On Friday President Joe Biden issued an executive order reinstating the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, an advisory group of cultural experts that disbanded in 2017 when its members, many holdovers from the Obama administration, collectively resigned in response to Donald Trump’s response to the Charlottesville riots.
In a letter signed by 17 members of the committee, which included artist Chuck Close, architect Thom Mayne, author Jhumpa Lahiri, and comedian Kal Penn, on August 2017, the group condemned Trump’s response to the white nationalist Unite the Right rally that took place in Virginian city and “support of the hate groups and terrorists.” The letter criticized the other efforts by the Trump administration to defund federal arts programming.
In response, the administration issued a statement saying Trump planned to dissolve the committee, which would have expired later in 2017 without a new executive order, because of his views that it was a wasteful use of public funding, calling it “not a responsible way to spend American tax dollars.”
It was not just arts leaders who protested in the aftermath of Charlottesville’s violence. The move followed Trump’s dissolution of two other federally appointed boards overseeing manufacturing and business policy, after some of its members resigned from the groups following his remarks embracing white nationalists.
During a ceremony held at the White House last week organized around other events recognizing cultural heritage, Biden described the arts, as “essential to the well-being, health, vitality and democracy of our nation.”
The move comes a year after 15 lawmakers called for the committee to be reestablished, citing a report from an arts and sciences commission that noted the country’s $150 billion creative sector had been pillaged by effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities was established in 1982 during the Reagan administration to advise the president on cultural matters; the First Lady traditionally serves as honorary chairwoman. Over the years, the committee has led efforts around federal programming related to supporting arts education and preservation efforts.
According to a press release, the reestablished board will advise Biden on initiatives related to the arts, humanities and museums that, “demonstrate their relevance to the country’s health, economy, equity and civic life.”
Maria Rosario Jackson, the chair of National Endowment for the Arts, will serve on the committee along with chairs of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Biden confirmed. The board, which will meet biannually, will be made up of 25 of leaders in the cultural space. The White House has not yet disclosed names of those will be serve on the committee.
The Biden administration has largely embraced giving more government support toward the arts, a sharp contrast to his predecessor. In 2021, Biden proposed a 20 percent increase to the NEA’s budget, the biggest rise in over a decade, bringing it to $201 million for fiscal year 2022; Congress ultimately approved a $180 million budget. For the 2023 fiscal year, Biden has called for $23 million increase in its budget to $203 million.