The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., received $25 million from the massive coronavirus relief bill, thanks in large part to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The drawback is that the Kennedy Center furloughed all 96 members of the National Symphony Orchestra, with the announcement coming in an email soon after the bill was signed into law.
“The Covid-19 Advisory Committee was broadsided today during our conversation with [Kennedy Center President] Deborah Rutter,” the email reportedly read. “Ms. Rutter abruptly informed us today that the last paycheck for all musicians and librarians will be April 3 and that we will not be paid again until the Center reopens.”
Leaked audio of a reported March 26 conference call with Rutter shared online by OANN’s Jack Posobiec reflects that the Kennedy Center’s lobbyist was working with “appropriators” on Capital Hill to help secure the money.
“We are really grateful for this $25 million, but I will tell you that it does not keep us whole,” Rutter says on the call. “In fact, the language that Tracy [Henke] worked so closely with all the appropriators on was clear that we needed this just to be able to reopen.”
AUDIO: Kennedy Center Concall https://t.co/ldYc8phNVp
— Jack M. Posobiec, IWO (@JackPosobiec) March 30, 2020
“Fortunately, Tracy has really great relationships on the Hill,” she added. “We have fantastic support from board leadership and all of those relationships and savvy, I will say, is what brought us that $25 million.”
Tracy is an apparent reference to former Senate legislative aide Trace Henke, Vice President of Government Relations.
In light of all the criticism the center has received for laying off the musicians, Rutter went the extra mile to stress that the money received “does not keep us whole.”
According to Rutter, the Kennedy Center was set to run out of cash on May 15, and she defended the decision to grant them the largess.
“Some of you are probably aware of the fact that we are now, uh, the target for a lot of unhappy people who believe that we are taking the money away from sick people. In the case of a stimulus bill, it is to try to continue to do business, and to stimulate the economy in the future,” Rutter said. “In this case, this funding is pretty prescriptive in that it says ‘you need to do this for operational expenses so that you can open up again after this, uh, uh, closure — this period of time, this closure.’”
“What’s different from previous funding from the federal government is that it will allow us to pay for things that the federal appropriation generally doesn’t — so in this case it will be able to be used for operational expenses, like what it takes … to be able to make sure that the building is open and ready for programming and activity, after, when we can reopen,” she continued.
Rutter appeared to also defend the decision not to pay musicians, stressing that the “$25 million does not allow us to maintain our current structure.”
She also let it be known that they were asking for $10 million more than what was received, as Rutter explained that barring any changes, they’d be “out of cash on May 15.”
“With no changes, assuming we could even open on May 15, we would have no cash to do the work moving forward,” she explained. “We extended that cash flow all the way through Sept. 30, and we would be in arrears to the tune of $32 million. So again, with the $25 million, and doing nothing, we still would be out $32 million. That is actually sort of why we were asking, initially, for $35 million from the federal government.”
At one point in the call, someone asked if employees could donate a portion of their paychecks to prevent layoffs and furloughs — it’s worth noting that Rutter suspended her $1.2 million salary during the crisis.
Rutter dismissed the idea, saying it would not achieve the amount needed — weekly payroll for the furloughed musicians is reportedly $400,000.
Touting the unemployment benefits in the stimulus package, she suggested it may be more beneficial to the musicians to be laid off.
“The more we are learning about the unemployment benefits, it is clear that in some cases it’s really going to be more valuable for individuals to be furloughed so they can collect unemployment instead of contributing back,” Rutter said.
For the record, President Trump was supportive of the Kennedy Center getting the funding.
“I’m a fan of that,” Trump said. “I haven’t spent time there because I’m far too busy. I’d love to go there evenings, but I’m too busy doing things.”
“The Kennedy Center, they do a beautiful job, an incredible job,” he added.
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