Arts Committee Disbands, Citing Trump's 'Hateful Rhetoric'
All 17 members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigned Friday. Their gesture was intended to signal their collective censure of President Trump’s comments last week after the Aug. 12 attack in Charlottesville, Va., that killed one person and injured 19.
They also sent Trump a joint letter to make sure he got the message.
Among those who resigned were actor Kal Penn; painter and photographer Chuck Close; Jill Udall, the former head of cultural affairs for New Mexico; entertainment executive Fred Goldring; and Pulitzer-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, all of whom were appointed under Barack Obama. The letter states:
… You released a budget which eliminates arts and culture agencies. You have threatened nuclear war while gutting diplomacy funding. The administration pulled out of the Paris agreement, filed an amicus brief undermining the Civil Rights Act and attacked our brave trans service members. You have subverted equal protections, and are committed to banning Muslims and refugee women & children from our great country. This does not unify the nation we all love.
… Ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions. Supremacy, discrimination, and vitriol are not American values. Your values are not American values. We must be better than this. We are better than this. If this is not clear to you, then we call on you to resign your office, too.
As Politico observes, the first letter of each paragraph of the note spells out “Resist.”
The committee, founded in 1982 under President Ronald Reagan, works with government and private agencies to promote the arts through programs like Turnaround Arts, which helps nearly 100 failing schools. The committee also works with the National Endowment for the Arts—which Trump recently recommended for the chopping block.
The arts committee is yet another group of advisers to bail on Trump. Earlier last week, major business CEOs quit their White House councils in protest of the president’s post-Charlottesville commentary. Trump was quick to claim that he was about to dissolve the groups anyway.
Executives fleeing from Trump’s Manufacturing Jobs Initiative and Strategy & Policy Forum led the president to announce on Wednesday, after the fact, that he was ending them anyway. Thursday, he announced the disbanding of the Infrastructure council.
At the end of the afternoon on Friday, the White House issued a statement insisting that it had planned to disband the arts and humanities committee anyway.
The statement said that “earlier this month it was decided” that Trump wouldn’t renew the executive order that created the committee. But prior to Friday, no word of this was given to committee members, staff or any of the stakeholder agencies, according to people familiar with the internal processes. No evidence was provided that the White House timeline is accurate.
Friday’s mass resignation is emblematic of Trump’s contentious relationship with the broader arts community. He struggled to find entertainers to perform at his inaugural gala—British singer Rebecca Ferguson made headlines by stipulating that she would perform at the event only if she sang “Strange Fruit,” the anti-racism anthem made famous by Billie Holiday—and The Washington Post notes that some of the luminaries picked to be fêted at the upcoming Kennedy Center Honors have said they would not attend a White House reception following the awards ceremony.
Turns out the president has made other plans for that evening himself.