necessary always to have a special stage put in the White House for Shakespeare, or for a special hearing for a distinguished musician, but that in Washington here we can have a great cultural center which expresses the interest of the people of this country in this most basic desire of mankind.

This is a most important national responsibility, and I can assure you that if you will be willing to help, that this administration will give it every possible support. We face many hazards, all of which you have been through before in your own communities, many difficulties in not only building it but maintaining it, but I am confident we can do it. I think it is an issue that we put face forward to the world.

When we had a children's orchestra playing here this last summer, Isaac Stern told me that the best chamber music being played in the world is played in Vermont. There are so many tremendous activities going on across the United States. But I think to dramatize that phase of our Nation, particularly in relation to countries which put so much emphasis on their culture and history and philosophy, it is so important that we indicate what we really feel.

As I said, this represents a basic side of our national life, and I think we should not hide it but should emphasize it, and it will not only be a service to the world but it will be a service to our own people.

Everything that happens here has its influence across the country. Every stone we put here I think will result in other stones in other areas. For example, I am sure we wouldn't be going ahead now with this, if we hadn't seen what they were able to do in organizing the Lincoln Center; and when we do it here and overcome the difficulties and challenges we face, it will come up in other areas.

So I hope that those of you who do not live in Washington will help in this effort and will not feel that it is taking from your own communities, but instead will realize that in building here you are building for the country and you are building for your own communities.

So we are indebted to you. And I want to assure you that Mr. Stevens, while perhaps on occasion he has not had too many failures theatrically, would not have undertaken this without making it succeed. And I would not want to be in this as intimately as I am, unless I was sure it will be successful. So that we are in your debt, and I think that it represents a great national step forward.

We are delighted to have you here today. All of you are busy men and women, and that is why you were asked to give your time to this.
Thank you very much.

Citation: John F. Kennedy: "Remarks to the Trustees and Advisory Committee of the National Cultural Center.", November 14, 1961. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
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