John F. Kennedy’s appreciation for the arts led him to invite Robert Frost to read a poem at his 1961 inauguration, and his namesake performing arts complex is leading the way in celebrating his 100th birthday. Museums across the city are also getting into the spirit, pulling out photos and portraits that show Kennedy and his family before the mystique of Camelot settled into the White House. Here are some highlights of the centennial events.
The 35th president would have surely been a master of Instagram (#camelot), but, arriving as he did in an age before camera phones, we’ll have to settle for some of the finest photojournalism of the mid-20th century. This traveling exhibition features 77 images that track the course of Kennedy’s political career, from the 1946 campaign that landed him in Congress to his death in Dallas while preparing his presidential reelection bid.
Through Sept. 17 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Eighth and F streets NW.
The National Portrait Gallery owns 72 portraits of Kennedy, although you’ll have to make a trip to the White House to see the president’s best-known one, an Aaron Shikler work that shows him lost in thought, head down and arms crossed. Fortunately, the gallery is dipping into its collection to highlight another Kennedy portrait — a 1961 pastel of the young president by Shirley Seltzer Cooper. Keep an eye out for William F. Draper’s portrait of Kennedy in a rocking chair as well.
May 19-July 9 at the National Portrait Gallery, Eighth and F streets NW. npg.si.edu. Free.
Joshua Weilerstein, artistic director of Switzerland’s Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, leads the orchestra in a world premiere by Kennedy Center composer-in-residence Mason Bates. Featuring mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, “Passage” uses words from Walt Whitman’s poem “Passage to India” as well as sound bites of Kennedy’s 1961 “moon shot” speech to Congress. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma takes the spotlight in a concerto by John Williams.
May 24 at 8 p.m. at the Kennedy Center, Concert Hall, 2700 F St. NW. kennedy-center.org. $79-$199.
A trip to the moon serves as a fitting inspiration for “Frontier,” a new work by Ethan Stiefel. The piece, Julie Kent’s first commissioned work as the company’s new artistic director, takes Kennedy’s goal of traveling to the moon within a decade as its jumping-off point, and follows an astronaut’s journey in what the president described as “the exciting adventure of space.” The program also includes works by Antony Tudor and Frederick Ashton.
May 25-27 at the Kennedy Center, Opera House, 2700 F St. NW. kennedy-center.org. $25-$140.
The journey to space is also the inspiration for this hour-long performance, which uses virtual-reality “headsets” (a cardboard apparatus that holds your phone in front of your eyes) to simulate a trip to the stars. An orchestra and 100-person choir from the Washington Chorus, along with baritone Nathan Gunn and soprano Talise Trevigne, provide the soundtrack to this educational blend of art and science.
May 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the Kennedy Center, Concert Hall, 2700 F St. NW. kennedy-center.org. $15-$45.
The New York photographer’s nine portraits of Kennedy and his family, taken for Harper’s Bazaar weeks before the president-elect’s inauguration in 1961, show a family man at ease, playing with his children, Caroline and John Jr., before taking on the weighty responsibilities of the Oval Office. Come back July 1 for a museum-wide party with ’60s-themed food and drinks, music and a scavenger hunt.
May 25-Aug. 27 at the National Museum of American History, Constitution Avenue and 12th Street NW.
The Kennedy Center closes its centennial festivities with an evening of readings, music and archival video footage. Guests run the gamut from actor Finn Wittrock (“American Horror Story”) to soprano Renée Fleming and the Broadway cast of “Sunday in the Park With George.”
May 29 at 4 p.m. at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW. kennedy-center.org. $25.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said that the National Portrait Gallery has 72 paintings of John F. Kennedy. The museum has 72 portraits of the former president, including many photographs.