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Jan 22, 2020 Washington, D.C.

The White House Historical Association is beginning its year of honoring the time President John F. Kennedy spent in the White House with its January podcast episode of the 1600 Sessions: “The Kennedy Center: A Living Memorial.” In this episode, released today, Association President Stewart McLaurin speaks with Deborah Rutter, President of the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., about the Kennedy Center’s purpose as a national cultural center, its mission to honor Kennedy’s legacy through support of the arts, its new space called the REACH, and how it has had a relationship with the White House over time.

[See the full video of this conversation]

“Throughout the 20th century, there was a movement to create a national cultural center. It was really when President Eisenhower was in office, and he’s the one who picked up the mantle and said, “It’s time for us to have a national cultural center… and the initial designs came into being. … It was when President Kennedy took office, and he and Mrs. Kennedy were huge advocates for it. The story then goes that they were very involved with fundraising, thinking about the structure, appointing citizens to lead that effort, but it was only after our loss of President Kennedy, that Congress asked the family how they wanted to remember their president. As the story goes, Jackie Kennedy said, “I want a living memorial to remember my husband, and I want it to be the national cultural center.”

Rutter goes on to say that when the Kennedy Center became a living memorial in 1964, it formed the Center’s three identity pillars: a living memorial, arts education, and world class arts.

“I do think most people think of the Kennedy Center as a performing arts center…But we really are probably the largest arts education program delivery institution in the country as well as an advocate. We have more than 40 programs, we serve more than 43 states … plus all of the District and Puerto Rico… And we do it through teacher training, through programs, through advocacy with schools and communities.”

McLaurin and Rutter talked about Kennedy’s legacy in connection to the White House and the White House Historical Association.

“You and I share a common challenge …we are not supporting a building that is just a Washington D.C. building,” commented McLaurin. “Mrs. Kennedy said the White House belongs to the American people, it’s the people’s house, not just the people in Washington DC, and in our mission of education and teaching and telling the stories of White House history, it’s exporting them all over the country and all over the world, that so much of American history has taken place through that White House, that we are a part of in our mission, and so much of American arts and culture are brought here and represented here and then exported around the world.”

This year, the White House Historical Association’s Official White House Christmas Ornament, to be unveiled on President’s Day, February 17, celebrates Kennedy’s time in the White House.

The 1600 Sessions

In this podcast series, White House Historical Association President Stewart McLaurin interviews luminaries, historians, and eyewitnesses to history about America’s most famous residence and office—the White House. Each episode includes a prominent guest or guests to discuss varying facets of White House history, including insights from former staff and many other topical issues.

The 1600 Sessions is available on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, and Stitcher. To hear the full episode, visit

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P.D.F. Resources

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About the white house historical association

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy envisioned a restored White House that conveyed a sense of history through its decorative and fine arts. She sought to inspire Americans, especially children, to explore and engage with American history and its presidents. In 1961, the White House Historical Association was established to support her vision to preserve and share the Executive Mansion’s legacy for generations to come. Supported entirely by private resources, the Association’s mission is to assist in the preservation of the state and public rooms, fund acquisitions for the White House permanent collection, and educate the public on the history of the White House. Since its founding, the Association has given more than $50 million to the White House in fulfillment of its mission.

To learn more about the White House Historical Association, please visit

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