February 2, 2013

EIGHT YEARS after its ambitious building plans were sidelined by Congress’s refusal to provide funds, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts unveiled a scaled-back — but still exciting — vision for expansion. The project would provide needed rehearsal and classroom space and enhanced access and space for the public as well. The money will be privately raised — half being donated by the center’s chairman — setting an example of civic-mindness.

“I am very much interested in promoting the idea that the federal government can’t do all of the things it used to be able to do,” center chairman David M. Rubenstein, told the New York Times of his extraordinary gift of $50 million toward design and construction of the new building. Mr. Rubenstein said he felt an obligation as chairman “to be a leader” and he hopes that more Americans will, as the federal budget tightens, include nonprofit federal entities in their philanthropy.

Previous plans to create a plaza over the jumble of roads leading to Interstate 66 would have better connected the center to the Mall. But absent federal transportation funds, that ambitious project had scant chance of coming to fruition. So designer Steven Holl, whose concept was unveiled last week, looked to the Potomac River as a way to open what has been an almost monolithic structure and better integrate it into the surrounding landscape. Cascading south from the main building, the additions will include public gardens and an outdoor stage.

The center hopes to break ground in 2016 with completion in 2018, but there is still much to be done, starting with a completed design by Mr. Holl and his team. A variety of agencies will need to sign off. If realized, the expansion promises to continue the center’s mission as “a living memorial” that honors a president and his appreciation of the arts as well as his love of the water.