Roger L. Stevens

1998 Honoree - Lifetime Achievement Award


Roger L. Stevens is undoubtedly one of the greatest forces behind the arts in America. A theatrical producer in New York City and London, he produced more than 200 plays, a brought to the stage writers such as Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, Harold Pinter and T.S. Eliot. Roger Stevens was responsible for envisioning, building and sustaining the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts from 1961, when President Kennedy asked him for his help establishing a National Cultural Center, until the end of his tenure in 1988. However, his artistic legacy reaches well beyond Broadway and the Kennedy Center.

During the Johnson administration, Stevens served as Special Assistant on the Arts, establishing the National Council on the Arts which later became the National Endowment for the Arts. During his tenure as the first Chairman of the NEA, the agency helped support many new programs, from literary festivals to grants to inner-city arts projects to artists-in-residence programs that placed visual artists in secondary schools. His roster of board service reads like a registry of the finest American arts institutions: director of the Metropolitan Opera Association; director of the Peabody Conservatory, Folder Library and Circle in the Square Theatre; chairman of the board of trustees of the American Film Institute; cofounder of the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre; director of the National Symphony Orchestra Association, and more.

Thought Stevens thought of himself as "fresh from the haystacks of the Middle West," his extraordinary accomplishments have touched those in every corner of the nation. Born in Michigan in 1910, Stevens's long and illustrious career spanning business, theater, politics and the arts has made him one of the most accomplished leaders of his time. In the real estate investment business, Stevens negotiated many important deals, including the famous 1951 transaction to buy the Empire State Building. Roger Stevens and his wife Christine have one daughter.