Biden Purges US Commission on Fine Arts
May 25, 2021
President Joe Biden has demanded the resignation of four of the seven members of the US Commission on Fine Arts (CFA), NPR reports. Catherine M. Russell, director of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel on Monday sent letters to sculptor Chas Fagan, landscape architect Perry Guillot, architect Steven Spandle, and writer and commission chairman Justin Shubow ordering them to submit their resignations by 6 p.m. that day or be fired.
Fagan, Guillot, and Spandle resigned; Shubow, appointed chair by former president Donald Trump in 2018, elected to be forced out, issuing a reply to the White House reading, “As chairman of the US Commission of Fine Arts, I was shocked and dismayed to learn that three of my fellow commissioners, along with myself, have been asked to resign or be terminated by the President. In the Commission’s 110-year history, no commissioner has ever been removed by a President, let alone the commission’s chairman. Any such removal would set a terrible precedent.”
An independent federal agency, the CFA advises Congress, the president, and the government on aesthetics related to proposals for memorials, renovations of government structures, and the creation of coins and medals. The purge of the four commissioners comes on the heels of Biden’s February revocation of Trump’s December 2020 executive order, crafted with Shubow’s aid, mandating “beautiful” federal architecture. That order cast neoclassical architecture as preferred and characterized Brutalist architecture as “unappealing” and “unpopular.” In revoking the order, Biden instructed the Office of Management and Budget and related agencies to “promptly consider taking steps” to rescind any rules or policies that would have implemented Trump’s actions. The president also ordered the abolishment of “personnel positions, committees, task forces, or other entities established” to fulfill Trump’s actions, “as appropriate and consistent with applicable law.”
Guillot, who acknowledged he was “disappointed” to be removed from the commission, said he did not believe that his ousting was related to the architecture mandate, and said he wished Biden and the serving commissioners “the best.” Before the purge, the CFA was all white and all male; whether the president will diversify the commission remains to be seen.