The White House, already facing a growing boycott by several honorees, announced Saturday that President Trump and first lady Melania Trump will not participate in this year’s annual Kennedy Center Honors ceremony to avoid any “political distraction” for the recipients of the prestigious award.
The 40-year-old award, presented every December in a ceremony at the Kennedy Center, recognizes honorees for their lifetime contributions in the arts and the positive change they have made in the world.
Past presidents and first ladies have hosted a reception for the honorees at the White House before the Kennedy Center gala and sat with them at the televised event.
This year’s ceremony will be held Dec. 3 and broadcast on Dec. 26.
“The President and First Lady have decided not to participate in this year’s activities to allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction,” the White House press office said in a statement.
The White House said the Trumps “extend their sincerest congratulations and well wishes to all of this year’s award recipients for their many accomplishments.”
Two honorees for this year, TV writer and producer Norman Lear and dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade, had already announced plans to boycott a White House reception that normally takes place the night before the awards ceremony.
Lear, 95-year-old creator of such iconic TV programs as All in the Family, has been an outspoken critic of Trump, particularly the administration’s policies toward the arts.
Lear told Varietyearlier this month that he planned to boycott the White House reception to protest such policies as the administration’s budget proposal that calls for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts and its sister agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities. He said he would be willing to reconsider his decision to stay away if Trump’s changed his position on the arts and humanities.
De Lavallade,one of the first African-American dancers at the Metropolitan Opera, she said in a statement, that she was declining to attend the reception “(in) light of the socially divisive and morally caustic narrative that our current leadership is choosing to engage in, and in keeping with the principles that I and so many others have fought for…”
Singer Lionel Richie said on NBC’s Today this week that he would “play it by ear” whether to participate in this year’s program.
Also being honored this year at the honors ceremony on Dec. 3 is singer Gloria Estefan and rapper LL Cool J.
The recipients of the annual award are selected by the executive committee of the Kennedy Center’s board of trustees and based on recommendations from the public, a special advisory board and past honorees.
The announcement of the Trumps’ withdrawal from this year’s activities came one day after the remaining 16 members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities resigned in protest over the president’s handling of the Charlottesville clashes.
The first lady served as honorary chairwoman of the commission, which was created in 1982 by President Reagan to help advise theWhjite House on issues around arts and humanities.
Actor Kal Penn, who had worked in the Obama White House, announced the resignations on Twitter on Friday. The 16 had initially agreed to stay on the commission until Trump named their replacements, The Washington Post reported.