President Biden signed an executive order on Friday, reestablishing the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. The advisory group was inactive since August 2017, when all committee members resigned in protest of Trump’s delayed condemnation of hate groups at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
“The arts and humanities are essential to our nation’s well-being” – Biden
President Biden emphasized the importance of art and culture. “The arts, humanities, and services of museums and libraries are essential to our nation’s well-being, health, vitality, and democracy,” Biden’s executive order states. “They are the soul of America, reflecting our multicultural and democratic experience.
He also pointed out that they further help strive to be a more perfect Union to which generation after generation of Americans have aspired. “They inspire us; provide sustenance; support, anchor and bring cohesion within diverse communities across our nation; spur creativity and innovation; help us understand and communicate our values as people; compel us to grapple with our history and allow us to imagine our future; reinvigorate and strengthen our democracy; and show the way to progress.”
The order was announced on the eve of National Arts and Humanities Month, which Biden named for October in a separate proclamation, which was also released on Friday.
Trump’s support of hate groups – one of the reasons for the resignation of commissioners
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In order to provide advice to the president on topics of culture, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities was established in 1982 during the Reagan administration. It was well recognized for leading initiatives such as Turnaround Arts, which was a first federal program to assist arts instruction in the nation’s lowest-performing schools, and for working with other groups on initiatives such as Save America’s Treasures.
The committee oversaw the Turnaround Arts initiative, which offered arts education resources to low-performing schools during the Obama administration. The National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards were established in 1998 to recognize after-school arts and humanities programs.
In response to Trump’s comments that there were “really good people on both sides” at the Unite the Right demonstration, planned to oppose the removal of a Confederate-era statue, the group, which was made up of members appointed during the Obama administration, disbanded in August 2017.
The commissioners, which included actors Kal Penn and John Lloyd Young, writers Jhumpa Lahiri and Chuck Close, among others, called out Trump’s support of “hate groups and terrorists” in a letter of mass resignation.
A new cultural repair under Biden-Harris administration
The reestablishment follows the Biden administration’s increased commitment in the arts, with the American Rescue Plan, signed in March 2021, allocating $135 million to the NEA and the NEH. The White House’s proposed 2023 budget calls for $203 million to be allocated to the NEA, higher than 2022′s record-breaking proposal of $201 million.
The PACH represents a kind of cultural repair led by the Biden-Harris administration, which has proposed large increases in funding to federal arts agencies, following the Trump administration’s attempts to eliminate that funding and shut down those agencies.
In a statement responding to the executive order, Maria Rosario Jackson, chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, celebrated the way arts “help us steward our authentic, deeply rich, and varied histories and narratives.”
“This is an extraordinary moment for the arts and humanities with this whole-of-government approach that will be integral to advancing the health, economy, equity and democracy of the nation,” Jackson said.
The IMLS will fund the group, which will have maximum 25 nonfederal members, according to the executive order. (Leaders of the National Gallery of Art, Kennedy Center, Smithsonian Institution, and Library of Congress will be invited to join as nonvoting members.) The funding and composition of the committee are yet to be announced.
The newly formed committee will advise the president, as well as the heads of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences (IMLS). It will support the advancement of policy goals, promote charitable and private support for the arts, increase the effectiveness of federal funding, and involve the country’s cultural leaders and artists.