Creating unity during division, fostering peace during times of turmoil and moving forward toward the future: these are the three concepts at the center of the Kennedy Center’s new exhibit “UNITY | PEACE | FORWARD.” The interactive outdoor experience is a collaboration between the Kennedy Center’s international programming and department of VSA and accessibility, and highlights the voices of artists locally, nationally and internationally while being an accessible experience that anyone can enjoy.
The exhibit, which opened on January 22, is made up of three installations, each spelling out one of the three words in the exhibit title. All three words feature a unique design to convey the meaning of the word.
“UNITY” displays the work of five different artists, all alumni of the VSA Emerging Young Artists Program, the Kennedy Center’s program for visual artists with disabilities ages 16 to 25. Each artist represented has a different disability, lives in a different city and creates art in a different style.
“I love that it’s all different artists,” says Betty Siegel, director of VSA and accessibility. “The fact that it is so eclectic and different reminds us that humanity is eclectic and different, and that difference is a powerful thing.”
“PEACE” rests on a giant collage of flags that represent U.S. states and territories and other countries. The same flags hang in the Kennedy Center Hall of States and Hall of Nations.
“At this moment in time, we can’t bring international artists to perform on our stages, but it’s very important that we remain engaged with them,” says Alicia Adams, Kennedy Center Vice President of International Programming and Dance.
This installation represents the Kennedy Center’s efforts to feature global voices, even when a pandemic has made it harder to bring those voices to audiences in the U.S.
“FORWARD” is accompanied on Friday and Saturday evenings by a projection of quotes from artists and writers about what is inspiring them to move forward in 2021. To get quotes, the Kennedy Center reached out to artists in their circle, but the interactive nature of the exhibit allows for visitors to add new quotes via social media engagement.
“PEACE | UNITY | FORWARD” features a message for all, and the exhibit is intentionally accessible to all. However, the accommodations that make the exhibit an experience anybody can enjoy might not even be noticed by those who aren’t looking for them.
“When [accessibility] is done well, it is invisible and seamlessly integrated into the world – in this case, the world of this artwork,” Siegel says.
The grounds of the REACH are physically accessible, but online components of the exhibition grant accessibility in less visible ways. For patrons with low vision, the Kennedy Center website has written descriptions of each installation. As part of the “FORWARD” installation, quotes projected onto the REACH on Friday and Saturday evenings are read aloud in a video.
The online components not only make the exhibit more accessible to people with disabilities who visit in person, but also make the exhibit accessible to anybody, anywhere who has access to the Internet.
Adams and Siegel hope the opportunity to view art in a safe setting inspires people to get out and engage with the exhibit.
“You can walk up, you can drive up, come by bike [or] skateboard,” Adams notes. “You can come in any way you want and be there, just to take in the sights.”
“UNITY | PEACE | FORWARD” is open for public viewing daily on the grounds of the REACH at the Kennedy Center through February 28. Find more information here and follow the Kennedy Center on Instagram @kennedycenter. After visiting the exhibit, share your photos and reflections using #unitypeaceforward.
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