White House Arts Committee Quits en Masse Over Trump’s Support of ‘Hate Groups and Terrorists’

Chuck Close, Kal Penn, and Thom Mayne are among those quitting.

A group of 16 high-profile artists, authors, performers and architects serving on the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities resigned today. The en masse departures were an act of protest against Trump’s defense of white nationalists following last week’s violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The group is an advisory committee to the White House that works with the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Institute of Museum and Library Services. It particularly focuses on matters of art education and cultural exchange.

In an open letter to the President, shared on Twitter by actor Kal Penn, the Committee’s departing “private members” make their reasoning plain: “Reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms are necessary following your support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville. The false equivalencies you push cannot stand.”

Kal Penn. Image via Flickr

Kal Penn. Image via Flickr

The Washington Post gives some context for the development, which seems to have been brewing for sometime: “members of the arts and humanities commission quit after Trump’s victory last fall, but the remaining commissioners agreed to continue in their roles until Trump named successors, according to the two people familiar with their plans. In recent days, however, they agreed it was time to resign and have spent the last several days drafting a letter explaining their decision.”

The statement to the President is notably forceful. “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.”

Among others, the group includes artist Chuck Close, writer Jhumpa Lahiri, architect Thom Mayne, Jersey Boys actor John Lloyd Young, chairman of Ovation TV Ken Solomon, and Kalpen Modi (aka Kal Penn).

In the “About Our Members” section of the Committee website, it explains the role: “The President’s Committee’s success in engaging the public and private sectors depends on the expertise and leadership of its private and federal members, who embody and represent the diverse elements of the cultural sector.”

For the moment, the names of the departing private members remain listed on the official website.

“We know the importance of open and free dialogue through our work in the cultural diplomacy realm. Your words and actions push us all further away from the freedoms we are guaranteed,” the open letter states. “Speaking truth to power is never easy, Mr. President. But it is our role as commissioners on the PCAH to do so… Ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions.”

With the partial exception of Trump’s affection for the “making money is the best art” philosophy of Andy Warhol, he has shown no great interest in the arts, so the resignation is unlikely to hurt him quite as much as the recent mass resignations of business leaders from his White House jobs panel.

Nevertheless, his wife Melania Trump serves as the honorary chairman of the Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. As the First Lady’s official White House bio states, “With a penchant and passion for the arts, architecture, design, fashion and beauty, Melania has thrived on the cultural diversification of New York City.”

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