U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump won’t be attending the annual Kennedy Center Honors. The announcement follows news that two of this year’s honourees have already stated they won’t attend the ceremony in person in protest of Trump and his policies, with others considering boycotting the event as well.
“Each year, the Kennedy Center honours the careers and achievements of artists who have helped shape cultural life in the United States with a weekend that includes celebrations and events,” the White House said Saturday in a statement, as reported by Rolling Stone.
“The president and first lady have decided not to participate in this year’s activities to allow the honourees to celebrate without any political distraction. First lady Melania Trump, along with her husband President Donald J. Trump, extend their sincerest congratulations and well wishes to all of this year’s award recipients for their many accomplishments.”
This marks a huge break with tradition for this prestigious awards ceremony, in which honourees are typically seated with the president and first lady.
Trump’s decision to be a no-show echoes his earlier non-participation in the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, when he likewise broke with tradition by refusing to attend.
Meanwhile, two of this year’s honourees had previously announced plans to boycott the ceremony in protest over Trump’s policies.
“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, I will be declining the invitation to attend the reception at the White House,” said dancer-choreographer Carmen de Lavallade in a statement.
Her sentiments were echoed by legendary TV producer Norman Lear, who announced his intention to boycott the ceremony in protest of the Trump administration cutting the budget to the National Endowment for the Arts.
“I think of it as a very simple decision,” Lear said during a recent appearance at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. “The Kennedy Center is about the arts and humanities. I’m somebody who believes, when the world is safe for everybody, the arts will play a large part in that. And a presidency that doesn’t, that turns its back on the arts and refuses to fund the arts and humanities, I can’t imagine wishing to go there. And that’s entirely the basis. It’s almost not political but for that. I understand everything else that’s going on, and you can imagine how I feel about the individual, but it’s the turning of the presidency’s back on the arts and humanities that I can’t honour that with a visit.”
Meanwhile, singer Lionel Richie has hinted that he’s on the fence about whether he’ll be attending. “I’m gonna just play it by ear,” he said during an appearance on Today. “I must tell you, I’m not really happy with what’s going on right now with the controversies. They’re weekly, daily, hourly.”
Fellow honouree LL Cool J indicated he will attend, but admitted his apprehension in a statement. “I don’t have any stunts planned. I’m not saying I need to be there backslapping and all of that, but this time, this one ain’t about him,” the “NCIS: Los Angeles” star said. “I’m not going to block my blessings or let the political divide stop me from embracing my art. I’m banking on the goodness and the optimism of people to say: ‘You know what? I get it. Let this guy have this honour.'”
Singer Gloria Estefan, who is also an honouree this year, revealed her intention to attend the ceremony — but primarily so the “proud immigrant” can give the president an earful by expressing her opposition to Trump about his immigration policies.
It’s not known at the moment whether Trump sitting out this year’s ceremony will entice the honourees to reverse their decisions to boycott.
This year’s event marks the 40th anniversary of the Kennedy Center Honors, and is scheduled to be held on Dec. 3 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The event will be broadcast on television on Dec. 26.