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WASHINGTON -- The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has canceled most previously announced performances for the rest of 2020, including its signature Kennedy Center Honors and Mark Twain Prize, which have been rescheduled for next spring. The cancellations and postponements will cost the arts center $45.7 million in lost tickets and other revenue.

The national arts center closed March 12 as large gatherings were banned to reduce the spread of covid-19. It extended the closure through Aug. 8, canceling or postponing more than 1,000 events.

Next month, officials plan to announce new programs to be held in socially distanced fashion either outside or in reconfigured indoor spaces. In the meantime, it will not present any large-scale events -- including National Symphony Orchestra concerts and Washington National Opera performances -- until next year.

"It's enormously disappointing," Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter said. "For a number of weeks, we have been talking about what would it take to be able to bring people back, how seating in the theaters could be with social distancing and thinking about the performers onstage. But it became increasingly apparent, for the safety of our artists and audience and our staff, it was going to be impossible to do that in the near term."

The Kennedy Center Honors will be moved to March 7, 2021, and the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor is set for June 20. Both will be broadcast on TV at later dates.

A smaller slate of performances and events will be held this year, conforming to social distancing policies, both indoors and on the grounds of the Reach. For example, Rutter said the center is considering using the Opera House stage as the site of chamber music concerts.

"We might be able to put smaller programs in the large venues. And outdoors seems to be a real possibility," she said. "My guess is the maximum we'll do in the main building is 10 or 12 performances. We could do that in two days, and now we're talking 3 1/2 months."

The arts center laid off about 750 hourly and part-time workers in late March, and then furloughed about 250 staff employees in April. About 198 employees remain on furlough, Rutter said. Their health coverage continues through August.

The 50 or so employees brought back from furlough are mostly members of the social impact and education teams, Rutter said, and some backstage workers are doing repairs and maintenance that have postponed because the venues are always in use. But she did not say when the rest of the staff would return.

"It's a dire time for everybody. I'm doing my very best to take all people into consideration. The sooner we can get back the better," she said.

The members of its two orchestras negotiated 25% pay cuts in the spring. Rutter said the arts center leaders plan to talk with representatives of those and its other unions to find savings.

"A couple of those contracts expire in the next few weeks. We are in the process of working with those, given the fact that the season will be so different."

The arts center is talking with federal officials, including its high-level ex officio board members, to identify more federal aid, including the extension of the federal unemployment bonus. The arts center received $25 million in the Cares Act in March.

"It would be so so helpful given the circumstances," she said.

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Moved back

The Kennedy Center Honors will be moved to March 7, 2021, and the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor is set for June 20. Both will be broadcast on TV at later dates.


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