Following President Donald Trump’s response to the violence that broke out in Charlottesville, Virginia, during rally of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and members of the alt-right earlier this month, all 16 members of the president’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigned, including Long Beach resident and artist Chuck Close.
Close said that after the president did not directly condemn the hate groups involved in the violence, “It would be an embarrassment to be a part of Trump’s administration.”
On Aug. 18, the artists explained their decision to resign in a letter sent to the White House, citing multiple disagreements with the administration as reasons that led up to their decision, including Trump’s threat to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts.
“Art is about inclusion,” the letter read. “The humanities include a vibrant free press. You have attacked both. You released a budget which eliminates arts and culture agencies.”
Embedded in the text was a second message — the first letter of each paragraph and the closing “thank you” spelled out the word “resist.”
When asked how he thinks Trump and his administration will react to their letter, Close said, “They don’t give a sh*t. He was going to do away with it anyhow.”
Close referred to a White House statement that was released following the resignation, which claimed that Trump had made a decision earlier this month to disband the committee by not renewing its charter when it expires at the end of the year.
The committee was formed in 1982, under President Ronald Reagan, to advise the White House on cultural issues. One of its achievements was the creation of Turnaround Arts, an initiative that provides schools in low-income areas with arts education services.
Through Turnaround Arts, each artist on the committee was designated to one of the country’s lowest-performing schools, with Close adopting Roosevelt School in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
“And it’s amazing what happened,” he said. Students’ parents “would come and see their work … now they’re involved with their children.” Close added that the program eliminated the school’s 50 percent truancy rate.
Close said that he hoped Turnaround Arts could expand until every school in the country had a music and arts teacher.
“We thought the next President would see its value and keep it going,” Close said. “But she didn’t get elected.”
Turnaround Arts is now being run independently by the Kennedy Center of Performing Arts in the District of Columbia.
The members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities who signed the letter include Kal Penn, Howard Gottlieb, Richard Cohen, Fred Goldring, Vicki Kennedy, Jhumpa Lahiri, Anne Luzzatto, Thom Mayne, Ken Solomon Caroline Taylor Jill Cooper Udall, John Lloyd Young, Eric Ortner, Paula Boggs, and Andrew Weinstein.