White House restores arts commission dissolved under Trump

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White House restores arts commission dissolved under Trump
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on Medicare and Social Security in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times.

by Jennifer Schuessler

NEW YORK, NY.- President Joe Biden on Friday issued an executive order reestablishing the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, an advisory board that was dissolved five years ago after its members resigned in protest over President Donald Trump’s reaction to the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The announcement reverses the outcome of one of the stormier episodes in Trump’s mutually antagonistic relationship with artists and cultural figures.

In a group resignation letter in August 2017, the committee, whose 17 members included artist Chuck Close, novelist Jhumpa Lahiri and architect Thom Mayne, decried what it called Trump’s “support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans,” saying “the false equivalencies you push cannot stand.” In response, the White House issued a statement saying Trump had already been planning to dissolve the group, describing it as “not a responsible way to spend American tax dollars.”

In Friday’s executive order, Biden, who noted that October is National Arts and Humanities Month, struck a notably different tone.

The arts and humanities “are essential to the well-being, health, vitality and democracy of our nation,” the executive order declared. “They are the soul of America, reflecting our multicultural and democratic experience.”

The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities was founded in 1982 during the Reagan administration, to advise the president on cultural matters. It was known for spearheading efforts like Turnaround Arts, described as the first federal program aimed at supporting arts education in the nation’s lowest-performing schools, as well as collaborating with other organizations on projects like Save America’s Treasures.

The newly re-created committee, according to a news release, will be charged with supporting initiatives that “promote excellence in the arts, humanities and museum and library services and demonstrate their relevance to the country’s health, economy, equity and civic life.” The release also cited the importance of the arts and humanities in tackling “the greatest challenges of our time, such as the climate crisis and the scourge of hate-fueled violence.”

The committee’s members will include the heads of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, along with up to 25 leaders from those fields. None of those nonfederal members have been named yet, and no details of the committee’s budget — which will be administered through the library institute, a federal agency — have been released.

The arts and humanities endowments, established in 1965 under President Lyndon B. Johnson, have long been culture war footballs, with Republicans criticizing the arts endowment in particular for promoting what they saw as indecent art.

Trump repeatedly vowed to eliminate both endowments, which nonetheless continued to receive increasing levels of federal support during his term, thanks in large part to bipartisan backing in Congress.

After taking office in 2021, Biden proposed a 20% increase (to $201 million) for the arts endowment — the largest jump in more than 10 years — and a 6% increase (to $177.55 million) for the humanities endowment. Ultimately, the arts and humanities endowments each received $180 million, increases of 7.5%.

The administration’s current budget request for the 2023 fiscal year includes $200.68 million for the humanities endowment and $203.55 million for the arts endowment.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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