WASHINGTON (AP) _ Lawrence J. Wilker, president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts since 1991, will leave at the end of the year for a job to bring more entertainment to the Internet.

``It is the perfect time for me to begin a new, exciting and challenging chapter of my life,'' he said in a statement.

Wilker, 56, will join Lou Reda, a leading producer of programs for the History Channel and Arts and Entertainment, in a private venture to deliver what the Kennedy Center called ``quality entertainment.''

Wilker's time at the Kennedy Center has been marked by the introduction of daily free performances in the building where the price of opera seats runs into three digits. The Millennium Stage presents a one-hour program, often devoted to popular music, at the end of the long lobby called the Grand Foyer _ a popular tourist sight dominated by a sculpture of President Kennedy.

The Millennium Stage has contributed to doubling performances at the center from 1,680 to more than 3,300 a year.

Under Wilker, national tours of Kennedy Center productions have been set up to reach 37 states, 80 cities and more than 400,000 children each year.

The center, which also puts on concerts, plays, musicals and films, is in the midst of a $170 million renovation program. President Clinton appeared at the reopening of a refurbished Concert Hall to lead the National Symphony Orchestra in a performance of John Philip Sousa's ``The Stars and Stripes Forever.''

Basic improvements are being made to the center's Opera House, which may become the permanent home of the Washington Opera after a multimillion dollar plan fell through last year that would have remade the closed Woodward and Lothrop Department Store into an independent opera house closer to the center of the capital.