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.