- The Washington Times
Monday, March 30, 2020

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter has pulled a surprise attack on the National Symphony Orchestra’s 96 musicians.

She gave them a one-week notice. After April 3, the musicians won’t see a paycheck till the Wuhan virus emergency ends and the Kennedy Center reopens for business.


Musicians’ health benefits will go poof in two months.

The potentate of the performing arts mecca on the Potomac did this on the same day the center got its fists on $25 million in federal virus relief money.

The gem of Columbia to Washingtonians, out-of-town and foreign visitors is sitting on an endowment of nearly $100 million.

On what should be the smile side, Kennedy Center lists its total assets at $557 million.

Seems like a lot of buffer for an emergency.

What’s right with this picture?

Nothing.

I know that Ms. Rutter knows that musicians and the music they make for us are as vital to life as breathing, loving and smiling.

So why her sneak attack on flutists, percussionists and violinists?

If you agree that what she did was wantonly cruel and know of a good reason not to replace her, her board of directors and whoever else had a hand (or foot) in this disaster, let’s hear it.

Ms. Rutter’s waiving her $1.2 million salary until the coronavirus crisis is over is commendable and exemplary, of course.

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.

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?

That’s only $1 million a year, as opposed to $19 million, until the virus runs its course?

An explanation by Ms. Rutter of why that didn’t happen should have accompanied her punch-in-the-gut, one-week-and-you’re-outta-here notice.

This is not to brush aside the real financial hole into which this and other performing arts centers have plunged.

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.

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.

Understandably, the decision to stop paying musicians in a week has local musicians union president Ed Malaga grinding his teeth.

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…,” he said in a statement, it also comes “from an organization with an endowment of nearly $100 million. …”

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

Mr. Malaga’s assertion of legality aside, I’d say “unfair, unjust and imperious” all seem apt.

Unless and until, that is, the Kennedy Center’s leadership descends from its imperial perch and deigns to explain otherwise.

Aside: OMG, I think I just sided for the moment with a labor-union boss. Let’s keep this between us.


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