“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 commissioners wrote in a letter sent to the White House on Friday morning. “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.”
“Supremacy, discrimination, and vitriol are not American values,” they added. “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.”
The committee was established by President Ronald Reagan in 1982. It is among the dozens of mostly ceremonial White House committees that advise the president on issues ranging from business matters to education policy and physical fitness.
Members of the committee are Obama-era holdovers, including the actor Kal Penn, a longtime Barack Obama supporter and former White House staffer; director George C. Wolfe; painter and photographer Chuck Close; Jill Udall, the former head of cultural affairs for New Mexico and the wife of Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.); and entertainment executive Fred Goldring, who helped produce the “Yes We Can” video with musician Will.i.am in support of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Another committee member, talent manager and producer Eric Ortner, explained that the group is quitting because, “Our job is to protect those who tell America’s story, we wanted to be on the right side of history.”
Some 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 panel’s move is yet another blow to Trump, who has become more isolated than ever from the Republican Party and corners of official Washington in the wake of his decision to defend the actions of some people who gathered at a rally in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a Confederate-era statue.
The arts committee has focused on three main tasks: promoting a program called Turnaround Arts that supports arts integration programs in mostly urban and rural schools; encouraging economic revitalization through the arts; and undertaking cultural diplomacy, including a visit to Cuba to meet with some of the island country’s artists and entertainers.
First lady Melania Trump serves as honorary chairwoman of the arts committee. As with most of these White House panels, it includes ex officio members drawn from across the government, who are not expected to step down. Those government members include the secretaries of Education, Treasury, State and Interior, plus Carla Hayden, the head of the Library of Congress; Timothy Horne, the acting administrator of the General Services Administration; philanthropist and businessman David Rubenstein, who is chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; and David Skorton, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.
In a statement late Friday, the White House claimed that Trump had decided earlier this month to disband the committee by not renewing its charter when it expires at the end of the year.
The committee “has done good work but simply is not a responsible way to spend American tax dollars,” the White House said. Instead, the administration said that funding and attention would be focused on “federal cultural agencies” like the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and an agency that gives federal grants to museums and libraries.
“These cultural agencies do tremendous work and they will continue to engage in these important projects,” the statement said.
But the resignation letter from members of the arts and humanities committee noted that Trump’s proposed budget would have slashed funding to these arts agencies and other entities providing arts and education funding.
Here’s a copy of the resignation letter from committee members. Several readers have noticed that the first letters of each paragraph spell out the word, “RESIST” — a common refrain among Trump’s critics.