WASHINGTON — Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts executives lobbied lawmakers for a $25 million handout in the massive coronavirus stimulus package signed into law by President Trump last week but were planning to lay-off staff regardless, leaked audio of an internal conference call reveals.
In the March 26 call, KCPA President Deborah Rutter told more than 200 employees at the Washington, D.C. cultural institution to brace for lay-offs, pay cuts and furloughs despite receiving a large carve-out in the $2 trillion emergency economic bailout for Americans and businesses financially devastated by the outbreak, which made headlines last week.
Rutter revealed how the organization deployed a lobbyist to push Capitol Hill lawmakers to include them but said it would not help with staff retention because they were already running out of cash, according to the audio first reported by One America News’ Jack Posobiec.
“We are really grateful for this $25 million, but I will tell you that it does not keep us whole,” Rutter said, acknowledging the bailout had made them “the target for a lot of unhappy people who believe we are taking the money away from sick people.”
Staff at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts were informed that many of them would be losing their jobs because the financial situation at the arts organization was so dire.
“This $25 million does not allow us to maintain our current structure,” Rutter said on the call. “If we had not received any cash and everything had stayed exactly as it is today, no changes, we would draw fully on the line of credit, we would be out of cash on May 15.”
In an email Tuesday, the organization confirmed 725 part-time staff had been impacted and another 60 percent of the center’s full-time administrative staff would also be furloughed until at least May 10.
The respected arts complex received incoming fire when they were named as a benefactor in the coronavirus aid bill — many calling it inappropriate, despite President Trump saying he had no problem with it.
According to the final bill, the $25 million grant can be used for operations, including employee compensation. Rutter said while the language was “relatively broad,” they could no longer meet payroll.
“It’s not like we can spend all the money right now to keep everybody whole and find ourselves without cash,” she said, claiming “most people” didn’t understand.
“This is not a bail out. This is a life preserver in a hurricane. I came up with that when somebody said, ‘Woohoo, good for you,’ and I said ‘Uh, sorry.’ None of this is good for any of us.”
The center last week also axed nearly 100 members of the National Symphony Orchestra, telling musicians they would receive their last pay check on April 3, according to a Washington Free Beacon report.
One staff member asked Rutter to clarify that the Kennedy Center was laying off staff despite being included in the stimulus package.
“Yes, that is correct,” she said on the recording, adding, “That is why I wanted to start with the cash flow, that said, absent that money coming in, we would be out of cash and unable to move forward as of mid-May.”
In an email to The Post, a Kennedy Center spokeswoman provided a breakdown of the grant and said $20.2 million would be spent on staff compensation and benefits — a figure at odds with Rutter’s comments on the call.
“It is imperative that we scale back the entire institution’s personnel costs during this time of closure and dearth of ticket income,” the statement read.
“Again, all of these choices are difficult, though absolutely necessary for us to re-employ staff and musicians when we can resume our programming and bring audiences back to the Center in the months to come.”