2008 National Medal of Arts
The Ford's Theatre Society is being recognized for its historic contributions to the city's and nation's culture. The theater's building is a National Historic Site under the National Mall and Memorial Parks district of the Department of the Interior.
Ford's Theatre is a live, working theater located in downtown Washington, DC. Serving nearly one million visitors each year, it is committed to bringing the best talent and new productions to its historic stage. Recently, it has shown works ranging from the nationally acclaimed Big River to the regional premiere of Trying and world premiere of Meet John Doe.
Ford's Theatre is forever linked to President Abraham Lincoln, not only because it was the site of his assassination, but also because it gave him spiritual comfort during his more than one dozen visits. The theater's history began in 1861 when entrepreneur John T. Ford leased the First Baptist Church and converted it into a music hall. After the original building was destroyed by fire, the entrepreneur immediately began reconstruction. Ford's "New Theatre" opened in August 1863 at the height of the Civil War.
Less than two years later, on the evening of April 14, 1865, tragedy struck when President Abraham Lincoln attended a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre. For almost 90 years, it no longer functioned as a theater, but instead served intermittently as a museum, office space, and storage facility.
In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a Congressional Act to restore the theater, and reconstruction began ten years later. Ford's Theatre reopened in 1968 as both a historic site and working theater, and has since presented more than two hundred plays, musicals, and special events.
In 2006, the Board of Trustees approved a plan to embark upon an extensive renovation project: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Campaign. In addition to structural upgrades, the three-year, $50 millon capital campaign will provide funds for new educational programming focused on the life, presidency, and lessons of leadership of Abraham Lincoln. The campaign plans to update, expand, and enhance the facilities to include the theater, museum, the Peterson House where Lincoln died, and the new Center for Education and Leadership. The renovated theater is scheduled to reopen in February 2009, while the museum will reopen in spring 2009.
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal agency