Where Do Trump, Pence, Biden, and Harris Stand on the Arts? We’ve Compiled Their Respective Track Records and Missteps

No candidate has issued a comprehensive (or even non-comprehensive) plan with regard to the arts.

The White House. Courtesy Wiki Commons.
The White House. Courtesy Wiki Commons.

Given the vast political and ideological chasms separating the names on tomorrow’s presidential ballot, it should come as no surprise to learn that the two teams have drastically different relationships to the arts, too. Nor should you be shocked by the score: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have a long history of supporting the arts; Donald Trump and Mike Pence do not.

The arts, writ large, rarely represent more than a footnote in election discourse (if we’re lucky). This year, given the outsize nature of the issues at hand, that’s especially true. Leading up to the election, neither presidential candidate has laid out anything resembling a comprehensive arts platform—and not too many people seem to have noticed. 

To be sure, policies surrounding health care, housing, immigration, trade, and taxes affect artists and arts workers a great deal. But for those wondering what the election will mean for creative industries specifically, we’ve laid out the candidates’ respective histories with art—their policies, voting records, donations, and more—in a digestible breakdown below.  

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

Joe Biden, 77

  • As a senator, Biden supported a resolution to create the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress back in 1973.
  • Throughout the 1990s, he voted against amendments to both eliminate and defund the National Endowment for the Arts.
  • In 2001, Biden co-sponsored legislation that ultimately successfully created the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in 2016.
  • During President Obama’s first term in office, the administration negotiated a stimulus bill including $50 million for arts during the financial crisis in 2008–9. (It should be noted, however, that government support for the arts pales in comparison to that provided by nations like France and Germany, regardless of the party in charge.)
  • In 2012, the Obama-Biden administration proposed increasing the NEA’s budget by $9 million, keeping funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services level at $232 million, and keeping funding of almost $450 million for public broadcasting level.
  • Also in 2012, the Obama-Biden administration proposed a reauthorization of Title I funding, including eligibility for arts education. It also proposed to increase the national community service agency budget by one percent.
  • In June 2020, Biden addressed the hot-button issue of Confederate monuments, advocating for them to be removed peacefully and re-homed in museums, not public squares.
  • In a conversation with Lin-Manuel Miranda leading up to the election, Biden underscored his commitment to the arts across all media, saying “the future of who we are lies in the arts… It is the expression of our soul.”
  • The Biden-Harris campaign commissioned artists across eight battleground states to create murals to encourage voter turnout. The murals will be on view in Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.

 

Kamala Harris, 56

  • Harris was born and raised in Berkeley, California during the Free Speech Movement. Her uncle worked at the Studio Museum in Harlem; she grew up playing the French horn and the violin.
  • As San Francisco’s district attorney, she joined the board of trustees at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1996 and remained active through 2011, helping to launch a mentorship program for public-school teens.
  • Harris also served as a member of the San Francisco Jazz Organization and was a chairperson for the city’s symphony fundraiser.
  • Harris’s stepdaughter Ella is a student at Parsons in New York, working in textiles and other media; she is named for the jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, and her brother Cole’s namesake is John Coltrane.
  • Last June, she co-sponsored a resolution recognizing the month as “Immigrant Heritage Month,” celebrating the contributions immigrants and their children have made to the United States’s culture, economy, and history.
  • She co-sponsored the Confederate Monument Removal Act in 2019, alongside Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren, among 22 others. The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Rules and Administration. Harris also co-sponsored the act when it was addressed in 2017, following the deadly events in Charlottesville.
  • She co-sponsored a resolution to honor the heritage, culture, and contribution of Latinas to the United States. She also supported the National Museum of the American Latino Act sponsored by Senator Robert Menendez. The bill was passed in the House of Representatives in July 2020, but it remains to be seen if it will pass in the Senate.
  • She supported a resolution to recognize National Native American Heritage Month, which was unanimously agreed by the Senate.
  • In March 2019, Kamala Harris sponsored a bill to direct the Joint Committee on the Library to include a statue of Shirley Chisholm to be displayed in the Capitol. Chisholm, who was the first Black woman elected to Congress, helped pave the way for Harris’s own political career. Harris said, “We stand on the shoulders of Shirley Chisholm, and Shirley Chisholm stood proud.”
  • In September 2020, she joined artists Carrie Mae Weems, Catherine Opie, and Shepard Fairey in conversation to launch the Artists for Biden benefit exhibition.
  • Harris supported a bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Susan Collins and Dianne Feinstein to create a comprehensive women’s history museum within the Smithsonian Institution, a bill that has been slowly gaining traction with the centennial celebration of women’s suffrage in 2020.

 

Vice president-elect Mike Pence and president-elect Donald Trump in 2016. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

Donald Trump, 74

  • In 2006, Trump applied to trademark something called the Trump Art Collection. According to the application paperwork, he intended to launch an online art-selling business, a retail store for selling art, and numerous art-related products under the name. These enterprises never saw the light of day.
  • Between 1994 and 2010, Trump reportedly donated roughly $500,000 to “arts-affiliated organizations.”
  • In March 2017, Trump unveiled a proposal to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). He sought to zero out funding for the NEA and NEH for the next three years. (In the end, the agencies actually were not cut, and instead saw modest funding increases—but not always at a rate that matched inflation.)
  • In 2014, Trump used $10,000 from his own charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, to buy a portrait of himself at auction. Melania Trump did the same thing in 2007, dropping $20,000 in charity money on another painting of her husband.
  • In 2015, he told Vanity Fair that a Renoir painting hanging in his gilded private plane was worth $10 million. It was later proven to be a fake. 
  • In August 2017, the members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities quit en masse in protest of Trump’s comments following a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. That same day, he announced that he had decided not to renew support for the committee anyway.
  • In 2019, First Lady Melania Trump and Second Lady Karen Pence served as honorary co-chairs of Blue Star Museums, a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense, and more than 2,000 museums across America to offer free admission to the nation’s active duty military personnel and their families each summer.
  • As part of the CARES Act passed this summer to offer financial relief amid the shutdown, the government offered a modest lifeline for the arts: it provided $75 million each for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities; $50 million for the Institute of Museum and Library Services; $25 million for the Kennedy Center; and $7.5 million for the Smithsonian Institution. President Trump signed the CARES Act into law on March 27, 2020.

 

Mike Pence, 61


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