President’s arts committee becomes first White House department to resign, because “art is about inclusion”

The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities submitted a letter of resignation to Donald Trump this morning in response to his *deplorable* handling of the events in Charlottesville.

It’s pretty epic. Here’s why:

First, the missive’s a bit of an artwork itself. In acrostic poem-style, the first letter of each paragraph spells out the word RESIST. Let’s see if our dear president catches on.


(Image via Scribd; notation by yours truly)

Second, the letter makes PCAH the first White House department to resign. Trump’s two majors business councils also ceased to exist this week when members similarly dismayed by his words decided to disassociate themselves. But unlike these groups, PCAH is an official agency.

The group was appointed by Obama and hasn’t met under the new administration. It has, however, continued to work on its programming like the Turnaround Arts Program, which aims to elevate some of the country’s lowest-performing schools through integrated arts education.

Third, the letter is compellingly penned. It touches on the often hard-to-articulate reasons the arts matter in America (which I recently outlined for Quartz; please click through!): “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.”

But, I think perhaps, more importantly, the letter speaks to the responsibilities inherent in calling yourself a U.S. citizen: “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 committee, which includes the likes of artist Chuck Close, author Jhumpa Lahiri, and actor Kal Penn, also points to the ability of the arts to promote diversity, acceptance, and equality: “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.”

Finally, the letter calls for Trump’s resignation if he can’t recognize that “We are better than this.”

Whether this departure will move Trump in any way remains to be seen. It’s true, he could care less about the arts and the people involved in them — that is unless you count Confederate monuments. But after his repeated attempts to defund three government arts agencies, does anyone really buy that he is, as he tweeted yesterday, “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments”?

Will he be sad to see his own government “ripped apart” though? His advisory board members are quitting left and right, and I’m curious to see if other official agencies follow in PCAH’s footsteps.

As an arts enthusiast, I’ll also say I’m a bit proud and not at all surprised it’s artists and their supporters who are leading this charge.


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Celebrity Slice and Dice: Top Chef Duels Premieres Tonight

Curtis Stone and contestant Marcel Vigneron talk shop over Vigneron's lobster-based "Knuckle Sandwiches."
Curtis Stone and contestant Marcel Vigneron talk shop over Vigneron’s lobster-based “Knuckle Sandwiches.”

After twelve wildly successful seasons, Bravo’s Top Chef gets another spinoff. On the heels of the celebrity-chef-stuffed Top Chef Masters and the pastry parade that was Top Chef: Just Desserts, comes Top Chef Duels. The new show pits the crème de la crème from past seasons of Top Chef and Top Chef Masters against each other for what Bravo boasts will be “a gastronomic battle royale of epic proportions.” (New York foodie set, take note: the eighteen contestants include our very own David Burke of Fishtail, David Burke Kitchen, and several other Manhattan staples, and Dale Talde of Brooklyn’s Talde and Pork Slope).

I got to swing by the premiere event on Monday to chat with judge Gail Simmons and host Curtis Stone and snack on some white-truffle-cream beignets and similarly delectable creations by the the Top Chef Duels contestants.

I learned that Gails Simmons, an increasingly prevalent television personality, never, ever wants to eat pureed meat (read more in my interview for Grub Street), and that Curtis Stone’s 2.5-year-old son, with actress Lindsay Price, has a rather enviable diet.

“Whatever Lindz [Lindsay Price] and I eat, Hudson has the same thing,” Stone explains. “He’s eaten everything from crab cakes, caviar, foie gras, and frogs legs to curry, you name it.”

But apparently the little one’s activity in the family garden (organic, of course) has also broadened daddy’s culinary repertoire. “He’s still picking strawberries when they’re green but that’s alright,” Stone explains. “I’ve learned to pickle green strawberries and they’re quite good as it goes.”

Perhaps under-ripe produce from the Stone family’s backyard would make for an interesting Top Chef challenge.

Tune into Bravo at 10pm EDT to see the action for yourself.

Further reading: Gail Simmons on Parenting, Top Chef Duels, and Her Network-Spanning TV Career, Grub Street

Americana is alive and well: Old crow medicine show returns to Summerstage

Old Crow Medicine Show Photograph: Aaron Farrington
Old Crow Medicine Show Photograph: Aaron Farrington

Rootsy Nashville string ensemble Old Crow Medicine Show returns to Central Park Summerstage tomorrow. They last played the airy outdoor venue—a superlative setting in which to drink in their rustic melodies—in August 2012, shortly after releasing the album Carry Me Back.

OCMS has enjoyed a spate of successes since then, including the rise of their classic single “Wagon Wheel” from Gold to Platinum certification, after they sold 1,000,000 copies of the song.

The crowd favorite, likely to make tomorrow’s set list, is also notable for marking the beginning of a continued relationship with Bob Dylan. Singer-fiddler-harmonicist-banjoist Ketch Secor wrote the song when he was 17, pairing original verse with the chorus of an unfinished Dylan tune intended for the soundtrack of 1973 film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. The young Secor first heard the song on a bootleg of the movie’s recording sessions; last year he encountered the cinematic strains again, this time from a more reliable source. While the band was at work on Remedy, out last month, they received a copy of “Sweet Amarillo,” a song sketch from the same sessions from no other than The Bard himself.

“It’s surreal,” Secor told Rolling Stone. “Bob is the guy who taught us how to steal effectively. It’s amazing he noticed and gave us another shot at scribbling between his margins.”

The new Dylan-OCMS collaboration should prove to be a highlight of tomorrow’s concert. I’m also hoping they’ll play their rendition of the oft-covered “Down Home Girl,” though I’ll admit to being more partial to the Rolling Stones version. (There’s something extra gross-and-sexy about the lyrics “And everytime you move like that / I gotta go to Sunday mass” when they’re coming out of Mick Jagger’s mouth.)

It’s also worth paying attention to the equally rootsy openers, Langhorne Slim and Spirit Family Reunion. The then little-known Lumineers opened for OCMS at their last SummerStage appearance, which I covered for Time Out New York, and I take not-totally-unabashed pride in saying I saw them when.

Further reading: Preview: Old Crow Medicine ShowTime Out New York

Lush Life*: Drinking on less than a dime

5-Cent Cocktail

In a city of $16 cocktails, there’s nothing like downing an expertly crafted tipple bought for 5 cents.

Or so I felt last night, when I enjoyed the above drink, thanks to a special Meatpacking District burger joint BFB Highline is offering in collaboration with Owl’s Brew, a purveyor of artisanal tea-based mixers.

If you’re in New York and boozing on a budget, take note: The special continues every Wednesday from 6pm-8pm through August 27.

For a mere nickel you can enjoy a choice of:
The Right Swipe: Owl’s Brew Pink & Black, cilantro, lime, rum
Santea: Owl’s Brew Classic, Pinot Grigio, fresh fruit
Pink & Black: Owl’s Brew Pink & Black, bourbon
Lowered Inhibitions: Owl’s Brew Coco Lada, mezcal

They’re a little low on alcohol, but they’re practically free—can you complain? The complimentary fries that also seem to be part of the arrangement don’t hurt either.

*With this post, I introduce “Lush Life,” an occasional series about my adventures in the New York City drinkscape. I’m not really a lush, but how can I resist a reference to one of jazz’s greatest meditations on heartache and hooch? And, of course, alliteration gets me every time.

Art World News

This week I wrote about two very different intersections of art and technology.

I covered a new attempt to make fine art available to the online masses for Quartz:

Beware, eBay and Sotheby’s have tried to sell art online together before—and failed

And my story about the technical wizardry of the world’s most expensive living artist was featured in The Atlantic:

Jeff Koons’s Science Projects

It’s a brave new interdisciplinary world. Happy reading!



A Tip for Sesame Street

A question I found myself asking while writing my next post (stay tuned): If Sesame Street has a character named Ethel Mermaid, why is there no Elephants Gerald?

Ethel Mermaid, a fishtailed reference to the indomitable, belting dame of the Broadway stage, transposes Cole Porter’s original alcohol- and cocaine-laced lyrics into an alphabet song for tots.

So, Sesame Street, why not continue in this vein? I think a scatting, plush elephant is in order. “Tea for Two”—or should I say Tea for 2 —anyone? She could spin the charming little ditty into an ode to 1+1. The Count might want to get involved too.

I like Westminster Abbey, Rudy Burkhardt, and The New York Times Sunday Routine

“There are so many things I want to do in this city and I’m always trying to fit in more, so I have this weird fascination with how other people organize their time, particularly prominent New Yorkers.”

At Dîner en Blanc in Bryant park, which I attended with a table of contributors from Untapped Cities.
At Dîner en Blanc in Bryant Park, which I attended with a table of contributors from Untapped Cities.

In October, I was profiled in Untapped Cities, an impressively expansive, and sometimes very addictive, urban history and design blog with a penchant for all things quirky—and for which I’ve helped plan an event or two.

The little confession above is an excerpt. Click here to read the full article.