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Marc Bamuthi Joseph appointed VP of Social Impact at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Photo: Bethanie Hines.

WASHINGTON, DC.- Multi-hyphenate artist and national arts leader Marc Bamuthi Joseph will join the leadership team of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, effective January 1, 2019. The dynamic cultural curator will assume a newly created role of Vice President and Artistic Director of Social Impact, charged with weaving together and advancing the Center’s many and varied local and national community engagement initiatives.

“Marc is a transformative force on stage and behind the scenes, and the Kennedy Center and our entire community will benefit immensely from the creativity, passion, and dedication he brings to his craft and to the pivotal role that the arts play in shaping our social landscape,” commented Deborah F. Rutter, Kennedy Center President. “As we move towards the opening of the REACH in 2019, and our 50th anniversary in 2021–2022, Marc will lead us in thinking through the role of the Kennedy Center in relation to our local community and to the arts community at large. We are so very thrilled to welcome him to Washington.”

“I’ve often said that I don’t believe in art that doesn’t bleed or sweat or cry,” said Marc Bamuthi Joseph. “While I recognize that performance is an instrument for many of us to escape, I am deeply committed to art that brings us closer to the core of our engagement with the body politic. I’ve had the great privilege of working with the Kennedy Center as a commissioned artist, and as an intermittent consultant, but I now look forward to integrating this belief structure more deeply into the organizational values system with my new colleagues. Together, our work is to set a course at the Kennedy Center that animates inspiration inside our buildings and beyond their physical walls. My role is to set a strategy that illuminates pathways for art to be ‘active’ in the day-to-day lives of our audiences, our local community, and our nation.”

A working artist and noted speaker, Joseph, 43, has served as the Chief of Program and Pedagogy at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (San Francisco) since 2012. In this role, he developed acclaimed artistic and community engagement programs, including the YBCA 100 and the YBCA Fellows. A dancer by training, he has created spoken word, dance, theater, Hip Hop, opera, and multimedia pieces that have received international critical acclaim. His work often addresses the intersections and interplay between social issues and cultural identity, including race, gender, and class. He came to national attention in 1999 as the National Poetry Slam Champion, and in 2004 appearing in episodes of Def Poetry on HBO.

As Vice President and Artistic Director of Social Impact, Joseph is charged with deepening and broadening the Kennedy Center’s community footprint and cultivating new audiences, both locally and nationally, with an emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Through the lens of arts and culture as vital vehicles for social understanding, he will steward and curate programs including Performing Arts for Everyone; related community-driven events including Open House and events similar to Finding A Line (2015); and Millennium Stage, which presents a diversity of cultural events 365 days per year that are also streamed live. Joseph will work closely with programmers across the Center to develop a Center-wide strategy around flagship local outreach programs, such as those of the National Symphony Orchestra’s In Your Neighborhood and Washington National Opera’s Opera in the Outfield, as well as national programs such as Arts Across America, Any Given Child, and Schools and Community Partnerships.

Joseph made his Kennedy Center debut in 2013 during the One Mic Hip Hop Culture Worldwide festival, and has returned for several engagements, including an ArtChangeUS presentation about diversity in American orchestras and Arts Summit 2016 and 2018. Most recently, in 2017, the Center commissioned his latest play, peh/LOH/tah, which addresses topics of migration and the politics of joy through soccer, and in 2018, he appeared in the Kennedy Center-Apollo Theatre co-commission of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me.

Joseph’s appointment follows a national search for a Vice President of Community Engagement to succeed Garth Ross, who departed the Center earlier this year after two decades to assume the role of the first Executive Director at Yale University’s new Schwartzman Center. Joseph emerged as a leading candidate early in the search, and his background as an artist, as well as his track record for powerful curation, prompted Center leadership to reimagine the role.

“When we sought a leader to take the Kennedy Center’s community engagement programs into the future, I knew we needed a visionary,” Rutter observed. “What I did not anticipate was that we’d be so fortunate as to find both a seasoned administrator and a highly acclaimed practicing artist like Marc. He’s a rare breed of leader, artist, and curator, and I’m looking forward to the important role he will play in developing new work and activating our community. I’ve long believed that art and artists are at the heart of our role as the nation’s cultural center, and Marc powerfully marries this vision and the Center’s mission.”

Joseph will be one of 12 artistic partners at the Center, and the first to serve in a dual artistic and administrative role. Other artistic directors include Renée Fleming, who has worked to develop the Center’s Sound Health initiative and curates the Renée Fleming VOICES series; Yo-Yo Ma, who played a critical role in JFK Centennial celebrations honoring President John F. Kennedy, and helped to envision and shape Arts Across America; Artistic Director of Jazz Jason Moran; Q-Tip, Artistic Director of Hip Hop Culture; and others including Mason Bates, Ben Folds, Joseph Kalichstein, Gianandrea Noseda, Steven Reineke, Damian Woetzel, and Francesca Zambello.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph is a 2017 TED Global Fellow, an inaugural recipient of the Guggenheim Social Practice initiative, and an honoree of the United States Artists Rockefeller Fellowship. He is also the winner of the 2011 Herb Alpert Award in Theatre, and an inaugural recipient of the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award. In pursuit of affirmations of black life in the public realm, he co-founded the Life is Living Festival for Youth Speaks, and created the installation “Black Joy in the Hour of Chaos” for Creative Time. Joseph’s opera libretto, We Shall Not Be Moved, was named one of 2017’s “Best Classical Music Performances” by The New York Times. His evening length work, /peh-LO-tah/, was commissioned by the Kennedy Center, and was presented at BAM’s Harvey Theater as a part of the 2017 Next Wave Festival. His latest piece, The Just and the Blind investigates the crisis of over-sentencing in the prison industrial complex, and will premiere at Carnegie Hall in March 2019. He lives with his wife and two teenagers in Oakland, and proudly serves as Chief of Program and Pedagogy at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

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