The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts received a $25 million bailout from the federal government (read taxpayers) as part of the recent coronavirus stimulus bill. Hours later it laid off the entire National Symphony Orchestra. The nearly 100 members comprising the orchestra will no longer receive paychecks until the Center reopens, the Washington Free Beacon reported. The Kennedy Center is tentatively scheduled to reopen on May 10th, but that is extremely unlikely given COVID-19 projections and government’s rapidly swelling propensity to control everything and everybody. If the center remains closed past May, the musicians will also lose their health insurance. Nice timing.
Frankly, the Kennedy Center had no business getting a bailout as part of the emergency coronavirus package, or “CARES Act.” However, since it was handed $25 million, it had even less business furloughing its entire orchestra immediately after being granted the largesse. This would be as if GM and Chrysler had laid off most of their employees after receiving their massive bailouts in 2009. The stimulus package was intended to provide relief for those who are left unemployed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, not to cause folks to become unemployed. In fact, the law’s text states the monies granted were to “cover operating expenses required to ensure the continuity of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and its affiliates,” including “for employee compensation and benefits,” and specifically includes “artists and performers” as employees.
The timing of the decision to stop paying the musicians seems preposterous, especially since the Kennedy Center also possesses an endowment of almost $100 million. The Washington Post reports that Ed Malaga, head of the union that represents the musicians, claims that his charges had previously expressed a willingness to discuss ways to accommodate the Center during this pandemic. And that the parties’ collective bargaining agreement requires the Center to provide six weeks’ notice before it can stop paying the musicians for economic reasons.
Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter said that everyone should share the burden in this crisis and added that the taxpayer bailout would “provide long-term cash flow for essential personnel to ensure that we can reopen.” Essential personnel like, say, Deborah Rutter, no doubt.