The Kennedy Center, under David Rubenstein and Deborah Rutter, has made its worst publicity mistake ever. After receiving $25 million in the stimulus package to keep the place going, this pair dismissed the National Symphony Orchestra with one week’s notice.
Huh? This was on the same day that James Dolan, not loved in New York by any means because of the Knicks and the Rangers, announced he would keep paying staff at Madison Square Garden despite the famed complex being closed.
Rutter is paid $1.3 million a year, although she says she’s not taking a salary right now. My guess is she has some savings from making all that money. The musicians, who are paid a fraction of that million bucks, do not.
Rubenstein, head of the Carlyle Group, is very wealthy. He could afford to pay the Symphony out of his own pocket for a year and not notice it.
The Kennedy Center, which Rubenstein took over a few years ago, is well funded. According to their Form 990 tax return for 2018, they have over $400 million in net assets and funds. Including Rutter, they pay a handful of executives $4.4 million a year in salaries.
According to the Washington Post, the Center will cease paying all salary and benefits to the musicians will end on April 3 and not resume until the virus scare is over and performances resume.
“This decision, from an organization with an endowment of nearly $100 million, is not only outrageous — coming after the musicians had expressed their willingness to discuss ways to accommodate the Kennedy Center during this challenging time — it is also blatantly illegal under the parties’ collective bargaining agreement. That agreement specifically requires that the Center provide six weeks’ notice before it can stop paying musicians for economic reasons,” said Ed Malaga, president of Local 161-710 of the American Federation of Musicians, in a statement.
Rutter is simply tone deaf. But she’s also doing the bidding of Rubenstein, who became infamous for kicking out producer George Stevens, Jr., the creator of the Kennedy Center Honors, and remaking the organization in his own image. With Stevens gone, so have the fine arts, leaving the Kennedy Center Honors to mimic the Grammy Awards and give honors with an eye toward television ratings.
Rubenstein’s fabulous life was profiled last year on “CBS Sunday Morning.” But trust me, the piccolo players and the violinists aren’t living his incredibly lavish lifestyle. Malaga has the right to be outraged. I hope he prevails.
And meantime, what about the $25 million? Malaga and the Symphony should demand a full accounting of where it’s gone– and to make sure it’s not quietly paid off to the Carlyle Group.