On Friday morning, members of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities resigned, reacting to Trump's response to the white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville last weekend. The president angrily defended the white supremacists in an address on Tuesday.
The most recent iteration of the committee — which was formed during Obama's presidency — never had a formal meeting since President Trump took office, though they were working on initiatives that had been started before the change in administration.
Members of the 17-person committee included actor Kal Penn, artist Chuck Close, and author Jhumpa Lahiri.
Unlike Trump’s Manufacturing Jobs Initiative and Strategy & Policy Forum — which also disbanded this week after multiple members resigned in response to Charlottesville — the President's Committee on Arts and Humanities is an official agency.
This makes them the first White House department under the Trump administration to resign en masse. Below is the committee's statement in its entirety, which, readers have noticed, includes a subtle message: the first letter of each paragraph spells out the word "resist":
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
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.
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
Playwright and director George C. Wolfe did not appear on the original letter, but representatives of Wolfe said he was unaware he was still on the committee after Trump's election, but stands by the committee. His name will be added to the official letter of resignation shortly.
This post has also been updated to note the acrostic message in the letter.
In a statement released to the New York Times, CBS News, and Politico, the White House said:
"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. 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 promptly responded to the White House's statement on Twitter:
This post was updated to clarify that the most recent iteration of the PCAH was formed during Obama's presidency. The committee was originally founded in 1982 under President Ronald Reagan.