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Arabesque Festival Brings Arab Arts to Kennedy Center

An ambitious, three-week festival called "Arabesque: Arts of the Arab World" opens at the Kennedy Center in Washington Monday. Jeffrey Brown offers the first in a series of broadcast and online reports around the festival and the artists it is showcasing.

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    Most often, the Middle East conjures up images and sounds of war and terrorism, religious fundamentalism, and constant struggle. But here is another sight, another sound: These are the children of the Al-Farah Choir, or the "Choir of Joy," more than 100 Muslim and Christian young people, who sing in a 30-year-old group founded by a Catholic priest in Damascus, Syria.

    Yesterday, some of the children sang at mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., a tune-up of sorts for their performance tomorrow as part of an ambitious three-week festival called "Arabesque: Arts of the Arab World" that opens tonight at Washington's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

    For Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser, the festival is about art, certainly, but about something more, as well.

  • MICHAEL KAISER, President, Kennedy Center:

    Well, I believe that peace comes from understanding. And so if we know more about other people and have a rounder view of them and a more educated view of other people, then we can start to make peace.

    I believe that this festival is going to help people to understand Arab people, to understand their aesthetic tastes, to understand their hospitality and their generosity and their passion, and we'll start to understand them not just as political beings, but as human beings.


    How, though? I mean, how does watching a dance or theater or a musician, how does it do all that?


    Well, to start with, it comes from just showing another view of Arab people. All we see on television are people running around, escaping bombs or thrusting bombs, and we don't see on television very much that has to do with the other side of the culture of the Arab people.

    So just having a dance company here starts to make people question, "I didn't know they had a dance company. I didn't know they cared about dance." That's how it starts.