Columnist unloads on Kennedy Center chief who sacked orchestra after bailout

by WorldTribune Staff, March 30, 2020

Included in the federal government’s coronavirus relief package is $25 million for the Kennedy Center. On the same day the center got news it was getting the emergency funds, the center’s president, Deborah Rutter, essentially fired the National Symphony Orchestra’s 96 musicians, a columnist noted.

“She gave them a one-week notice,” Ralph Z. Hallow wrote for The Washington Times on Monday. “After April 3, the musicians won’t see a paycheck till the Wuhan virus emergency ends and the Kennedy Center reopens for business.”

The National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center. / YouTube

The musicians’ health benefits will run out in two months, Hallow noted.

Meanwhile, “the gem of Columbia to Washingtonians, out-of-town and foreign visitors is sitting on an endowment of nearly $100 million,” Hallow wrote.

Kennedy Center lists its total assets at $557 million.

“Seems like a lot of buffer for an emergency,” Hallow wrote. “What’s right with this picture? Nothing.”

Rutter is waiving her $1.2 million salary until the coronavirus crisis is over, which Hallow said “is commendable and exemplary.” But, Hallow added, “to get some perspectives on this, you should know that the average National Symphony musician’s pay is $52,448 a year — or $4,370 a month. That’s less than one-twentieth Ms. Rutter’s salary.”

The total weekly payroll for the center’s 96 musicians combined is $400,000. That adds up to $1.6 million every month. Or $19 million a year.

“That eats up most of the $25 million in virus-relief money the U.S. Treasury is borrowing from you — and from Xi Jinping’s China — to pay for the $2 trillion Wuhan-virus relief act of 2020,” Hallow wrote.

So what if the money was earmarked for maintenance, not salaries?

“Instead of leaving the musicians penniless for God knows how long, why not cut their average pay to, say, $25,000 from $52,448 a year. Or more drastically to $15,000 a year?” Hallow noted. “That’s only $1 million a year, as opposed to $19 million, until the virus runs its course?”

“This is not to brush aside the real financial hole into which this and other performing arts centers have plunged,” Hallow wrote. “The money crunch has the arts world in general by the throat. The nearly global sheltering at home is choking the world’s most prosperous economy. It was roaring ahead until this the new virus strain stopped it dead.”

Hallow continued: “Suddenly without ticket revenue, Kennedy Center still had to pay the 3,000 technicians, maintenance, food prospers, servers and other people on its total payroll. Its solution: It’ll start paying them zilch in a week, presumably.

Local musicians’ union president Ed Malaga slammed the decision to stop paying musicians within a week’s time.

Not only does the furloughing decision come “after the musicians had expressed their willingness to discuss ways to accommodate the Kennedy Center during this challenging time…,” Malaga said in a statement, “it also comes “from an organization with an endowment of nearly $100 million. …”

Besides, Malaga said, it “is also blatantly illegal under the parties’ collective bargaining agreement.”

Malaga’s assertion of legality aside, Hallow said that what happened to the musicians seems “unfair, unjust and imperious. Unless and until, that is, the Kennedy Center’s leadership descends from its imperial perch and deigns to explain otherwise.”

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