A commission created by the Kennedy Center to examine the participation of blacks in its performing arts programs has given the Center good marks on reaching the black community.
"The Kennedy Center, by aggressively initiating progress... has performed a great service for the black community and the nation as a whole," says a 16-page study released today after two years of research.
The report lists 24 goals the commission established for itself, 11 recommendations for the Kennedy Center and, in a 66-page appendix, more than 100 suggestions for arts programs culled from the "input" of 1,000 individuals.
Responding to interim suggestions from the commission, the Center estimates it already has committed $575,000 to projects designed to encourage black participation in the performing arts on a national level, including two substantial sources of funds for black musicians and a playwright-theater project.
"I am very impressed with what the Center has done, particularly based on the time it has had to function," says Archie Buffkins, assistant dean for graduate studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, who served voluntarily as president of the commission.
Buffkins says he first became interested in black participation in regional cultural centers as a research topic several years ago, and approached Kennedy Center chairman Roger L. Stevens with a proposal to study the institution. Three years and $50,000 in expenses later, the 19-member committee has recommended that the Center:
Continue to provide "strong and aggressive national leadership;"
Establish a permanent committee to monitor development of this commission's projects;
Institutionalize certain of these special projects;
Convey to the White House the importance of appointing blacks and other minorities to the Center's board of trustees;
Establish an annual arts festival and an award with emphasis on cultural diversity;
Create a minority internship program in the arts.
The long-awaited report is decidedly scholarly in tone, listing not only projects already in progress but also scores of proposed programs and their potential impact. The report is coolly descriptive in assessing the past involvement of blacks at the Center; it names performers but makes no attempt to analyze the make-up of audiences at Kennedy Center functions.
"Of the (1,355) people we dealt with," Buffkins says, "nobody felt they were unwelcome at the Center because they had experienced something specific.Some people said it's a big, classically oriented place, even though that very week Ray Charles was there My view is that there are other ways of looking at what should be supported in the performing arts.
"We're not saying stop what's being done. We don't want to turn the Kennedy Center into a clearing house. My idea is that if John Lee Hooker is playing his blues in the Terrace Theater, you can sit there and get the same feeling you'd get if someone in the concert hall was playing some beautiful concerto."
The bulk of the commission's findings are contained in the four-part appendix, entitled: "Accomplishments as Seen Through Operational Goals, Actions Taken and the Impact-Perception Profile; Basic Input: Conceptual Descriptions of Suggestions Received Through Direct and Indirect Input; Report to National Black Commission of Black Employment at the Kennedy Center: Affirmative Action Impact; and Report of Kennedy Center Activities of Special Interest to Blacks other than Those Sponsored by the Commission."
Part I outlines the commission's self-imposed goals, and enumerates various actions taken, including the development of better rapport with the black media, the sponsoring of specific performances and the creattion of both the Kennedy Center Black Theater-Playwright Project and the Colloquium/Contest for the Black Musician. Each is a project designed to find talented black artists throughout the nation, backed with more than $100,000 in Center funds.
Part II brings together nationally generatyed suggestions that "have been conceptualized to give a consistent and collective view of the thinking presented through direct and indirect input." They range from summer workshops and camping programs to a scholarly monthly journal on black performing arts to a contest for black opera singers to a black film festival.
Although some of the programs sponsored by the "Chairman's National Commission to Expand the Scope and Constituency of Black Participation at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts" have not been widely noticed -- an Urban Philharmonic Concert Backed by $36,000 in Center funds was poorly attended -- Buffkins says some of the events are providing an educational process.
"We learned from that one," he says, "that we need a different kind of recruitment pattern for black audiences."
Because the report was not made public until today, no members of the black community have had a chance to analyze it.
"I don't know what it's going to say," said Anacostia Museum Director John Kinard earlier this week, "but I know that blacks don't participate at the Kennedy Center. Maybe when there's a guy like Pryor there who relates to the black experience, but when the symphony's playing -- that's another experience, that's Europe."