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President Trump's Entire Arts and Humanities Council Just Quit

Updated: Aug 19, 2017 9:04 AM ET | Originally published: Aug 18, 2017

Another presidential advisory committee is breaking up.

Actor Kal Penn, artist Chuck Close and the entire membership of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities have announced their resignation. A letter dated Friday, and signed by 16 of 17 committee members, cited the "false equivalence" of President Donald Trump's comments about last weekend's "Unite the Right" gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump has blamed "many sides" for the demonstrations that left an anti-racism activist dead.

The White House said Trump had already decided against renewing the advisory committee for budgetary reasons.

"Ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions," the letter reads. "Supremacy, discrimination, and vitriol are not American values. Your values are not American values. We must be better than this. We are better than this. If this is not clear to you, then we call on you to resign your office, too."

The only member whose name did not appear was Broadway director George C. Wolfe. Representatives for Wolfe at Creative Arts Agency said Friday that he was also resigning and that his name would be added to the letter, which seemed to contain a hidden political message beyond the ones stated openly. The first initials of the letter's six main paragraphs spell out "r-e-s-i-s-t."

"Earlier this month it was decided that President Trump will not renew the executive order for the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH), which expires later this year," the White House said in a statement attributed to an unnamed spokesperson. "While the committee has done good work in the past, in its current form it simply is not a responsible way to spend American tax dollars."

The statement said the committee "merely redirects funding" from federal cultural agencies that report directly to the president, Congress and taxpayers.

"These cultural agencies do tremendous work and they will continue to engage in these important projects," the statement said.

Earlier this week, two business advisory councils were disbanded as members left in protest.

Friday's exodus heightened the arts world's contentious relationship with Trump. The president struggled to find entertainers, many of whom backed Hillary Clinton in 2016, to perform at his inaugural gala, and Kennedy Center honorees for lifetime achievement have already said they will not attend the White House reception in December.

As president, Trump has also recommended defunding the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities.

The arts and humanities committee was established in 1982 under President Ronald Reagan and, with the first lady serving as honorary chair, works with both government and private agencies in promoting the arts through such programs as Turnaround Arts and Save America's Treasures. Others signing the resignation letter included Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri; and Vicki Kennedy, widow of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. All were appointed by President Barack Obama.

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