BRIDGEWATER, N.J. >> In a break with tradition, President Donald Trump and the first lady have decided not to participate in events for this year’s Kennedy Center Honors arts awards so honorees can celebrate “without any political distraction,” the White House announced today.
The Kennedy Center said it respected Trump’s decision and the show will go on.
Past presidents and first ladies traditionally host a White House reception in the hours before the Kennedy Center gala, which they would then watch from seats high above the stage. This year’s honors are to be awarded on Dec. 3.
The Trumps reached their decision Friday, said a White House official who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
It was made the same day that the entire membership of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities resigned to protest Trump’s comments about last weekend’s demonstrations by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. The president has blamed “many sides” for the violence that left an anti-racism activist dead.
Trump has had a long and contentious relationship with the arts world and some Kennedy Center honorees, who are being recognized for lifetime achievement in their fields, already had said they would not attend the White House reception.
One honoree, television writer and producer Norman Lear, had also questioned whether Trump would want to attend the gala, “given his indifference or worse regarding the arts and humanities.”
Trump has recommended defunding the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Dancer Carmen de Lavallade said on her website this week she was honored to be recognized, but would not go to Trump’s White House.
“In light of the socially divisive and morally caustic narrative that our existing leadership is choosing to engage in, and in keeping with the principles that I and so many others have fought for, I will be declining the invitation to attend the reception at the White House,” she said.
Singer Gloria Estefan earlier had said that she would set her personal politics aside to accept the honor, now in its 40th year. She said the image of a Cuban immigrant, like herself, being honored is important when Latino immigrants in particular have “taken a beating in the recent past.”
Estefan once hosted a Democratic fundraiser attended by President Barack Obama. She said she and her husband, Emilio, are not affiliated with a political party.
The other honorees are hip-hop artist LL Cool J, who had yet to say whether he would attend the White House reception, and singer Lionel Richie, who described himself as a maybe. Representatives for both celebrities did not immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday.
Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein and President Deborah F. Rutter said they respect Trump’s decision.
“In choosing not to participate in this year’s Honors activities, the administration has graciously signaled its respect for the Kennedy Center and ensures the Honors gala remains a deservingly special moment for the honorees. We are grateful for this gesture” they said in a joint statement.
The honorees, announced earlier this month, will be celebrated at a Kennedy Center gala in December, featuring performances and tributes from top entertainers that will be nationally televised. A traditional State Department reception and awards dinner on Dec. 2 will be held as planned.
Rubenstein and Rutter said all five honorees were expected at both events.
The White House said Trump and first lady Melania Trump “extend their sincerest congratulations and well wishes to all of this year’s award recipients for their many accomplishments.”