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All 17 of the members of the US President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities have announced their resignation in a scathing letter following Donald Trump’s controversial response to the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“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 letter said. “The false equivalencies you push cannot stand. The Administration’s refusal to quickly and unequivocally condemn the cancer of hatred only further emboldens those who wish America ill. We cannot sit idly by, the way that your West Wing advisors have, without speaking out against your words and actions.”
The respected committee was created under President Ronald Reagan in 1982, to advise the White House on cultural issues, and its honorary chair is First Lady Melania Trump. The resignation letter, which was Tweeted by actor Kal Penn, was signed by 16 members including Penn, author Jhumpa Lahiri and artist Chuck Close. The resignations follow the high-profile disbanding of two business advisory councils after members resigned in protest.
The members of the Arts Committee who resigned are Paula Boggs, Chuck Close, Richard Cohen, Fred Goldring, Howard L. Gottlieb, Vicki Kennedy, Jhumpa Lahiri, Anne Luzzatto, Thom Mayne, Kalpen Modi, Eric Ortner, Ken Solomon, Caroline Taylor, Jill Cooper Udall, Andrew Weinstein, John Lloyd Young. The only name not to appear on the letter in its original form was that of director George C Wolf, who has since added his signature.
Following the exodus from the Arts Committee, the White House released a statement saying the President had intended to disband the committee anyway. “Earlier this month it was decided that President Trump will not renew the Executive Order for the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH), which expires later this year,” the statement said. “While the Committee has done good work in the past, in its current form it simply is not a responsible way to spend American tax dollars. The PCAH merely redirects funding from the federal cultural agencies (NEA/NEH/IMLS) that answer directly to the President, Congress, and taxpayers. These cultural agencies do tremendous work and they will continue to engage in these important projects.”
Kal Penn was quick to respond on Twitter: “Lol @realDonaldTrump you can’t break up with us after we broke up with you LMFAO.”
The resigning members of the committee seemed to have coded an additional message into their letter, with the first letter of each paragraph cumulatively spelling out the word RESIST. “Ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions,” the letter said. “We took a patriotic oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
This is not the first time that the president has run foul of the arts community. A number of members of the committee had already resigned ahead of Trump’s inauguration – for which he struggled to find performers – and he has since recommended defunding the National Endowment for the Arts. Musicians who have fallen foul of the 45th President include Trombonist Tom Scharfeld who recently won a protracted legal battle with the Trump's lawyers over the use of the name iTrump for his educational app.
Donald and Melania Trump have since announced that they will break with tradition by not attending the Kennedy Center Honours, a fixture of the US arts calendar. Widely expected have attracted criticism of the president, the Trumps say they have withdrawn to allow the awards to take place “without any political distraction.”