John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
In 2016, Renée Fleming was appointed Artistic Advisor for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Long an advocate for breaking down perceived barriers between art forms, Renée’s mandate at the Kennedy Center is to innovate, inform, and create new work and initiatives. “I believe in the critical importance of arts in our lives, so I’m thrilled to advocate for this at our national cultural center at a pivotal time in its history. My goal at the Kennedy Center is to honor the arts’ power to enrich us, heal us, and help us make sense of an ever more complex world.”
Beginning by co-hosting the Kennedy Center’s annual Arts Summit in 2016, Renée drew on her passion for the power of human vocal expression by curating VOICES, a new Kennedy Center performance series. Featuring events in every space at the Center, VOICES embraces genres from folk, jazz, and pop, to classical, performance art, cabaret and beyond. The series presents vocal artists—both established and emerging—who influence American and world culture. Artists who have performed on the series so far include Lawrence Brownlee, Billy Childs, Alan Cumming, Rinde Eckert, Cynthia Erivo, Jonathan Groff, Barbara Hannigan and Reinbert de Leeuw, Megan Hilty, Angelique Kidjo, Ute Lemper, Jane Lynch, Jane Monheit, and Leslie Odom Jr. Renée performed on the series as well with jazz bassist Christian McBride. Building on her past successes from the acclaimed 2013 American Voices Festival at the Center in 2013, and her project at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Chicago Voices, the VOICES initiative cultivates community engagement and celebrates the vibrant artistic history of our nation’s capital, while bringing new audiences to the Kennedy Center.
Renée’s other major initiative at the Kennedy Center is Sound Health. Seeking to champion the work being done nationally—both in the medical community and within the arts world—at the intersection of health and the arts, Renée has spearheaded the first ongoing collaboration between America’s national cultural center and its largest health research institute, the National Institutes of Health. In association with the National Endowment for the Arts, Sound Health brings together leading neuroscientists, music therapists and arts practitioners to better understand the impact of arts on the mind and body. Central themes are the expanding place of music and the arts in our understanding of the functioning of the brain, the value of arts education for childhood development and academic engagement, and the use of music therapy interventions for PTSD, stroke, acquired brain injury, pain management, Parkinson’s, autism, and Alzheimer’s.
The first major event for Sound Health was a workshop at the National Institutes of Health in January of 2017. The workshop convened a panel of experts to discuss the current state of research on music and the brain. The workshop generated research recommendations to accelerate the study of music’s effects on the brain and the implications for human health.
In June, the Kennedy Center hosted the first public-facing event of the initiative, a weekend festival of combining musical performance and scientific dialogue. Anchoring a series of panel discussions and presentations by neuroscientists, music therapists, and performers, Renée sang in a concert that included singer-songwriter Ben Folds, Empire star Jussie Smollett, Director of the NIH Dr. Francis Collins, the renowned neuroscientists Dr. Daniel Levitin, Dr. Charles Limb, and Dr. Nina Kraus, and the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edwin Outwater. Building on the success of the weekend, plans are underway for another festival in September of 2018.