Kennedy Center urges healing with ‘UNITY, PEACE, FORWARD’ exhibit

The “UNITY” and “PEACE” displays shine at night outside of the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. (Glenn Turner)
WTOP's Jason Fraley highlights 'UNITY, PEACE, FORWARD' (Part 1)

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and after a heated election, the siege on the U.S. Capitol and a historic second impeachment, it may be the most polarized time in American politics since 1968.

The Kennedy Center is trying to lower the temperature with its triple outdoor exhibit called “UNITY | PEACE | FORWARD” outside its REACH expansion through Feb. 28.

“We have this big open space now that’s part of the REACH right on the Potomac [River],” Alicia Adams, vice president of international programming and dance, told WTOP. “It is outdoors, so people can just walk and have a look at the installations.”

The first display is called “UNITY” by a reflecting pool outside the River Pavilion.

“Five young artists with disabilities … are represented in each letter of that word, which makes it a very colorful and beautiful installation,” Adams said. “Because it’s by the water, the reflecting pool, it also reflects into the water, so it’s beautiful and peaceful.”

The second display is called “PEACE” on the grounds outside the Skylight Pavilion, consisting of 270 flags to replicate the indoor Hall of Nations and Hall of States.

“People can’t come [indoors] right now, but what we could do is put every single flag of all of the states and all of the countries on this map, a map of flags, a sheet of flags, and have ‘PEACE’ there, peace around the world,” Adams said.

The third and final display is called “FORWARD” on the outdoor video wall, featuring quotes from artists from 66 countries, including China, Cuba, Egypt, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Norway, South Africa and many more.

“We sent out a request to many of the artists that we’ve worked with over the last 25 years,” Adams said. “We asked them to respond to how they envision the future. … We were excited to get these artists’ statements that we are projecting onto the video wall outside at the REACH. It comes on around dusk at 4:30 [p.m.] Friday and Saturday.”

Overall, the Kennedy Center hopes to create a mindset of unity, peace and forward-thinking, which has been missing the past four years when former President Donald Trump skipped the Kennedy Center Honors. Traditionally, it’s been attended across the aisle by Republicans and Democrats, from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama.

“People are so divided, which has really taken a toll,” Adams said. “We’re looking forward to having the Honors again this May, which will be in a hybrid form. We hope to learn something new from this pause in our lives.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley highlights 'UNITY, PEACE, FORWARD' (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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