Film director Spike Lee, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and bestselling author and New York Times columnist David Brooks will be among the participants in an arts summit at the Kennedy Center on May 16. The event will be live streamed on the Kennedy Center website.
Organized by former New York City Ballet dancer Damian Woetzel, who is director of the Aspen Institute Arts Program, and by Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter, the summit will feature discussions by writers, artists, scientists and arts leaders to find “some sort of prescriptive possibilities relating to the arts and society,” said Woetzel.
Topics include technology, free speech and race. In Woetzel’s art form, race has a particular timeliness with the popularity of Misty Copeland, the African American soloist with American Ballet Theatre who has been vocal about the ballet world’s lack of diversity.
“What Misty is doing with her dancing, in being the person she is and in dancing so well, is setting a tremendous juggernaut in motion,” Woetzel said. “Every child should have the opportunity to try ballet. I look at it in terms of lost opportunities all over the country. It’s about not only getting the opportunity to become a Misty, but about the opportunity to try something.”
Woetzel has a long history with Copeland; she has performed in the past at his Vail International Dance Festival, and will return there this August, and she danced at the Kennedy Center Honors tribute to former ballerina Patricia McBride, which Woetzel helped organize. He sees her as a model of the “citizen artist,” a role that Woetzel wishes to promote.
“The 20th century was a tremendous period of growth, certainly in my art form, in ballet. And in America in general. And as we enter the 21st century, we’re all looking for ways forward to guide us,” he said. He mentioned a special fascination with new theories on thinking cited by computer scientist Alan Kay and political philosopher Michael Sandel, both of whom will speak at the summit.
“In my own life, I am a director of the festival, I am involved in performances, I have creative pursuits, and I am looking for guidance in all these areas,” says Woetzel, who holds a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and was recently awarded the 2015 Harvard Arts Medal for excellence in the arts. “There’s room for tremendous progress and that’s what I’m hoping for.
“The goal is to spur thinking that we can’t predict,” he says. “The point is to mix it up and get somewhere where we haven’t been before. To assemble people who are like-minded and believe in the adventure.”