The performing arts unites us and supports key jobs in the economy
On a typical evening at the Kennedy Center, before the coronavirus era, you would feel the energy as the team readies for the first performances of the night after the wrap of daily free programs on the Millennium Stage. Whether you are there to watch Camille Brown dance in the Eisenhower Theater, a jazz concert in the Terrace Theater, a hip hop show in the Club with Studio K, a Broadway sensation in the Opera House, or the National Symphony Orchestra in the Concert Hall, it is a big night.
You were probably assisted on the way to the show by parking attendants, security guards, and ushers. You may visit the gift shop or purchase some refreshments before the show once more aided by staff service. After you made it to your seat, you may have heard the orchestra, some of the finest musicians in the world, warming up. For some performances, you would be struck by the set imagined by designers and built by hand. Renowned performers would take the stage, and their talent would be rewarded with applause. Unseen is the great support they receive off stage from acting coaches, makeup artists, stage hands, and many more.
In normal times, these teams of workers that number in the thousands do this every night. So when the Kennedy Center is shut down, as it largely is today, these workers are sidelined. There are simply no remote options for set designers, stage hands, or parking attendants. The Kennedy Center is a critical engine in the beltway region, but it also serves a mission to lead development and education on performing arts in America.
As trustees of the Kennedy Center, which was created by Congress to be the national performing arts center and memorial to President Kennedy, we know the arts uplift people, transcend politics, and are in the fabric of our country. They also support a significant portion of our economy and hundreds of thousands of jobs, with arts and culture contributing almost $880 billion to our gross domestic product at last count.
It is not just the Kennedy Center that relies on the economy to support its workers and business. The New York Times noted performing arts ticket sales were down more than 90 percent last fall, and individual giving to arts institutions fell by over 10 percent in North America during the first nine months of 2020. To date, the pandemic has cost the industry at least an estimated $14 billion. The Kennedy Center by itself has been forced to cancel nearly 2,000 events since last spring, resulting in over $160 million in lost earned revenue. This major financial shortfall led to some difficult decisions and shared sacrifice within the Kennedy Center.
Thankfully, the Paycheck Protection Program passed by Congress helped to support eligible arts institutions and their employees as the pandemic surged. The Kennedy Center received a separate, but still critical, lifeline from the Cares Act since it was not eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program and Save Our Stages relief. The funds helped to support our workers and work to fulfill our mandate outlined in law.
Some failed to understand why the Kennedy Center received Cares Act relief but, because it is a federal responsibility, it was aided for the same reason we steward our national monuments, museums, and parks. The Kennedy Center building maintenance, security, and repairs are funded by annual federal appropriations bills. However, about 90 percent of the jobs with the Kennedy Center are funded by earned and contributed revenue, both of which have declined due to the coronavirus crisis.
While the pandemic continues, countless artists, stage hands, designers, ushers, and others are without work. Meanwhile, our community of arts lovers see shuttered theater doors. Several arts institutions have further canceled activity far into this year, a move the Kennedy Center also had to take, leading to an estimated loss of over $200 million. Yet the Kennedy Center and other arts institutions around the country now have innovative virtual programs to keep people connected to the arts.
While we find welcome respite in these programs, these activities cannot pay bills or rehire our team members. Financial assistance is needed on a broader scale. As trustees of the Kennedy Center, we know the arts bring people together from all walks of life. We look forward to the day we can welcome guests back to live performances with the Kennedy Center, and hope our paths cross at other performing arts venues around the country. With support from everyone, we can make that happen.
David Rubenstein is a founder and a chairman at the Carlyle Group based in Washington. Mike Huckabee served as a former governor for Arkansas. They both sit as members of the board of trustees of the Kennedy Center.
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