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Artist Chuck Close, Lawyer and longtime arts advocate Jill Cooper Udall, architect Thom Mayne, author Jhumpa Lahiri, actor Kalpen Modi (Kal Penn), and musician and founder of Boggs Media, LLC, Paula Boggs.

Members of White House Presidential Arts Commission Resign En Masse

In protest of President Donald Trump’s response to the deadly white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, all seventeen members of the Committee on the Arts and Humanities have resigned, Edward-Isaac Dovere of Politico reports.

“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,” reads a joint letter released 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.”

First signed by Paula Boggs, Chuck Close, Richard Cohen, Fred Goldring, Howard L. Gottlieb, Vicki Kennedy, Jhumpa Lahiri, Anne Luzzatto, Thom Mayne, Kalpen Modi (Kal Penn), Eric Ortner, Ken Solomon, Caroline Taylor, Jill Cooper Udall, Andrew Weinstein, and John Lloyd Young, the letter also criticizes the president’s proposal to defund the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities and his decisions to pull out of the Paris agreement, ban refugees and people from Muslim-majority countries, attack trans service members, and threaten nuclear war. George C. Wolfe of the Public Theater in New York added his name to the letter later that same day.

“Ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions. We took a patriotic oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” the letter continued. In addition to the cultural figures admonishments, there is also a hidden message. The first letter of each paragraph spells out the word “resist.”

The committee was created by President Reagan’s administration in 1982 to advise on issues ranging from arts in education to cultural diplomacy. While some members of the committee left their posts after Trump was elected last fall, others decided to stay until successors could be appointed. However, after Trump said that there “is blame on both sides” in response to the unrest in Charlottesville, criticizing those protesting the “Unite the Right” rally attended by neo-Nazis, Klu Klux Klan members, and white supremacists, the members agreed it was time to resign.

The full letter is as follows:

August 18, 2017

Dear Mr. President:

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. 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. We are members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH). The Committee was created in 1982 under President Reagan to advise the White House on cultural issues. We were hopeful that continuing to serve in the PCAH would allow us to focus on the important work the committee does with your federal partners and the private sector to address, initiate, and support key policies and programs in the arts and humanities for all Americans. Effective immediately, please accept our resignation from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

Elevating any group that threatens and discriminates on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, disability, orientation, background, or identity is un-American. We have fought slavery, segregation, and internment. We must learn from our rich and often painful history. The unified fabric of America is made by patriotic individuals from backgrounds as vast as the nation is strong. In our service to the American people, we have experienced this first-hand as we traveled and built the Turnaround Arts education program, now in many urban and rural schools across the country from Florida to Wisconsin.

Speaking truth to power is never easy, Mr. President. But it is our role as commissioners on the PCAH to do so. Art is about inclusion. The Humanities include a vibrant free press. You have attacked both. 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. We know the importance of open and free dialogue through our work in the cultural diplomacy realm, most recently with the first-ever US Government arts and culture delegation to Cuba, a country without the same First Amendment protections we enjoy here. Your words and actions push us all further away from the freedoms we are guaranteed.

Ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions. We took a patriotic oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

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.

Thank you,

Paula Boggs
Chuck Close
Richard Cohen
Fred Goldring
Howard L. Gottlieb
Vicki Kennedy
Jhumpa Lahiri
Anne Luzzatto
Thom Mayne
Kalpen Modi (Kal Penn)
Eric Ortner
Ken Solomon
Caroline Taylor
Jill Cooper Udall
Andrew Weinstein
John Lloyd Young
George C. Wolfe

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